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The plane truth about eating out in Bangkok

Ditching the legendary Bangkok street food scene and dining at a few of these quirky restaurants and cafés is a great way to get an alternative taste of Thailand's capital

(Left) 747 Café; and Hajime Robot Restaurant.(Photos via @747_cafe and @hajimerobotrestaurantth, Instagram)

By Raul Dias

LAST PUBLISHED 10.04.2024  |  09:00 AM IST

Counted among some of the greatest food cities of the world, Bangkok seems to always have a steady stream of remarkable restaurants setting up shop. From Michelin-approved street carts selling chicken rice to havens of haute cuisine fronted by a procession of celebrated chefs.

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But somewhere in between these two disparate worlds lies space for a plethora of themed restaurants that have always been the city’s forte. In the seventies, the famous Cabbages and Condoms restaurant brought in the quirkiness with its contraception theme. Thereafter, newer and more outré places opened; each trying to outbid the other in the bizarre stakes. Or should we say steaks, perhaps.

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Na-Oh

Other than food, airplanes are another obsession for me. In fact, I write this as I sit ensconced in an A321 en route Mumbai from Kolkata. But the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar that I sat in a few months ago was one that remains stationary. Housed in a grounded aircraft in Chang Chui in the Thonburi side of Bangkok, Na-Oh is a restaurant that’s bizarre on many levels. A short introduction offered by the staff lets one know that they’re the designated ‘survivors’ of a post apocalyptic world, hitching a ride on a jet to a safe zone. The weird taxidermy animals that are housed on board in glass cabinets only feed into the story of possible extinction if not saved. Speaking of food, owner-chef chef Mo-na Teeratada? has a cuisine-agnostic, pre-set five-course menu (THB 1,500 or 4,000, per person) that changes every few months. I do hope that the delicious caramelised pork belly served with Chinese broccoli is also saved from extinction and has a permanent place on the menu.

Hajime Robot Restaurant

Bangkok is probably one of the few cities where eating at a restaurant in a mall isn’t a bad idea. The sheer number and variety of good restaurants to be found in such places of conspicuous consumption is mind boggling. One such example is the Hajime Robot Restaurant that’s housed on the third level of the Monopoly Park Mall, just off the mega Rama 3 road. Offering an interesting selection of Korean style BBQ, Chinese hot pot and Japanese shabu shabu among local Thai style preparations, Hajime has the perfect all-you-can-eat buffet (THB 499 or 1,200 approx. for two hours)--with a big difference. Not only will your servers not judge you for ordering that nth portion of sliced tenderloin off your table side touch screen menu pad, but also you can leave without tipping them to no dirty looks offered in return. That’s because your server is actually a robot who will happily get you whatever and as much as you want with a smile pat in place. This, as they glide down a special enclosed glass corridor-like path, stopping at your table side window to deposit your order and pick up your crockery once done.

Unicorn Café

Riding the whole kawai (Japanese for cute) pop culture wave of a few years ago that was typified by a virtual explosion of iridescent mythical creatures like mermaids and unicorns, Bangkok’s Unicorn Café took a firm footing in the busy Silom district. A place that was so popular—with not just giggly teenagers, but even with curious travellers like myself—that it spawned another branch called Zone B just 10 meters away from the OG location, now called Zone A. From multi-coloured cheese dripping rainbow burgers and unicorn shakes topped with edible glitter to fat slices of birthday cake-style pastries decorated with pastel-coloured sugar sprinkles, the food and drinks (ranging from THB 100-300 or 250-750) are surprisingly very good and tasty. All this, served by wait staff dressed as cartoon characters in onesies that one can rent to wear while dining there. As far as the decor is concerned, expect to find pastel candy floss upholstery on furniture and white iridescent faux leather couches. Look up and you’ll see stuffed toys hanging from a ceiling that’s painted to resemble the solar system with twinkling stars.

Bangkok Bustaurant

Part theme restaurant, part tour bus, this unique dining concept is one of the newest and most fun ways to get an introduction, both edible and cultural to Bangkok. One is meant to board the air-conditioned double decker bus replete with cosy seating at the iconic Hua Lamphong train station in the heart of the city, and set off for a two-hour spin around the city. In the eight-course experience, either your lunch or dinner will be served by a team of chefs preparing a diverse array of Thai and international dishes, with plenty of Thai street food dishes thrown in. There is an option of booking a vegetarian set menu. All this for a reasonable THB 1,690 ( 3,800 approx.)

747 Café

Though on paper this one might give you a sense of deja vu—what with it sharing space with another similarly-themed eatery on this very list—the experience at 747 Café couldn’t be more different. To begin with, it’s a café, not a restaurant that’s housed in the shell of what used to be a Boeing 747 aircraft owned by now defunct airline Orient Thai. In 2020, aviation geeks Bandit “Pilot Johnny" Lawanrattanakul and Nithiroj Chawalertwattanachai converted this behemoth into a café. One that can be found on the outskirts of Bangkok in the Lat Krabang district, around 80km from Suvarnabhumi International Airport. A diner needs to buy a boarding pass, essentially a dining ticket, at the ground level check in counter for THB 120 ( 300 approx.) before making their way to the main deck of the fuselage via a fixed staircase. The ticket serves as a cover charge receipt that can later be used to redeem a range of teas, coffees (both iced and hot) along with juices, milkshakes and a small, but delicious range of baked goodies. One gets to enjoy these by sitting in one of the many rows of retrofitted passenger seats in both the main and in top ‘hump’ deck. I was told that no place in the aircraft was off limits to sit and relax in. Not even the cockpit where you can even take selfies wearing a captain’s hat that the staff will happily let you borrow.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

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