There’s a hip feel to Freebird that might initially raise eyebrows among wary Bangkok diners looking for serious cooking over and above eye-catching decor. Evocative graffiti by a Melbourne-based street artist competes for attention with bizarre orb lampshades, reclaimed woods, sprightly garden furniture and wall tiles so appealing you have to fight off the urge to yank out your camera phone. Is this modern house deep inside Sukhumvit Soi 47 one of those restaurants, you wonder to yourself? You know the sort: one that seems to be angling for the esteem of the interior design magazines rather than the foodies?
In a word: no. Despite the input of Greymatters, a Singapore-based company specialising in snazzy restaurant interior design, Freebird owes its street-smart vibe to Melbourne’s café culture and an executive chef who has worked there, Dallas Cuddy. Both take their food seriously. “The idea was to bring a different dynamic to what’s already a very dynamic dining scene,” says the Sydney-born culinary polyglot, whose CV includes a stretch at London’s formerly Michelin-starred Nobu. “In Melbourne, nobody wants starched tablecloths. I guess that term ‘bistronomy’— the serving of great food in a casual environment—fits our concept.”
By far the clearest sign that Freebird puts food first—even before the upkeep of its neatly kept garden dotted with bird cages—is its open kitchen. It’s the first thing you see as you totter up the driveway, past pots of lemongrass, dill and butterfly pea, and round to the entrance at the rear of the house. This was a deliberate move. “To have it at the front is a real statement. Instead of being tucked away, it’s a real focal point.”
Cuddy and his team of Thai staff turn out Modern Australian cooking, which he says is “basically Western cooking with Asian influence,” and his food is as unbound by culinary convention as that definition implies. Having said this, there’s a surefootedness and lucidness to his beautifully-plated dishes that shine through from the first bite (puffed tapioca with fish roe and citrus zest) until the last (a deconstructed Snickers bar). Umami-rich flavours play big, as do unusual purees, fermented ingredients and exciting contrasts.
“I tend to work off the three Ts: taste, texture and temperature,” says Cuddy, bringing out two flaxseed crackers topped with sea urchin, parmesan cream and sea grape—one of several opening salvos in the nine-course A Taste of Freebird tasting menu he’s prepared for us. Later there are fresh profiteroles with duck liver parfait and truffle honey and then sumptuous angel hair pasta with crab meat and a not-too-rich prawn bisque. Sometimes it’s the sides that surprise us most, such as the dazzling tarragon, crab and corn salad that accompanies the slab of marinated Hamachi fish, or the gazpacho and fresh ricotta salad that arrives with the slow-cooked Kurobuta pork.
Having moved here from Singapore, where most things are imported, Cuddy is reveling in the ease of access to top-notch ingredients. “It’s great to be able to go to a wet market here, take a picture of something and say to my supplier ‘What’s this? Can you get me this?’” We can expect his menu to evolve quickly, he adds. “Normally we’ll change two or three dishes every five or six weeks. It’s a process of refinement. I get bored quickly and it keeps the kitchen staff on their toes.”
Pair this work ethic with a New World wine list, a menu of equally well thought-out cocktails and an imminent coffee-shop booth and the message is clear—Freebird, for all its funky plumage, is not built on good looks alone.
Freebird, 28 Sukhumvit Soi 47, Bangkok 10110; tel: 0-2662-4936; freebirdbkk.com