Cover The atavistic interior of The Cave by Chef Ryan Clift (Photo: Handout)

Brilliant British-Filipino plates in Manila, a famously shouty chef in KL, Michelin-starred Mediterranean in Bangkok and dining in an ancient Balinese cave show that dining out in Southeast Asia is never predictable.

With Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia all now allowing fully vaccinated travellers to enter without the need to quarantine—and in some cases not even take a Covid test—there has never been a better time to look at new spots for our region's favourite pastime: dining out.

As we dust off our passports, it's clear that now more than ever, no meal time can go wasted. Handily, these 12 dining destinations promise a world of flavours from some of the region's finest chefs.

So book the flights, the hotel, the table—and then kick back and enjoy getting your eats on.

Related: 5 Creative New Tokyo Restaurants To Dine In

1. Gordon Ramsay Bar & Grill, Kuala Lumpur

In quite a culinary coup, the Malaysian capital has secured the very first Gordon Ramsay Bar & Grill to open outside the UK. Sunway City Kuala Lumpur is home to this homage to Britishness, with portraits of icons from Sir Mick Jagger to Sean Connery decking the walls, part of opulent interiors which feature walnut, brass, and even gold leaf on the ceiling.

While it's highly unlikely that the famously fiery Scot will actually be cooking your meal, the menu is inspired by his Savoy Grill, and as such includes a plethora of his signatures. Foremost amongst them, his beef Wellington, natch. It's served tableside, as is the Dover sole with Grenobloise sauce, that heady mix of brown butter, capers and lemon.

The only challenge? It's already fully booked up six weeks ahead.

2. The Cave by Chef Ryan Clift, Bali

Another British chef making his mark in southeast Asia is Ryan Clift. No stranger to gastronomes thanks to the excellent Tippling Club in Singapore, his latest venue has to be seen to be believed.

That's thanks to its subterranean locale, an untouched ancient cave six metres underneath an Uluwatu clifftop, discovered during the construction of a villa. It has been cleverly transformed into a 22-seat dining venue where seven-course tasting menus by Clift rotate every quarter.

Dishes include a take on chawanmushi with charred corn, yuzu kosho, coriander and ikura, while we're also intrigued by the sound of the aged Peking duck with a crunchy cromesquis and green peppercorn sauce.

Entertainment is also included in the form of 'interludes' that are projected on the cave walls between every course. You don't get that at Subway.

See also: A Food Lover’s Guide to Bali

3. Yantra, Singapore

Tastes of history and heritage are in store at Yantra in Singapore thanks to a menu curated by Indian culinary historian Pritha Sen. She has pulled recipes from India's vast and stunning food heritage, taking inspiration from grandmothers and former royal households alike.

Executive chef Pinaki Ray translates them for diners in a venue which features no fewer than five dining spaces.  Rajasthani murg ka sula is an age-old recipe for barbecued chicken that was first served during royal hunts, while vegetarians will love badal jaam. The dish of baked aubergines with sun-dried tomatoes and thick yoghurt was inspired by Nawabi royalty from modern-day Uttar Pradesh.

Private whisky lockers, a Polo Room private dining area and a bar inspired by India's oldest national park complete the Tanglin Road space.

4. Miss Thu, Saigon

So many restaurants like to take the theme of a fictional character, as with Miss Thu in Saigon. This 'stylish and daring' woman inspires the decor and menu in a venue which seeks to bridge the traditional and modern.

It's intriguing then that the head chef is French, but Arnaud Daleau has worked in Saigon for years and brings with him French culinary training, part of more than 15 years' experience.

Under ceilings inspired by cnon quai thao, Vietnamese flat palm hats, the menu consequently melds France and Vietnam. Dishes like foie gras with an emulsion of Vietnamese herbs, or beef tenderloin with Vietnamese chimichurri show the meeting of cultures, while wagyu pho and bun thit nuong—vermicelli with Iberico pork and a scallop spring roll—clearly play on classic local favourites.

5. Guilty, Bangkok

The Anantara Siam in Bangkok's swanky Ratchadamri district is home to Peruvian-inspired cuisine from Chef Carlos Rodriguez. An alum of spots including Gaggan, he oversees a menu which touches on much of Central and South America, but with Peru at the heart.

Multiple seafood ceviche feature leche de tigre, the piquant citrus-based marinade that translates as 'tiger's milk' and imparts such unique flavours. Another Peruvian favourite includes causa, potato salad with avocado and octopus, but the menu then travels further afield with barbacoa beef tortilla tacos with Brazilian wagyu and Cartagena-style rice with rock fish.

Amongst decadent desserts, our vote would go to 'Break it Up!", a supersized take on a Ferrero Rocher that you break with a hammer to reveal Jamaican almond fudge, salted caramel, passion fruit and coconut rum. What calories?

Read more: Villa Frantzén, Chef Björn Frantzén’s Newest Restaurant, Opens in Bangkok

6. Fiamma, Singapore

One of the world's most decorated chefs, Argentinian maestro Mauro Colagreco is the latest name to grace the Singapore dining scene with the recent opening of Fiamma at Capella on Sentosa Island.

He returns to his Italian roots in a space meaning 'flame' with many dishes inspired by childhood memories of watching his grandmother cook. That history often means less is more, letting fabulous produce sing, such as in the carpaccio di pomodoro e pesca where slices of heirloom tomatoes and yellow peach are topped with Sicilian pistachios.

It's no surprise that the chef-owner of Mirazur in Menton, holding three Michelin stars and formerly top spot in the World's 50 Best, crafts some of the finest seafood you can imagine. Giant gambero rosso red prawns are lifted with herbs and kumquat vinaigrette, while his take on linguine alle vongole is set to make all other versions bow before it.

7. Caspar, Jakarta

Chef Rafael Martínez, who has worked with Spanish culinary giants including Carme Ruscalleda, brings dishes from his homeland to the Indonesian capital at Caspar in The Orient Hotel.

Given that he comes from the coastal city of Valencia, known as the birthplace of paella, ordering his version which comes both with chicken and duck seems a non-negotiable. If anyone can guarantee a crunchy soccarat, the burnt rice base of the pan, it's a Valenciano.

But don't miss out on other Iberian classics including his take on Bacalao Vizcaina, where cod and clams combine in a dreamy sauce with sweet red peppers.

Designed by Bill Bensley, Caspar features high ceilings and walls decked in hundreds of teak drawers and cupboards, while the outdoor area with tropical plants is an Instagram dream.

8. Nan Bei, Bangkok

Although not strictly a new restaurant, Nan Bei at The Rosewood Bangkok has been closed since the hotel shuttered due to you-know-what. It's a welcome return and reopening, however, for a spot that served brilliant Chinese dishes, regardless of the region.

The interiors with their Art Deco feel are elegant but understated, while the same could be said of the cuisine from executive Chinese chef Matthew Geng. Born and raised in Beijing, he brings almost three decades of experience to Nan Bei which means 'south' and 'north' in Mandarin.

Whether it's bold flavours from Hunan, impeccable dim sum or picture-perfect Peking duck, the bases of China's vast culinary canvas are more than covered in style. His signature lobster mapo tofu with Kurobata minced pork is a must-order.

Don't miss: A Food Lover's Guide to Bangkok

9. Ocean Club, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Few restaurants can match the dramatic, elegant setting of Ocean Club at Regent Phu Quoc. With jaw-dropping views over the vast pool and palm trees towards the ocean beyond, it's already impressive even before you hit up the menu from Chef Daniel Huynh.

Vietnam-born and raised, he is equally inspired by his country's legendary food culture as much as by international traditions and dishes.  As you would expect given the restaurant's name, seafood is the main draw and he and this team craft it beautifully.

Phu Quoc squid is gently chargrilled with muoi ot xanh, a brilliant bright green sauce of peppers, chilis, lime and more, before more flavours and colours ensue with an aji verde salsa. Then Alaskan king crab legs are roasted with Sriracha lemon butter, truffle mayonnaise, pomegranate gel and micro herbs for pretty but unfussy plating.

10. Nelayan, Bali

Back in Bali, Nelayan at Jimbaran Puri, a Belmond Hotel, immerses diners in the wonders of Indonesian cuisine. But they also compliment their dishes with local craftsmanship, notably ceramics, fabrics and linens from Bali-based artisans.

There's the added bonus of beguiling views from Jimbaran Beach, especially at sunset, but of course the food is the main draw and Nelayan over-delivers here too.

Ikan mebakar brings grilled and butterflied baby red snapper with a local sambal, alongside more flavour-packed condiments and a cooling urap sayur salad with grated coconut. Don't miss the bebek bututu, where no fewer than 16 spices marinate a duck leg that is then cooked in banana leaf.

11. Ember, Manila

When a chef has the likes of two Michelin-starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in the UK and a certain Copenhagen restaurant called Noma on their resume, you can guarantee you’ll enjoy seriously good eating.

That’s definitely the case with Josh Boutwood, a Filipino-British chef whose latest venture, Ember, has launched in Manila’s swanky Greenbelt mall. You'll find no tweezers or foams, just honest and delicious plates which have you roaming confidently across the menu.

In addition to perfect steaks from grills which reflect Ember's name, standouts were the textural delights of tuna with avocado and puffed tapioca, as well as memorable butter poached squid with ink and kale.

And save room for sticky Swedish chocolate cake. That's a life motto—not just a culinary pointer.


12. Beach House Layan, Phuket

Finally, we head back to the land of smiles and the idyllic draw of Phuket. The three-storey Beach House lives up to its name on tranquil Layan Beach and includes a relaxed poolside restaurant, fine dining and a rooftop bar.

Breeze by the pool serves up sashimi and sushi, ceviche and poke bowls before moving on to Italian classics at dinner.  But our choice would be the menu at the fine dining Dee Plee where chef de cuisine Supakarn Lienpanich celebrates royal Thai cuisine. Choose from fiery but fragrant salads, stir fries and curries, notably the always-popular southern Thai specialty massaman with beef cheeks, peanut and tamarind.

Another local favourite of moo hong phuket (slow-braised pork belly with sweet spices in soy gravy) would have us going back for seconds.


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