Where to eat: Why you simply must dine at Igniv at The St Regis Bangkok

Chef Andreas Caminada’s Igniv has made its mark in Thailand by winning critical acclaim and a Michelin star. At the Swiss fine dining establishment’s branch in The St Regis Bangkok, incoming head chef Arne Riehn serves up two 20-course meals and a chat with David Ho

A selection of snacks at Igniv Bangkok.

It’s no easy task for a restaurant to stand out in a city like Bangkok, where world-class bites abound from street stalls to fine dining establishments. Yet, Igniv at The St Regis Bangkok has quickly and very successfully carved out quite a reputation for itself.

Sure, it has the pedigree of being founded by chef Andreas Caminada, a superstar in the culinary world with several Michelin stars to his name and even more for his protégés. But name alone can only carry you so far in Asia’s competitive dining scene. When it opened in 2020, Igniv Bangkok marked the first Igniv restaurant outside of Switzerland (others are in St Moritz, Bad Ragaz and Zurich). Less than a year later, the Bangkok outpost proved its mettle when it won its first Michelin star under the guidance of head chef David Hartwig.

Restaurant interiors.

The Igniv restaurants take their cue from their name – the word for ‘nest’ in Caminada’s Romansh mother tongue – by building a cosy Swiss roost for fine dining using what’s around them. We are not talking about the obvious like ingredients, but also the local practices, people and eating styles.

Given that, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when Igniv Bangkok’s incoming head chef Arne Riehn told me that his main goal is to build a “happy and healthy” team. Riehn, who has served as Igniv Bangkok’s sous chef and pastry chef since its inception, credits this desire as an important lesson from Caminada as his mentor. While it’s great to know that there are no Gordon Ramsay ‘idiot sandwich’ style rebukes here (a new form of cruelty-free dining perhaps?), it’s even better when the great camaraderie at Igniv Bangkok translates to a great atmosphere and exceptional food.

Igniv Bangkok’s incoming head chef Arne Riehn.

“To have really a nice atmosphere where everyone is happy is the thing,” says Riehn, who wants to maintain the joy of cooking for his staff. The teamwork and trust is evident when we pay a visit to the establishment. Riehn is remarkably friendly and open to ideas from his team, and it pays off in spades. One of the starters for our dinner here – a brioche with truffle oil – is seriously the best bread I’ve ever had. Lightly crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and fragrant without ever being overpowering, I could eat this bread on its own for days and still ask for more. Riehn shares that this is the handiwork of one of his teammates, who is of the Karen tribe of northern Thailand. Despite a slight linguistic barrier, he was still able to bring his idea to crispy life at Igniv Bangkok. As diners, we are definitely grateful for that.

Teamwork makes for sweet results.

Other members of the Igniv Bangkok team are equally eager to contribute ideas and creations. Riehn, along with Igniv Bangkok’s first head chef David Hartwig, have been given complete creative freedom by Caminada and they clearly want to share that joy. Riehn tells us about the many ideas another teammate has for the establishment’s candy store, which used to be his domain. There’s certainly no ego or monopoly on things here and the mouthwatering assortment of chocolates, fruit jellies, madeleines, canelés and panforte are the sweet result of that teamwork.

But back to the main meal (THB5,500++/HK$1170++ per person). We are treated to two versions – regular and vegetarian – of the 20-course spring set for our dinner, along with wine pairing and non-alcoholic drinks options. It sounds like an intimidating amount of food. But I am with companions here and the dishes here are made for sharing, an unusual move from a fine dining restaurant.

Igniv brands its take on fine dining as “fun dining.” While casual fine dining are becoming the norm on the dining scene, along with farm to table concepts, Igniv takes it to the next level with making the dishes shareable. This change stems from Caminada’s own experience with more traditional and more formal structures at previous restaurants and wanting to do away with the stuffiness of yore.

The starters for our meal.

“So we played a little bit around to loosen the restrictions and make it easygoing, like the music here that is a mix of 80’s, modern and even techno tracks,” says Riehn. “Then, the food concept is that everything is for sharing to make it interactive dining. You serve each other and it doesn’t matter if you come with your family, friends, workmates, or it’s a business meeting. It’s always a nice thing to share your food, then talk about the food and engage with each other over it.”

Igniv Bangkok serves up cosmopolitan cuisine, combining Swiss flair and local ingredients, in a ‘fun dining’ environment. We caught the tail end of their serving of the spring menu. The seasonal hallmark of fresh produce is evident in the starters and snacks, such as an avocado topped with langoustine and caviar (or just sesame for vegetarians), a couple of tarts with onion and figs, or a melon tuna ‘sushi’ with a soy sauce aftertaste. To use every food writer’s favourite term, the start of the meal was already heavy on umami, even with salads like the radish-ponzu-beetroot creation.

A glimpse of the mains.

We are given a serving of green and white tea with spice syrup as a palette cleanser before the umami continues with the mains we are served. The standout of the four vegetarian mains for me was the morels ravioli with vin jaune. Fungi and wine sauces are both potent on the tastebuds, but both were carefully balanced here without one overpowering the other. I loved how the gentle nutty taste of the morels came through and the wine sauce was not as harsh as some alcohol-based sauces can sometimes be.

The morels ravioli with vin jaune.

Another flavourful dish was the eggplant, ramps and tomato that came served in a sauce that is reminiscent of kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) to me. The ratatouille of zucchini and potato was a cute one as it came presented like a taco, being so daintily sliced and just as delicately flavoured. My final main was a green beans and lentils combination doused in warm tomato water that gave this section of the meal a light touch, which somehow reminded me of Tuscan summer dishes like panzanella that are soothing and refreshing.

Sweet treats for the meal.

After finishing 15 out of 20 dishes, I am stuffed and satisfied. But fortunately, the stomach has a separate section to fit in desserts so I am able to comply with the final section of our ‘fun dining’ experience. Riehn had mentioned an orange-coffee combo to me earlier and it turns out to be the highlight. It is present in two dishes – a soufflé and a sorbet – and works as a yin-yang contrast in terms of texture, temperature and taste. Colour us obsessed!

An ‘almond’ made of almond caramel mousse with sea salt provided the showmanship as it came served in a glass case with smoke coming out when it was lifted. The Chanthaburi chocolate with kaffir lime and perilla made good on Igniv’s mission to go local with ingredients and provided the chocolatey kick we needed. Then there is also a vaguely nest-like confection of a rhubarb base with vanilla ice cream. The rich and creamy scoop of ice cream served as a reminder that vanilla is a treasured spice with complex notes, not the bland stuff we’ve come to associate with supermarket aisle offerings.

Ending with a nest-like dessert at Igniv, which means nest in Romansh.

After finishing the desserts, we hop on over to Igniv’s Bangkok candy store for more treats. I am given a box full of their sweet treats to take away, which I share with my colleagues. If there is anything I’ve learned from my ‘fun dining’ experience at Igniv, it’s that good things are best shared.

Also see: Where to eat in Hong Kong this summer

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