The entrance to this new fine dining experience on Charoenkrung Road is fairly typical of a two-storey shophouse: naked concrete walls, a simple entrance, and a doorbell. The only obvious indication that this isn’t just somebody’s home are the three golden letters S.D.C.—demarcating Small Dinner Club.
On the ground floor, Small Dinner Club sports a moody, dark setting with funky Isaan music in the background. Upon entering, you’re asked to wait for all 12 visitors to join for dinner at 6pm. Once everyone has gathered, the staff show diners to the second-floor dining club where you’ll be seated according to your nametags. The staff hand you a piece of paper filled with clues and inspirations for the dishes and encourage everyone to discuss as the meal progresses.
Like other fine dining establishments in Bangkok, it’s all about redefining concepts and creating a stage for something familiar to become something special. At the Small Dinner Club, owner Sareen Rojanametin takes this approach seriously.
“There are many local ingredients that people may overlook or even try to avoid,” Sareen of Small Dinner Club tells BK Magazine. “What I’m attempting to do here is to give them a proper stage where they can shine and to give you all the courage to try something new.”
Most of the dishes served in his 13-course dining experience only give diners a tiny hint of what they actually are, and even upon serving names and appearances can be deceiving. The Crying Tiger, for example, arrives in a charcoal tart-like dish with herbs. Too Many Italians, Only One Asian is recognizable as a pasta dish, but it’s not pasta.
Having worked for several years as a photographer and art director in an advertising agency in Melbourne, Sareen credits his boundless inspiration from his creative background.
“It’s just like how designers make a new font,” Sareen explains. “Normally they adjust the design of the existing letters to appear more sleek and modern. We are trying to compose brand-new letters to create our own food language and expand the boundaries of what we can create. Here, at the Small Dinner Club, we simply start with the question of ‘why’ and then ask...‘why not?’”
Dishes like Too Many Italians, Only One Asian, Sareen explains, draw references from when he opened his first cafe-slash-restaurant in Melbourne’s Italian district, Nora. “Our cafe was somewhat of a black sheep compared to other Italian places, so we wanted to do something outrageous, something extremely Thai, but still had a bit of nostalgic sense of comfort food that everyone can understand.”
Apart from its appearance—thinly sliced greenish ‘pasta’ and crunchy toppings—the dish is totally different from pasta we know, with a fresh but pungent tang and consistency of somtum.
“There is nothing Italian about that dish. In fact, what you’re tasting is a condensed combination of Thai ingredients. You might say it’s authentic Thai pasta,” Sareen explains. “It’s about digging deeper and taking a step back from our identity and asking ourselves what it means to be Thais. ”
His other dishes follow similar concepts. The tom yum, for example, is divided into three theatrical parts, dubbed Looking at Tom yum Prawn from Far Away Part I-III. The first section sees the obvious flathead lobster shell with vegetables; the second and third parts barely relate to tom yum at first glance: an ice-cold orange cake, sour but with spicy kicks, and green nam kaeng sai (Thai shaved ice) with a grassy flavor and succulent egg yolk.
Equally fun is the Daft Punk is Playing in my Mouth dish. The plate arrives at your table covered in powdery white snow and a ruby red rectangular shape with what resembles Japanese tuna. The snow is unexpectedly fiery, and the the red substance underneath is sweet, a contrast of spice and ice.
Another music reference is the Crying Tiger. “It’s actually the title of the song from a Thai band called Apartment KhunPa. Its lyrics capture the experience of how many Thai-Isaan people have to leave their hometown to settle their lives in Bangkok. Most of the ingredients I use for the dish are from Isaan: pork jowl and wild sweet herbs. I want to prove that something often overlooked has much more meaning than it appears.”
The aesthetic appeal here also lies with how diners get to share their thoughts about the food. Since different guests have their own unique references, the overall experience helps people understand one another.
When asked if a description of the food spoils the experience, Sareen says the surprise may be part of the fun, but the major appeal of Small Dinner Club is still the food.
“We don’t want to make food in the same way as design for design’s sake. At the end of the day, the purpose of a restaurant is to serve delicious food that satisfies the belly.”
1109 Charoenkrung Rd, Si Phraya. Thu-Sun 6pm-11pm. 13 Course-dining (B4,500++). For reservations: @sdc.bkk or www.smalldinnerclub.com.