With the August opening of Mott 32’s long-awaited Bangkok branch, there’s no longer any need for foodies to book a flight to Hong Kong to experience this restaurant’s world-famous, haute Cantonese cuisine.
The arrival of Mott 32 in Bangkok signals two things. First, there’s the fact that the title of “best Peking duck in town” has a serious new contender, and secondly there’s the undeniable fact that more and more high-profile, international restaurateurs consider Bangkok a top choice when it comes to expanding their F&B empires.
For anyone not familiar with Mott 32, this now world-famous restaurant began life in Hong Kong around eight years ago, serving up principally Cantonese cuisine, in addition to influences from Beijing and Szechuan, with a decidedly modern, upscale panache. Since then, the brand has grown considerably and currently boasts locations in Las Vegas, Singapore, Seoul, and Vancouver (with Cebu having a September 2022 opening and Dubai to follow soon after). Interestingly, plans for a Bangkok branch have been in the works for quite some time, but it was only in August of this year that the venue finally launched; several weeks after the soft opening of The Standard Mahanakhon Bangkok, where it occupies the second floor.
According to Xuan Mu, one of the restaurant’s co-founders (see interview here), the original Mott 32 has long been a preferred dining destination for Thais visiting Hong Kong. “My Thai friends couldn’t wait for us to open here,” he says of the new Bangkok branch, and it seems a lot of other people couldn’t wait either – which is why securing a table here has become next to impossible. (We heard, from a well-placed insider, that in the first 24 hours after online bookings opened, 2,600 requests for reservations were made – filling the restaurant well into October.)
So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, for starters there’s the space itself, which has been beautifully realised by the CAP Atelier design team, out of Hong Kong. Stepping off the elevator one is greeted to the left by a low-lit, Chinoise chic wall mural – complete with a vintage-era femme fatale at its centre – and this hallway leads to the four gorgeously appointed private dining rooms. Turn right from the elevator and the corridor leads to a large main dining room and adjoining bar area, both of which feature a large, octagonal lighting feature that drops from the ceiling – a design element that originated in the original Hong Kong location, and has been incorporated in all subsequent Mott 32s.
The multitude of frosted and opaque glass panels on this pair of dramatic centrepieces cast a soothing light – reminiscent of paper lanterns – that nicely illuminates the mainly earth tone palette of the interior; a mix of marble tabletops, ivory-toned seat cushions, and varying shades of wood, all stylishly accented here and there with splashes of Chinese blue and red. During the lunch hour, natural light also filters in through the many clear and opaque glass panels that face the restaurant’s outdoor terrace area.
Our midday meal begins, as any visit to Mott 32 should, with a sampling from the gourmet dim sum menu. We begin with a trio of scallop dumplings, in which the green shumai wrapper has spinach blended in with the flour so that it comes out a lovely shade of green. Topped with caviar, we’re told the restaurant’s dedicated dim sum chef recommends these one-bite delicacies be eaten as they arrive, with no dipping sauce, as if part of an omakase menu.
Another dim sum must-try is the chef’s hot and sour Shanghainese soup dumplings, here filled with scallop and prawn. Served each on its own little loop-handled mini-tray, together with a ginger and soy sauce dip, these bite-size spheres burst – literally – with wonderful tangy flavours when popped in the mouth. Rounding out our trio of dim sum delights are the crispy sugar-coated BBQ Iberico pork buns, which taste as good as they sound. Sweet yet savoury, these unassuming looking beauties prove to be utterly addictive.
Next up, from the starters menu we sample the fish maw jelly, which arrives on the plate in the form of six perfectly sliced cubes. Although fish maw is a very traditional Chinese delicacy, it gets 21st century reboot here with goji berry mixed into the jelly, a salty dollop of “caviar” – which is really tiny droplets of soy sauce and vinegar – and a fleck of edible gold leaf paper on top.
Keeping in the seafood vein, we are next treated to the smoked black cod, another Mott 32 favourite. Lightly battered, deep fried, and glazed with a BBQ sauce and vinegar coating, the fish arrives at the table obscured under a glass cloche that’s filled with wood chip smoke. With a swirling flourish from the server a neatly stacked pile of golden-brown filets is revealed, and they are quite yummy – perfectly cooked, with a deep, smoky aroma.
Moving on to spicier territory, the poached fish fillet in Szechuan pepper broth arrives soon after, and its gargantuan bowl takes up a sizeable portion of the table (the serving is enough for four). Although it’s listed under the seafood section of the menu I’d qualify it more as a soup, but either way it was a total standout dish. Intensely spicy and wonderfully peppery, it delivers a rich, satisfying broth, loads of chewy potato starch glass noodles, and tender chunks of snakehead fish bobbing alongside coriander and stray straw mushrooms. I can still taste it!
Of course, there’s no denying that the star attraction is the Peking duck, and almost every table that afternoon had ordered it. When ours arrived, we could sense right away that something theatrical was about to happen. First, the bowls of condiments are brought to the table, consisting of cane sugar, hoisin sauce, and a mix of scallions and cucumbers. The server then artfully draws an “x” in the hoisin sauce – one line peanut sauce, the other black sesame – and finishes it with the Mott 32 signature swirl, a deft hand movement that creates a cool psychedelic spiral design in the dip. Moments later, a wheeled cart arrives bearing the roast duck (aged for exactly 42 days), its crisp outer skin a beautiful shade of glistening golden brown.
“We roast it, then smoke it with apple wood,” says Adit Vansoh, the restaurant’s genial General Manager, who is on hand to explain the whole procedure. “It takes 48 hours to prepare so you have to preorder in advance to guarantee your order. We always have eight ducks ready for lunch, and 14 for dinner, but when those are gone… that’s it.”
While the chef begins carving the bird with his razor-sharp blade, Adit explains a bit more about the process. “The way you see the chef slicing the duck is what we call the ‘Mott 32’ cut. It’s then served on three separate plates. One is for the crispy skin, which is meant to be eaten with a sprinkle of cane sugar, while another plate is for the breast meat with skin, and the third for the thigh meat with skin. The remainder you can order as a second course. The two options to choose from are Peking style spicy crispy duck rack, or preserved duck liver sausage and minced duck served with a lettuce cup.”
As bamboo steamers with the delicate pancake wrappers arrive, we get set to dive in. I’ve had Peking duck before where only the skin is served as the pancake filling, so I’m happy to be trying this new – for me – approach. The thick slices of juicy, smoky duck (with skin), combined with the veggies and sauces, certainly make for a more substantial pancake roll, while the sugar sprinkled crispy skin is decadently delicious. Apologies in advance to my cardiologist.
Our midday meal concludes with two desserts – a creamy bowl of pink guava, pomelo and sago, and a quartet of fabulous sesame chocolate tarts, all topped with salted caramel and pine nuts and filled in the middle with a tart lime gel.
It’s also worth pointing out that the restaurant has an extensive beverage program, with a list of 10 signature cocktails and three alcohol-free ‘Mottails’ to choose from, as well as fine wines, premium Chinese teas, and more. If you do decide to indulge in a colourful cocktail, the sultry ‘Forbidden Rose’ combines vanilla infused pisco sour, passionfruit and lychee purée, lemon, and egg white, all adorned with tiny rosebuds on top. For something lighter, the ‘Hanami’ is an intriguing blend of bourbon, gin, umeshu, yuzu, chrysanthemum and shiso leaf, served on ice in a goblet glass.
It’s easy to see why this restaurant is such a hot ticket at the moment, and is likely to remain so. Mott 32’s Group Chinese Executive Chef Lee Man Sing, and all his team, do a terrific job of recreating the Hong Kong experience right here in Bangkok.
To make your reservations, visit Mott 32 Bangkok.