Nahm London loses its Michelin star, but should Bangkok care?

Nahm London loses its Michelin star, but should Bangkok care?

Lose a Michelin star in London, and you could lose business in Bangkok. That's the rather unreasonable situation facing Nahm owner David Thompson
Nahm Bangkok
Even though Nahm's London branch no longer has a Michelin star, chances are its ma hor will remain as delicious as it was last year.

Chefs don’t win Michelin stars -- restaurants do. It’s a pretty pedantic distinction, possibly of interest only to hardcore food geeks, but it’s an important one. 

Australian chef David Thompson recently -- and controversially -- opened a Thai restaurant, Nahm, at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok. It was based on his London operation, the first Thai eatery to be awarded a Michelin star.

Except that, a few days ago, Michelin announced that said star had been withdrawn. 

Now, we don’t know what their reasoning was. Michelin doesn’t provide the equivalent of a DVD commentary track to their decisions.

In recent years, chefs who have spread themselves too thinly, such as Gordon Ramsay, have seen their places lose stars, so some will doubtless surmise that Nahm London lost out because Thompson was devoting too much time to his new venture.

But the fact remains that the London star was a very useful selling point for the Bangkok restaurant.  

Why does Bangkok even care what a tire company thinks? 

Michelin GuideThe cover of Michelin's 2011 Great Britain & Ireland 2011 guide. So the important question, for Bangkok foodies at least, is whether the loss of the London star will have any immediate impact on the quality of the food at Nahm in Bangkok. To which the answer is: of course it bloody isn’t -- although it might well mean that fewer people go there.

Which would be a shame, because in my opinion it’s one of the best high-end Thai restaurants in town. But then I don’t work for the tire guys. 

And while we’re there, does it mean that Sra Bua at the Kempinski is suddenly better than Nahm because the restaurant from which it was spawned, Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, still has a star?

Of course not, although Sra Bua is also very good, in an utterly different way.

And is D’Sens, the French place at the Dusit Thani Bangkok, twice as good as Sra Bua because it’s overseen by the Pourcel brothers who have a two-star restaurant in Montpellier?

Do other Bangkok restaurants suddenly become better when they stage a guest appearance by a “Michelin-starred chef” although (see above) no such beast really exists? And do they return to normal when he goes back home?  

OK, enough with the rhetorical questions; here’s a real one. Why do upmarket Bangkokians seem to have so much regard for what Michelin has to say, when Michelin can’t even be bothered to haul themselves into town and hand out a few stars to places here? Does this sound like an abusive relationship, or what?

A legendary Bangkok hotel manager once told me that Michelin would only come here if its tire business failed. 

It’s bad enough that foodies in London and Copenhagen (and Hong Kong and Tokyo and Singapore) set so much store by a single list; worse still that Bangkokians might make a judgment based on a vicarious association with a place thousands of miles away. 

And even more peculiar, since the announcement that Thompson was going to set up shop in Bangkok provoked (possibly synthetic) indignation that a mere farang was daring to tamper with “our” cuisine, a furore that to some extent has encompassed Sra Bua, Jarrett Wrisley’s Soul Mahanakorn and Dylan Jones’s Bo.Lan as well. 

And yet people are perfectly willing to accept the opinion of a different bunch of farangs as to what does or doesn’t taste good, even if the decision is made about a completely different restaurant in a completely different city.  

Petty nationalism and cultural cringe make a weird combination at the best of times. When it comes to food, they play havoc with your tastebuds.

So, go to Nahm because the food’s good. In Bangkok, we tend to burn tires, not ask them where to go for dinner.

Tim Footman has written for The Guardian, Mojo, Prospect, Thailand Tatler and the Bangkok Post. He is the author of "The Noughties 2000-2009: A Decade that Changed the World."
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