Sundown at Bangkok’s River City pier is tourist central. Forty-metre-long dinner cruisers, each overdressed in retina-searing neon, slink up and open up their doors in anticipation of hundreds of famished guests. Waitresses who appear to have tottered out of The Jetsons—think retro-futuristic air hostesses—greet them with painted-on smiles. Crowds jostle and the dull thud of EDM beats contaminates the sticky evening air.
None of this nightly hustle-and-bustle is news of course—boorish cruise ships have dominated Bangkok’s dinner cruise scene for years now—but in recent weeks a more sophisticated alternative has coasted gracefully into eye-line. And while it departs from the same stretch as the tacky, pack-’em-in competition, Supanniga Cruise plies a slower, more exclusive—and dare-we-say romantic— course. Think impeccable home-style cooking, lounge beats you can hear the sound of your own voice over, and the occasional clink of Tattinger-branded champagne glasses.
“We looked for the gaps in what the typical cruises offered and have tried to fill them,” says owner Thanaruek Laoraowirodge as this handsome, muddy orange 40-seater sets off upriver for its evening tour of the higgledy-piggledy parade of architecture that is the city’s waterside milieu: old churches, monolithic bridges, dilapidated go-downs, gabled temples and shimmering stupas.
Thanaruek has already made several big splashes in the Thai restaurant industry. His Isan restaurant Somtum Der is a popular Silom fixture, while the New York branch pulled off a first for a joint specialising in the earthy, unrestrained flavours of the northeast—it walked off with a Michelin star. He also runs two no-frills mall eateries, one at CentralWorld’s Groove, the other at EmQuartier, that go by the name of Eat. Meanwhile, the Thonglor and Sathorn branches of Supanniga Eating Room both have a brooding neo-rustic design and are packed pretty much every night with a mix of moneyed office types, clued-up tourists and even the occasional celeb. In other words, they’ve taken the risky designer Thai restaurant route—but, largely on account of the pocket-friendly prices and unadulterated flavours, not alienated locals in the process.
While more spacious, Supanniga Cruise is anchored by the same winning formula, including the recipes (hand-me-downs from Eh’s late grandmother), the mismatched woven cushions and the wood tables inspired by the mai feum, a silk-weaving utensil from Thailand’s northeast. Having said that, there are some notable tweaks, including a slim cocktail list by award-winning Soi Convent restaurant-bar Vesper. And food-wise, there’s only a single six-course set menu available, rather than the comprehensive a la carte one regulars know and love.
According to Thanaruek the aim is to change the menu every two months or so, but as things stand it opens with three light, spicy-tangy appetizers that pair well with your glass of Tattinger champagne, including a pomelo salad with large grilled prawn. Then comes a superlative tom yum goong that serves as a primer for the more robust and exciting main courses to come. Designed to be shared, there isn’t a dud among them. From the mild, sweet, stew-like pork curry thick with cha muang (cowa) leaves to the leaf fish in a spicy-meets-umami-dressing, everything is flavourful. For the closer, we’re safely back on familiar ground with mango sticky rice but the presentation—the soft, succulent fruit is carved in the shape of the yellow Supanniga flower—keeps the excitement levels up.
A little bit of aspirational, boutique-hotel like sophistication and twinkling romance to go with the breezes and picture-book views is arguably just what Bangkok’s crowded river cruise market needed, and Supanniga Cruise fits the bill very nicely, thank you. With a fetching backlit bar lined with bottles of champagne and wine near its front seating deck, this is a boat that enjoys peacocking for passersby. And judging by the admiring glances when people whiz past on packed river taxis or the aforementioned competition, it’s working. As we sank ever deeper into the comfy banquettes, the post-prandial drinks flowed and the historic buildings lined up along the Chao Phraya played their slow-motion game of peekaboo, we were left in little doubt that this is—for the time being at least—the classiest dinner cruise out there.
Supanniga Cruise, River City (cocktail cruise: 4:45pm; dinner cruise: 6:15pm); 0-2714-7608; supannigacruise.com