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    Savoring Southeast Asia

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet–

    Re-reading Somerset Maugham’s great novels (thank you, Tommy Bonk) re-ignited my passion for the South Seas. How fortuitous that my husband had a business meeting in Singapore—it gave us a chance to explore the cultures and savor the cuisines of that exotic region.

    Our adventure began in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; then took us to Singapore; and finally, to Bangkok, Thailand. What we found was an explosion of tastes, spices, and culinary approaches that ran the gamut from regional to international, and everything in-between.

    So, if you’re ever visiting that part of the world, here are my top dining and drinking choices:

    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar: They have several locations and all have a contemporary feel, plus, best of all, a well-curated wine selection. Since Malaysia is a Muslim country, finding a place with good food that also offers wine is a plus. Alexis has a nice smattering of both Asian and Western dishes, but I highly recommend Malaysia’s national dish, Nasi Lemak, made with coconut milk-infused rice and pandan leaves, often served for breakfast. Alexis’ version includes free range ayam berempah (fried chicken), sambal ikin bilis (fried anchovies with chili paste and peanuts), fried egg, cucumber, and, of course, rice.


    Claudine: This is the step-sister of hard-to-reserve, Michelin-starred Odette (also great), but is just as good in a cozy, more casual bistro setting. The restaurant is housed in a renovated old chapel, and thankfully kept the stunning stained-glass windows (go at sunset). Known for their delicious tableside flambés (think chateaubriand and Crepes Suzette), Claudine also has an intimate lounge/bar area with one of the best Negronis in Southeast Asia.

    The Tiffin Room, Raffles Hotel: This is a perfect lunch spot and is in the historic Raffles Hotel (yes, Somerset Maugham stayed here), featuring authentic Indian cuisine. The chandelier-lit room has an airy century-old feel as well as a beautifully landscaped patio, and the Jhinga Kebab (tiger prawn with Indian spices and mango salsa) is a winner.

    The Long Bar, Raffles Hotel: In this historic spot, it’s said that the Singapore Sling was invented. It has a pub-like atmosphere and is a bit touristy, but it is still fun with peanut shells on the floor. And yes, you have to try the Sling.

    Violet Oon: With several locations in Singapore (including the ION Orchard shopping center and Changi airport), this is a restaurant where you can sample Nyonya and Peranakan (Chinese/Singaporean) cuisines. The vibe is a Southeast Asian version of an upscale English tea room. I loved the gado gado (fried tempeh with long beans, cucumber, and cabbage in a peanut sauce) and Tauhu Goreng (a similar dish, with fried bean curd and bean sprouts in a sweet/tangy peanut sauce). For dessert, try the Gula Melaka (palm sugar) tea cake with coconut ice cream. All their tasty cakes are on stylish display, and you can purchase them to-go.

    Labyrinth: Here you will find inventive, Michelin-star fixed price dining at its best. Think elevated hawker street fare cuisine in a refined setting. Located in a shopping mall (like many other Singaporean restaurants, since it’s so hot), Labyrinth surprises and delights along its six-course way. It is not cheap at $175 per person, but is worth every penny. You even get to shave your own shave ice with their personal machine!

    Ce La Vi: Made famous by the movie Crazy Rich Asians, this is the outdoor panoramic view bar atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It’s a bit of a scene, and you have to reserve in advance, but the vistas over the water and the “Gardens By The Bay” are to-die for. Plus, their cocktail menu even sports the original Trader Vic mai tai!


    Our favorite city of the three by far has got character, kind people, numerous “ladyboys” (transgender folks) all over town, a series of beautiful canals, creative and affordable street food, stupendous temples, and tasty cuisine. Here are some of my favorite Bangkok restaurants.

    Hong Sieng Kong: This is a 150-year-old neighborhood “retro-style” Thai-Chinese restaurant in the artsy Chareonkrong district near Chinatown. You order at the counter, and then are surprised by antiques filling the loft-like indoor space. That extends to a landscaped courtyard opening up to a spectacular river view terrace. I’d recommend the Thai and Chinese dishes—go for lunch when you can soak up the atmosphere and sit by the river. Here you will find al fresco dining at its best.

    Eat Me: Who doesn’t love a restaurant where the male waitstaff wear red lipstick? Besides its cheeky name, this modern California-style indoor-outdoor eatery delivers on the culinary front, offering contemporary approaches to American-focused offerings with a global twist. Gay-owned, the restaurant has a founder from Australia and his (also gay) chef hails from New York. Go for the food, and stay for the fun.

    Nahm: San Franciscans who are fans of Thai cuisine will know Nari and the recently reopened Michelin-starred Kin Khao (which means “to eat rice”), owned by chef Pim Techamuanvivit. Nahm is her signature restaurant in her native Bangkok. It’s chic and classy, with modern Thai offerings like curries and stir fries that won’t burn your tongue (unless you opt for that). Plus, it also has a Michelin star.

    Suhring: We had probably the best meal of our trip here. Suhring is a German-inspired restaurant set in a garden where every morsel is a piece of art. Go for the three-course lunch, sit in the glass-enclosed terrace to enjoy the view, and savor such creative combinations as bluefin tuna with eisbeinsulze (ham hock), spatzle with crispy onion and black truffle, and duck liver wafer with apricot. The twin chefs even personally signed a tailor-made birthday card for me!

    Silk Café at Jim Thompson House: The former diplomat turned silk trader (who mysteriously disappeared in the jungle) has a beautiful museum of artifacts and antiques on a sequestered canal. But don’t just tour the house. Go for lunch in the open-air courtyard overlooking a koi pond for a relaxing meal of specialty Thai dishes, with a decent wine list to match.

    Floral Café: Coffee culture is extremely popular in Bangkok and local cafes can be found literally on almost every corner. Owned by one of the popular “ladyboys” in town who is a favorite of the society set, this intimate coffee and sweet shop is located near the flower market. The proprietor decorates the café seasonally with whatever is in bloom, so it bursts with design originality. And the coffee is good and strong.

    Sky Bar: Outdoors atop the 63rd floor in the Lebua Hotel, the Sky Bar reigns supreme as the best of the rooftop sky bars in the city (for which there are several). You may recall the venue from its star appearance in the Hollywood film Hangover 2. Savor the view and the drinks at this classy bar. We were there during a thunderstorm, yikes, but it was still spectacular. P.S.—There’s no need to dine here; the price of drinks here equals the cost of a normal dinner, so save your money for a dining excursion elsewhere.

    Bamboo Bar: This was my favorite gathering place of the whole trip. Housed in the historic, first-class Mandarin Oriental hotel (where Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward stayed), the vibe of this bar evokes the roaring ’20s, just like Bemelman’s Bar at the Café Carlyle in New York. Cool live jazz with Montreal-based songstress Shirley Murray and her band complements speakeasy-type drinks and bar food (think martinis and Negronis). And Shirley’s rendition of “Route 66” is one for the ages.

    Some readers wanted to know: how does the food in Southeast Asia compare to similar restaurants here in the Bay Area? The simple answer is that the spices are different in Asia and the food here delivers on California’s bounty. But both are delicious. So, definitely put Southeast Asia on your destination list and compare for yourself.

    P.S. I’m also happy to announce that once again The Taste Awards (“the Oscars of food, fashion and lifestyle media”) has tapped The Gay Gourmet to be a judge for its annual culinary awards program. Stay tuned! (Editor’s Note: Congratulations as well to The Gay Gourmet for being honored with a San Francisco Press Club Journalism award! It was for his piece about Poesia in the Castro that ran in the September 23, 2021, issue of the San Francisco Bay Times. Further details will be announced by the Club on December 8.)

    Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar:
    The Raffles Hotel, Singapore:
    Violet Oon:
    Ce La Vi:
    Hong Sieng Kong:
    Eat Me:
    Silk Café at Jim Thompson House:
    Floral Café:
    Sky Bar, Lebua Hotel:
    Mandarin Oriental Hotel:
    Bamboo Bar:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on November 17, 2022