A new era for Thai cuisine: how Le Du became The Best Restaurant in Asia 2023

Giulia Sgarbi - 28/03/2023

For the first time in ten years, an eatery honouring Thai cuisine tops the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna: Bangkok’s Le Du, created by chef Thitid 'Ton' Tassanakajohn. As Bangkok takes back the gastronomic crown, Tassanakajohn reflects on what the award means to him and his country

Restaurant Le Du in Bangkok was named No.1 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 to the joyous cheers of the chefs, media and industry VIPs gathered at a glamorous awards ceremony at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, where the Asian gastronomic community was reunited again in-person for the first time since 2019.

“This is a dream come true and you can see it’s really unexpected,” said an emotional Tassanakajohn on stage after his restaurant was announced as No.1 in the continent. “I’m so honoured to be standing among all the best chefs in this room. 50 Best is really special to my heart, not just because of the ranking, but because I’m included in this family with lots of chef brothers and sisters.”

It is the first time that a venue run by a Thai chef receives the crown for the top place to eat in Asia, as voted for by over 300 restaurant experts across the region. Bangkok’s Nahm won the top honour in 2014, later followed by restaurant Gaggan that was No.1 from 2015-2018 –  but neither was helmed by a Thai national.

“It feels unreal,” continued Tassanakajohn in an exclusive interview with 50 Best. “I opened Le Du ten years ago and we started very humbly – for me we’re still very humble. We are a fun dining restaurant that wants to present the cuisine of our home country with a lot of heart and a lot of love. I’m so happy I don’t know what to say.”

Asia's gastronomic community assembled in Singapore for a night of elation and celebration

Tassanakajohn – or Chef Ton to his friends and colleagues – opened Le Du in 2013 when he returned to Bangkok after studying gastronomy and training in restaurants across the United States. The idea for Le Du, whose name is inspired by the Thai word for season, came from his graduation project at the Culinary Institute of America, where his vision for a renaissance of Thai cuisine founded on seasonal ingredients first took root.

Inspired by his learnings at seminal New York restaurants Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges, Tassanakajohn decided that his first venue in Bangkok would honour Thai produce and the country’s culinary heritage. Raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandparents, he fell in love with cooking when he was young, but had to fight to follow his dreams and became an investment banker before switching careers.

“It would be very sad if all young Asian chefs just wanted to train in European countries,” continued the cook. “We need to give opportunities to the new generations of Asian chefs and open the door for them; we need to let them know that Asian chefs can stand among the best in the world."

Le Du presents Tassanakajohn’s personal interpretations of the recipes he grew up with, created exclusively with Thai ingredients cooked with French-European techniques to create a modern version of Thai cuisine. The restaurant’s signature dish, khao kluk kapi, is a butterflied river prawn from the Tapi river in southern Thailand, grilled and served with a risotto made from two types of northern Thai rice mixed with shrimp paste and seasonings. It exemplifies Tassanakajohn’s focus on finding and showcasing the best of his country’s produce.

A50BR23-no-1-le-du (1)
Le Du's small-but-refined tasting menu pools inspiration from the country's rich agricultural history to create a unique and modern angle on Thai cuisine

Le Du has been steadily climbing up the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants since its debut in 2017. The restaurant has been voted into the top ten since 2020, finally taking home the No.1 trophy in 2023. Tassanakajohn’s second restaurant, traditional Thai fine diner Nusara, also climbed up the list this year, placing at No.3. The chef runs his restaurants closely with his younger brother, Chaisiri “Tam” Tassanakajohn, who also manages the family’s more casual venues in Bangkok: Baan and Mayrai Bar.

The top five of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 is completed by Tokyo’s Sézanne at No.2 as well as Den at No.4, then Gaggan Anand – also in Bangkok – at No.5, with Thailand and Japan establishing themselves as the top culinary destinations for 2023.

The list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, also features seven new entries, including three from Bangkok (Baan Tepa at No.46, Potong at No.35 and Ms. Maria & Mr. Singh at No.33), as well as Avartana in Chennai (No.30), Born in Singapore (No.36), Metiz in Makati (No.48) and Refer in Beijing (No.50).

The city-state of Singapore, where the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 events took place, had a strong showing with nine venues voted into the list, on par only with Bangkok. The Best Restaurant in Singapore trophy was bestowed to chef Julien Royer’s Odette at No.6.

Tokyo follows suit with seven restaurants, including British chef Daniel Calvert’s Sézanne at No.2, while Hong Kong contributes five venues to the list and Seoul, four.

Other special awards went to Florilège’s Hiroyasu Kawate, who took home the Inedit Damm Chefs’ Choice accolade; Zén in Singapore, which received the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award; and Avartana in Chennai, the strongest debut on the list that took home the trophy for the Highest New Entry 2023, sponsored by Aspire Lifestyles. Ensue’s Della Tang was named the inaugural Beronia Asia’s Best Sommelier, while Odette’s Louisa Lim collected the Asia’s Best Pastry Chef Award, sponsored by Valrhona.

Now catch up on the awards ceremony for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023:

The list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2023, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, was announced on 28th March 2023 at an awards ceremony in Singapore. To stay up to date with the latest news, follow us on InstagramFacebookTwitter and YouTube