We are in Bangkok on a short getaway. It is a city we have been visiting since the mid-eighties, when the baht was half the value of the rupee. Alas, it is approximately the other way around now, but no sweat. The city, too, has evolved and is considered one of Asia’s top tourist attractions. And what’s best of all is that along with this transformation, the fortunes of a few prominent Indians have also undergone a sea change.
The Hollywood Connection
It is emblematic of his newfound stature, that when Deepak Ohri, the charismatic Indian-born CEO of Bangkok’s most glamorous F&B outlets and hotel (Sirocco, Mezzaluna and Breeze at the lebua) whips out his phone to show you a recently taken picture of himself with a high voltage A-lister Hollywood star, whom he dined with in Europe the standard response is, ‘Which one’s the star?’
The famous lebua Ball Drop
After all, Ohri, the Delhi-born, Chennai catering college-trained executive who stole a march over a slew of international heavyweights to make his luxury all-suite hotel lebua one of Bangkok’s most sought-after destinations, is also the man who recently lost 26 kilos over a period of three months only to take up a crushing regimen of professional kick-boxing and competitive cycling.
Anita and Deepak Ohri
“I came to this city for a holiday, my wife Anita and I had such a great time, I decided I would work hard and make this city my own,” he says, his lean face crinkling into a smile and his salt-and-pepper hair eerily matching that of his Big Cool Hollywood Friend. We are in Bangkok for New Year’s dining at Sirocco, 64 floors above Bangkok’s breath-taking skyline, a gathering of some of Thailand’s best and brightest around us to watch and the famous lebua Ball Drop, and Ohri is very much the city’s host with the most.
His story is well-known, but it bears retelling. He had been hired by the mother-daughter team of the Thai owners of the property, who put their weight behind the visionary young man’s plans to convert their rooftop into an ultra-exclusive and expensive fine-dining experience built around its stunning view. “Convincing the board was not easy; one of the top advisors said that if I did more than 30,000 baht of business a night, he would resign!” he says with the confidence that success brings, sipping his cuvee R Lalou 1990 vintage in his bespoke Gucci suit.
“In fact, now we do business of millions of baht per night!” he laughs. It was also Ohri who was responsible for the exclusive marketing contract with Warner Brothers when parts of the ‘Hangover Two’ film were shot at lebua. “Both Bradley Cooper and Mike Tyson had dropped in along with the executive producers.
I didn’t recognise them, but Anita did and alerted me to their potential, and the rest is history.” Today, the hotel proudly displays a ‘Hangover Suite’ so its guests can recall the epic craziness of that blockbuster. So how about telling us what his new plans are with the Hollywood hunk in the picture? “I can’t yet,” says Ohri. “He has a pretty lawyer by his side who may sue me!” he says, smiling.
The iconoclast chef
“I had toyed with the idea of becoming a fashion designer,” says superstar chef Gaggan Anand, when we meet for lunch at his favourite local Thai restaurant ‘Kalpapruek’.
For a man whose eponymous restaurant Gaggan on an unprepossessing alley in Bangkok’s Soi Lang Suan has been named third-best on the prestigious Asia’s 50 best restaurants’ list, it comes as a surprise that food was not his first choice as a vocation.
Coconut Lassi with liquid nitrogen
After all, this is the man whose progressive Indian cuisine has been making international waves for the last couple of years, and whose admirers include Biki Oberoi, Sonu Shivdasani and the Ambanis (they had flown him down to cook at the housewarming sit-down of their new home Antilla).
But, Gaggan is full of surprises, and unpredictability is as much a calling card for his food as for his persona. Not only does he take pleasure in surprising diners with dishes such as ‘white chocolate pani puri’, ‘truffle khichdi’ and chaat in an edible plastic bag, he also loves breaking every rule as he goes along.
Unlike the well-trammelled path of the superstar chef, he is playful and accessible in his kitchen, has no issues with giving credit to his colleagues, and what’s best of all, for all his schooling at the feet of the master chefs at the legendary El Bulli, he loves to dine out at street stalls and Bangkok’s version of dhabas in his capris and T-shirts, his long hair scruffily held back with a rubber band.
But make no mistake about it; this Punjabi boy from Kolkata, who drives a red Beemer and is celebrated in the world’s food capitals, knows his food like none other. “People like Jiro and the Quereshis preserve great cuisine,” he says, referring to the legendary Japanese chef and India’s first family of North Indian cuisine. “I destroy it! Both are required, ultimately, for greatness to emerge.” And then, he is off, driving maniacally through Bangkok’s busy streets, a star, every inch of him.
“We have been visiting Bangkok since the late ’90s, but since 2005 our visits have been more frequent,” says Mumbai-based businessman Sajjid Mitha, avid globetrotter who writes a popular travel blog.
Sajjid and Laveena Advani Mitha
“Our favourite spas are the Divana Divine, where we usually do the Crystal signature treatment, the Thann Sanctuary at Gaysorn Plaza, and a must-do, the Yunomori Onsen, the hot Japanese spring bath.
Others we have tried and enjoyed are the Elemis Spa at the St Regis and the So Spa at the Sofitel,” says the man, who had taken off with wife Laveena Advani Mitha for some R&R over the New Year’s.
“Our favourite restaurants in the city are the Siam Issaya Club by Ian Kittichai, Sra Bua at the Kempinski, Shin Taro for Japanese food at the Four Seasons, Zuma, Ku De Ta, the Sala Rim Naam Terrace at the Oriental, and a drink at Sirocco followed by a meal at Breeze at the lebua State Tower,” he says.
Louboutin and pals
And adding his infinite glam quotient to the Bangkok winter was fashion and media maven Mozez Singh, whom we ran into on the return flight.
Mozez Singh with friends
“I dined at DJ Station with Christian Louboutin,” he said, “And had dinner at Gaggan’s the best food ever.”
Partying with Christian Louboutin in Bangkok at DJ Station