Bangkok’s Big New Restaurant Runs Like a Local Eatery
At Goji Kitchen + Bar, 1,600 diners per meal is not out of the question. Learn how Executive Chef Michael Hogan manages scale so that local flavors and flair can flourish.
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In Phrom Phong, a vibrant enclave off of Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road, a chef is pounding up som tum (papaya salad) studded with umami-packed dried shrimp, black river crabs and ferocious flecks of bird’s-eye chilies. Another turns moo ping (grilled pork) skewers over a live fire. Still another ladles out bowls of noodles in a luscious bone broth.
Judging from the array of regional delicacies, this could be a family-run hole in the wall were it not for the scene unfolding one station over, where a chef is searing a slab of pork belly over the flames of a charcoal-fueled parrilla grill while a colleague opens a steamer to reveal row upon row of daintily pleated xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings).
Goji Kitchen + Bar, the all-day international eatery at the heart of the newly opened Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, is something of a contradiction. It’s one of the largest restaurants in town, with the capacity to serve 1,600 diners in a single meal if expanded, yet it feels relaxed, intimate and surprisingly personal.
On busy mornings the kitchen fries and scrambles anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 eggs. While the scale is staggering, not a single component of this spread feels mass produced. Part of this is because, unlike at traditional hotel buffets, chefs here constantly whip up fresh batches of dishes instead of allowing platters to languish under heat lamps. Another key distinction: Although the menu spans the globe — from madeto- order Japanese nigiri to creamy Indian paneer — the kitchen keeps the emphasis as local as possible.
“From the very beginning we looked for chefs with passion and skill…. A lot of the team members come from small, local restaurants from all around Thailand,” explains Executive Chef Michael Hogan. His challenge was to create an eatery that represented the best of Thailand’s diverse culinary landscape with integrity — a hotel restaurant with the soul of a neighborhood shophouse. Groundbreaking design is built into that approach.
“What we do is we break it up into sections,” says Hogan, “and each chef treats it almost like their own little restaurant.” At the entrance guests are greeted by an elongated bar with a tantalizing array of pastries, confections and local sweets. In the center chefs work their magic with gleaming copper saucepans and cast-iron woks before a live audience. And off to the side, sushi masters slice and plate fresh sashimi from an artfully arranged display of Neptune’s bounty. Along the perimeter sheltered nooks made of weathered wood reclaimed from demolished houses in Chiang Mai offer a sense of peace and privacy.
The in-house bakery churns out a dizzying array of artisanal sourdoughs, pastries and laminated baguettes (a hybrid that resembles a French loaf but flakes apart into buttery layers like a croissant). A humble bowl of beef noodles takes a full two days to prepare, simmering until the meat slumps off the bone into a meltingly tender tangle.
Through it all, Hogan’s commitment to using local, seasonal ingredients is clear.
“The concept of Goji is to keep it local. Even if we’re making foods that are from other parts of the world, we try to prepare them with local ingredients as much as possible,” he says. “We don’t serve anything that doesn’t have some kind of connection behind it.”
Some of those connections are more personal than others. For instance, khao chae, a seasonal specialty of icy jasmine-perfumed water with rice, makes an appearance in April. Designed to combat the sweltering temperatures during the hottest month of the year, khao chae is both tricky to hunt down and rarely made the same way twice. Cooks and diners can customize their plate with a wide variety of sweet and savory toppings, ranging from deep-fried shrimp-paste balls to eggs stir-fried with palm sugar to fried green peppers stuffed with pork.
“I had never enjoyed khao chae until I sat with one of the Thai chefs, and she showed me how to eat it. It changed my whole mindset,” recalls Hogan. Though beloved by locals, the dish seldom appears in restaurants, let alone five-star hotels. “She didn’t like it herself until her grandmother told her about the thought process behind building khao chae. Part of that is about being a bit free-spirited and thinking about what you want to cook and what you want to share with friends.”
It’s clear that Hogan would like his friends to dine on dishes as deeply rooted in Thai culture as he and his team are. And by the looks of it, his friends would dine very well, indeed.
Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park