I didn’t think I would find craft cocktails in Bangkok. I mean, American-style mixology and thoughtful craft cocktails; not the frou frou, tourist-trap, shaker-throwing type stuff the city hotels were known for. And I found it at Fillets on the third floor of The Portico Langsuan. (31 Soi Langsuan, Bangkok. +66 92 879 6882)
Even two years ago when I was last in Bangkok, I could only find Jameson as an alternative to Johnny Walker and Gray Goose instead of Smirnoff. And here at Fillets, sitting pretty on the shelves is a variety of bourbon, whiskey, gin, and tequila that isn’t Cuervo. And a whole shelf of luxury Japanese whiskey and scotch. Wait. Is that Pernod? Chartreuse? And bottles of bitters? Where am I right now?!
I mentioned that to the mixologists on duty that night, Oui and the beverage director himself, Ping Chareonsri. They said Thailand is catching up on the modern mixologist trends, especially here with Washington D.C.-trained Ping at the helm.
The cocktail menu is seasonal and ever changing and the beverage team keeps tinkering with the recipes. I was there mid-March, and they already put some twists into what I drank that night. But whatever it is they’re serving up at Fillets, you’ll be happy about it. So, let’s take a saunter down memory lane with me and Oui, my mixologist for the evening, shall we?
Imported Yuzu juice, Stoli vodka, and fresh mint
Let’s get your mouth watering with this aperitif. It’s like an Asian take on a Moijto, but instead of leading with mint, this tangy cocktail leads with Yuzu, the Japanese citrus. Dusted with powdered sugar for “snow,” this drink is perfectly sweet and sour, refreshing, and a bit predictable. It’s a safe choice for those not entirely adventurous.
Cherry blossom (sakura) infused Belvedere vodka, cherry blossom infused simple syrup, yuzu, egg white, activated charcoal, and a twist of lemon
TFG stands for “Taan Fai Gao,” literally translated to the old ember, or known in English colloquialism as the old flame. A little salty, a little sweet, beautiful yet a little dirty with a sour twist and a solid punch–just like its namesake. They used frozen preserved cherry blossoms imported from Japan for the infusion. The blossoms are preserved with salt, so there’s just a touch of saltiness to the drink, which balanced out the sweet and the tart. The egg white gave it the perfect froth to show off the dusky charcoal mix below. I dug it. It’s a clever concept and a tasty beverage but I think the delicate cherry blossom was lost in there.
Gin & Tonic
House made tonic & pick your own gin
You could be drinking a different tonic by the time you read this review. Fillets’ G&T is famous because they make their own tonic from cinchona bark and local herbs and spices with lemongrass and ginger. You pick your own gin from two price brackets. Broker’s gin was selected for me for the first round, served with paper-thin slices of limes. What a revelation! Refreshing and herbaceous, it’s a perfect thing to sip on a hot, Bangkok night (which is most nights). That house made tonic was really something else!
And then Oui presented me with the new rose tonic currently in R&D (research and development). The new rose tonic was paired with an airy, fruity G’Vine gin from France and lemon slices instead of lime. I’m not one to like rose-flavored anything, but this tonic has some potential. It’s not too overwhelming and has a good tang to it. This young tonic needs a few more months to go before we get to know its full flavor. You’ll have to fill me in.
Cherry blossom infused Belvedere vodka, Tanqueray gin, vermouth
Of all the cocktails I sampled tonight, this is the one I came back to finish. This take on a Vesper is just perfect. It’s prepared just like a Vesper, not shaken but stirred until super chilled. (Check out those ice crystals!) But unlike a Vesper, they use vermouth instead of Lillet Blanc. It’s dry with just a touch of saltiness from a few preserved cherry blossoms floating in the bottom of the glass, like a much more delicate and prettier olive. Its beauty is in its simplicity. So very Japanese. So perfect. Poetry in a glass. I’m drooling all over the keyboard just thinking about it.
Tito’s vodka, house made ginger beer, lime, and mint
This ain’t your usual Moscow Mule because of the one key ingredient: house made ginger beer. Thai ginger packs a zesty punch to start with and in the expert hands at Fillets, the ginger beer is bright and spicy. Depending on what time of year, the Mule could be a little different as the house made beer relies on the local ginger supply. Early harvest ginger is milder than those late in the season that have time to mature. (Mature ginger is definitely hotter. I’m talking about you, Prince Harry and Tom Hiddleston… Hey, I’m on drink #5! Leave me alone on my tangent!) But my, oh my. The spice makes a huge difference here. I’d order this any day of the week too!
Bonus Round: Hakuna Matata
By the time we went through the tasting menu, the restaurant had emptied out except for me and a couple of inebriated patrons who started a Disney sing-along, going from one to the next. I refrained so hard from joining in but when Ping blurted out “Hakuna Matata!” and the couple didn’t know how to answer that, I had to step up with “What a wonderful phrase!” And thus, Ping wanted to make a “Hakuna Matata” on the house for everyone.
And the beverage director did not let us down. On the fly, Ping made Disney-level magic with tequila (for the grubs), blood orange (for the sunrise), spiced rum (for exotic location), chartreuse (for the prairie), and just a bit of fizz for the kids. And it was deliciously well-balanced and surprising refreshing. That, people, is mad skills.
Sure, you don’t have to trust my review. After all, my family runs the building, and my friend owns the joint. Heck, by the end of the night, I was singing with the beverage director! My drinks were free, and the mixologists weren’t shy with me. But please do trust the very skilled, very dedicated beverage team at Fillets. Trust in the love and passion they put into their cocktails and house-made brews.
Oui said that Thailand is just a few years behind the U.S. in mixology scenes now, and you can tell by the ever-growing list of available beer, wine, and hard liquor. But judging by the scenes at Fillets, Bangkok is just one absinthe fountain and a speakeasy away from catching up.
Disclosure: My family runs The Portico, and Fillets’ proprietress is a friend. But I don’t live in Bangkok–I live in California, USA. So, my visit to Fillets was more like a tourist discovering the place for the first time…except all my drinks were on the house. Hee. But you know me, if I don’t like something, I won’t be writing about it.
For those who are new to my space: Hi! I’m Oakley. I’m a Thai native living in Southern California. Born into a household that eats well and eats adventurously, I never shy away from trying something new. (Except beets. F*ck beets.) Already a home cook and a food nerd, my day job is developing food content and recipes for a produce company where we inspire new food experiences every day.