update january 25, 2019: on january 22, 2019 kutai announced on their facebook page that they would close their business due to the chef departing.
Now that the weather’s cooling in the Big Mango I enjoy walking about and exploring the city for new foodie finds. During a recent exploration of the Suan Phlu area I saw a little sign posted at the front of Suan Phlu 1 Alley advertising a “Beach Bar”. Of course this intrigued me. What’s a beach bar doing down this little alley way in the middle of the city? That is how I discovered Kutai (official website), an excellent beach bar like retreat from the big city, and place for excellent fresh mussels!
“Kutai” – What’s in a name?
The name “Kutai” is a fun word play. Orally “Kutai” in the Thai language means “I am Thai”. Additionally, “Kutai” is the Maori (the native people of New Zealand) word for “mussels”. But though the mussels served at Kutai look like the green mussels from New Zealand, they are not. These are deep sea (not mud cultivated) mussels purchased pier side daily in Samut Prakan. So the large bowls of mussels you get are fresh from that day’s catch and you can taste the freshness!
Let the feast begin!
Mussels are the star of the show here at Kutai. But don’t discount some of these amazing supporting actors! This Sita Crab Cake with Chef’s Sauce is a must try appetizer. Honestly, I was a little shocked as I’m used to crab cakes looking like patties and not hushpuppies. But these golden, crispy balls of perfection are perfectly seasoned, not at all oily, and absolutely delicious. There’s plenty of crab flavor here and you won’t be disappointed.
As an appetizer I also really enjoyed this baked Sea Scallops with Mornay Sauce dish served with thin slices of toasted bread. This is not your garlicky/buttery baked scallop dish. In fact, the taste is very mild, as a classic mornay sauce is very light. I enjoyed the scallop and sauce smeared over the toasted bread.
Bring on the mussels!
Kutai serves generous 700 gram portions of their mussels prepared in French, Italian, Belgium, and Thai styles with fries. I chose to have the Belgium style, Mussels with Beer. Wow! The mussels were incredibly fresh and flavorful–I think the fries got a little lonely as I wasn’t paying much attention to them. I found myself using the shells to scoop up little spoonfuls of beer broth to slurp down the meaty mussels. If your a mussel fan, you can’t go wrong ordering this dish in this style.
Save room for dessert!
We finished off the meal with a bit of red wine (glasses are reasonably priced at 120 baht/glass) and this delicious Tiramisu dessert. It was very creamy, cool in the center, and a wonderful way to finish the meal. But what was even a bigger treat was being able to meet the chef and see him in action!
A chef in action…
Chef Bie (Thanatchai Fakcheng) has been honing his culinary skills in such fine kitchens as the Radisson Blu Bangkok and the Hotel Muse. He’s also appeared twice on the Thailand Iron Chef show. He cooks with intensity and makes each dish “cuisine art” in its presentation. If you have an Instagram account and a love for food, you will be pleased with what he serves.
A chat with the owner…
I had the good fortune to chat with the owner of Kutai, Eric Guias. Hailing from the coastal region of Brittany, France, Eric has always held fresh seafood and wine in high affection. He met his wife, Sita, in France and decided to start his life anew with her in Bangkok. He established the Wine Up Bar & Bistro (now Arno’s Wine Bar) and after selling that off decided to open a seafood restaurant specializing in mussels. In March ’17, Kūtai hit the Bangkok scene.
Eric wanted Kutai to be a place where folks could escape from the traffic noise of Bangkok. A place where they would feel like they’ve been transported to a beach bar or pier harbor side eatery. Since the restaurant is tucked away down an alley off the main Suan Phlu street customers are shielded from the traffic and chaos noise and are greeted with soft jazz music instead. The restaurant itself is decked out in full nautical theme with blue and white striped colors, soft lighting, and starfish/shells with fish netting adorning the walls.
A discussion on “food value”…
Eric wants to keep the food prices at reasonable levels (so customers can afford to be repeat customers). He is a firm believer in food value and wants the customer to feel like they had a great meal and a great value,too. There is nothing on the menu that is more than 390 baht. To make certain that he keeps that customer perspective he pays for everything he eats there.
The woman behind the curtain…
Eric attributes the success of his vision coming to life to the hard work, creativity, and talent of his manager, Khun Mae. During my visit I observed Khun Mae as a whirlwind of positive energy, ensuring guests were attended to, providing translation services, and even whipping up some unique and delicious looking cocktails. She is an avid fan of making her own infused concoctions so if you’re feeling up for some boozie fun you will find some really nice cocktails here!
I could use a break! How do I get there?
Kutai is located approximately 20 meters down a small alley (near Suan Plu Soi 1) which is opposite to Bangkok Bank. In this instance, Google Maps may not be your friend. You can find a better map at the Kūtai website here.
I highly recommend this restaurant if you are a fan of mussels (though there are plenty of non-mussel dishes on their menu, too). Please note that they are closed on Sundays.
Admin Note: I dined with my gal, Anna, who took all of these pictures (nice photos, right?). She’s a mussel nut and would have murdered me if I went to Kutai without her. The plus side of this is that I got a broader experience of their menu, didn’t have to operate the camera, and was not murdered by an angry Viking Princess. All photo credits go to her, and if you don’t like the photos then it’s because I edited them wrong.