A sure fire way to ignite a war amongst Bangkok foodies is to start a conversation about burgers. Pizza is another hotly debated topic, but burger talk quickly descends into hair pulling. The Chef Bar (official Facebook page) is one restaurant that usually elicits a strong response.
On one side you have those that love their incredible burgers. When lamb prosciutto is a topping you know it’s going to be a gourmet burger. These are passionate fans of the place. On the other side of the fence you have those who balk at the price tag. I get it. It can be hard to justify spending 480 baht for a burger.
I’m not trying to stir up a foodie hornet’s nest here. My hope is that after reading this article those who are Chef Bar fans will appreciate just how gourmet these burgers actually are. For those who are more concerned with the price tag I hope after reading this they will actually see the value in these prices. Finally, for those who have never heard of Chef Bar you’ll be informed!
What’s the big deal with Chef Bar?
There must be some reason TripAdvisor has ranked Chef Bar #1 of 215 for hamburgers in Bangkok, and in the top 1% of Bangkok restaurants (at the time of this writing #140 of 10,171 restaurants). For sure it’s not the size of the restaurant.
This tiny 16 m² has a long bar across for seating and few tiny tables that can sit 2 (3 maximum). Though there are plenty of seating options, if filled to capacity with customers you’d have to do some Tetris like gymnastics to move about from the end to the front of the restaurant. This can be a good thing if you want to rub shoulders with Chef Bar fans from all over the world–and they do come from all over. But if you want a more solitary dining experience then check them out on a week day soon after they open (5 pm).
No, it’s not the size of this place that has catapulted them to TripAdvisor’s top restaurants for Bangkok. It’s the food.
What’s so special about these burgers?
For my visit I enjoyed a Black Angus Trio Burger (480 baht). The burger patty is 150 grams of 3 cuts mixed together (chuck, brisket, and hanging tenderloin). The beef comes individually wrapped from the Accidental Butcher and is imported “from pristine natural pastures of the Cape Grim region in North West Tasmania”.
This burger rests on thick slices of smoked belly bacon that are lacquered with coffee stout and treacle (molasses) and a slice of Swiss cheese on the bottom. It’s covered on top with a slice of roasted vine red tomato, fresh thyme, and a halved Moroccan spiced lamb merguez sausage. Holding this burger together is an oat bun sourced from a local bakery delivered fresh daily. The bun halves are brushed with an in-house tomato and pesto butter blend.
Let me show you how it’s cooked…
The buns with the toppings are baked whilst the burger patty gets a lot of love and attention from the chef. The patty is fried and torched by hand. The chef chef continuously bastes the burger with the grease as he torches the entire burger until there’s a light char on the surface whilst the inside is medium rare (he can cook it to other degrees of doneness on request). The end result is amazing…
What you get for your money…
For my 480 baht I got an incredibly juicy and flavorful burger and fries. I was able to snap this picture before the burger was topped with a generous helping of delicious hand cut fries (nothing frozen here!). The smokiness from the bacon, the juiciness of the meat and baked tomato slice, with the mild flavor and chewiness from the merguez sausage and Swiss cheese is an amazing combination. This was real treat!
As if fresh hand cut fries weren’t enough, they are also seasoned with an in house seasoning blend which contains flakes of nori and smoked paprika. One bite and you’ll be hooked! Also noteworthy, the homemade ketchup! Very flavorful, light, and not cloyingly sweet like its commercially sold counterparts. Unseen in the photo is the bed of baby greens, shaved carrot, and petite tomato with homemade pickled veggies (beets, red radish, and cucumbers).
What about drinks?
Chef Bar offers a nice selection of craft beers (all at 220 baht) and a rotating selection of mid range New World wines (he keeps the prices to 240 baht/glass or 990 baht/bottle). You can also get a large 500 ml dry Black Rat Cider for 160 baht. You won’t find the major brand local beers here (Singha, Leo, Tiger, and Chang). For this meal I enjoyed a Silom IPA brewed in Cambodia from a Thai recipe.
But is it a value?
I think I’ve covered that these burgers are pretty gourmet, but are they a value? To give a context, according to the Burger King website for Thailand a Bacon Whopper Cheese burger is 215 baht and fries are 89 baht. If you’re smart, go for the Value Meal that comes with drink for 275 baht.
First off you’re getting a “meat” patty that doesn’t come close to the quality of meat at Chef Bar, and at 110 grams it is also 20% smaller than what you’ll get at Chef Bar. I don’t think I need to discuss the toppings. It’s pretty obvious we’re getting into the territory of comparing a fine wine with a fruit wine.
My point is, at this level of quality offered at Chef Bar you’re paying only a couple of hundred baht more and that IS a great value.
A chat with the owner/chef!
I was fortunate to have an opportunity to chat with the owner and chef, Roland Graham. Chef Roland originally hails from Sydney, Australia. He’s had a lifetime slogging it out in kitchens for 40 years all over the world in places such as Australia, Qatar (Executive Chef for the Sofitel Hotel), Singapore (opening the widely successful PS Cafe Dempsey Hill), New York City (opening the Australian Bar and Restaurant in Manhattan), and in Thailand (Executive Chef for Sareeraya Suites in Chaweng Koh Samui). He has been living in Thailand for 9 years.
The Chef Bar opened its doors 5 years ago with a major renovation 2 ½ years ago. The idea was to open a small restaurant with a limited yet flexible menu of items based on what ingredients he could get fresh that day. As a result, in addition to a standard menu there’s also sheets of hanging paper up front at the counter where Chef Roland scribbles down what’s available.
He strives to “take the humble burger and elevate it”. At Chef Bar burgers are gourmet and described in detail such as “Tassie Wagyu Burger with Lamb Prosciutto, Sauté Onion, and Yellow Cheddar (480 baht)”, “Smoked Pork and Fresh Sage Burger with Spicy Pretzel Crumb, Jalapeño Jack Cheese, Crispy Shrimp, and Sambal Mayo (400 baht), or “Cape Grim Beef Burger with Smoked Duck Breast, Speck, and Blue Cheese (480 baht)”.
Though Chef Roland makes a fine burger his real passion is cooking steaks. You may notice a small sign which states “Amazing Steaks Ask Chef Availability & Pricing“. If you’re a fan of steak you should ask–you won’t be disappointed. Chef Roland gets the affordable cuts of beef (such as sirloin, and rump) but he has a few regulars that will call in advance for special higher end cuts.
In speaking with Chef Roland it’s clear that cooking is his passion and being able to see the joy it brings to customers is his reward. He is also very proud of how his tiny restaurant quickly ascended to the top ranks of TripAdvisors restaurants and burger recommendations. After my first bite I immediately understood the fanfare. He has every right to be proud!
OMG! Take my money. Where is it?
The Chef Bar is closed on Sundays and open Monday – Saturday from 5-9 pm. The restaurant is located a short walk from the Sukhumvit MRT station (or Asok BTS). Follow Asok until you get to the first major intersection, turn right, and follow the street about 100 meters. Chef Bar will be located on the right. You can’t miss the sign!
If you want to pamper yourself with a seriously gourmet burger I highly recommend you visit Chef Bar!