Most Thai people will say that to get the tastiest seafood, you have to go to a restaurant by the sea, as close to the source as possible. So, who would have predicted that some fearless individual would dare bring the sea inland and open a seafood restaurant right in the Rama 9 central business district in Bangkok? On top of that, the restaurant only features premium prices and few tables.
In 2000, someone actually did.
Sripol Seafood House (MICHELIN Plate, MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2021) has been operating for over 20 years, serving its unique dining style. Diners must make reservations, confirming the specific seating time, and detail their food likes and dislikes. The chef then takes over, preparing the best seafood dishes, served on time, surprising and delighting diners’ palates.
“At first, the two of us opened a regular restaurant, using regular ingredients. When we decided to change from 100-gram servings of crab to one-kilogram servings, to require reservations, and to not share the menu until diners were seated, we didn’t get any customers for the first two months.” Natchanok “Maem” Rueangrong, the owner who pioneered Sripol Seafood House two decades ago, recalled the atmosphere when they first opened the restaurant named after her family’s fishing boat.
“As we had experience working in hotels and working with foreign management, we believed it was possible for us to run a restaurant like Sripol Seafood House. Our limited space fits only three tables. Since we cook with only premium ingredients, we don’t want any surprises. We need to know how many people, exact time, what do they like, what don’t they like, are there any allergies. So when we first opened, we often were arguing with customers, trying to explain what we were doing, why we needed to plan everything,” shared Maem.
“Sripol is the name of our fishing boat that my father built. We will do everything to honour the legacy of the Sripol.”
“Normally in Thailand, we can eat almost anything, anytime, anywhere. Especially if you have money. But that’s not how things work here,” she continued. “For example, if an executive wanted to eat after a meeting, I would ask if he could guarantee that the meeting would end on time. If he couldn’t, I wouldn’t take the reservation.”
When asked why, she replied, “Because I have to take care of customers at our three tables. If I bring out the food and you’re not there on time, that’s a waste because we serve premium seafood. Our customers can be sure that they are getting the best of the best. I believe that if we can set such standards, then we can achieve those standards. Such as in making food or in running a restaurant.”
Chef Joe is in charge of the kitchen, but he also acts as cashier, buyer, and valet. He explained why he opened a reservation-only restaurant. “Back 20 years ago, if you weren’t a hotel restaurant, you wouldn’t even consider opening a restaurant like this. But now, people are familiar with restaurants insisting on reservations. Even having to make a booking months in advance is not out of the ordinary.”
When speaking about “exclusively premium seafood” at Sripol Seafood House, they don’t mean prices higher than other seafood restaurants, although meals can run up to 10,000 THB and higher. Chef Joe clarified that “premium” refers to his understanding and knowledge, from the best seasonal catches to the fishing communities of the Andamans and the Gulf of Thailand. Almost all the seafood he serves comes from the waters of Thailand.
“The best season for the tastiest crabs is during the Vegetarian Festival (October). Mackerels caught during that time are also excellent. We use shrimp caught at their peak time for our shrimp paste. For salted fish, we time the season for when the threadfin fishes are at their fattiest,” the chef shared his nautical knowledge.
“We need to plan how to prepare and serve the best quality seasonal ingredients. If the main ingredient is good, then you don’t have to do much to make it delicious. Take crab, for example. If it’s good quality, just steaming it is tasty. Or cockles. If they’re good quality, you don’t have to drown it in seasonings when you make them into a spicy salad like run-of-the-mill restaurants. Along with the ingredients, the restaurant makes no more than ten preparations because no chef can excel at cooking every type of dish. So, we offer a select few types per day.”
Once asked for time, number of diners, likes, and dislikes, Chef Joe takes it from there, creating the menu. Customers find out what they will be eating and how much they will be served upon arrival.
As for servings, they are quite substantial, whether it’s cockles the size of a cup, large plates of fried rice complete with crab roe, or salted fish with full accompaniments. Coming from a family firmly rooted in fishing, Maem knows what and how much customers should eat to maintain satisfied deliciousness.
“Sometimes a guest will ask for more crab. We won’t serve it to them. Instead, we will tell them they should move on to the other dishes. If they eat too much of one thing, it won’t taste good anymore. But don’t worry about not getting your fill, because the seafood items here are big in size,” said Maem. “We emphasise the quality of our ingredients. Even when sourced directly from fishing communities, we carefully go through the selections to ensure that they meet our standards.”
After 20 years of manning the kitchen at Sripol, the chef father is now handing over the reins to the chef son, Chef Jakrapant “Tony” Rueangrong, who has taken over the kitchen.
Chef Tony’s ultimate goal is to uphold the standards and inheritance established at Sripol from his parents. When asked what “standard” actually means, without hesitation, Maem said that the standard is “Sripol”.
“My father said I was crazy when I told him I wanted to open a restaurant. He didn’t want his daughter to toil because he knew how tough it is to run a restaurant. After he passed away, we opened a restaurant, intending to use our fishing boat’s name, Sripol, which is short for ‘Sripol Napa’,” Maem revealed with pride.
“That’s our family name, the name of our fishing boat my father built. So now, we will do everything to honour the legacy of the Sripol name, no matter what.”
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