BANGKOK, Dec 17 — There is a most uncommon playground for the weekend crowd (though it’s certainly open all week) in Thonglor, the most happening neighbourhood in the Thai capital.
The Commons is a four-level (each with its own theme), open-plan and concrete-walled community mall by Varat and Vicharee Vichit-Vadakan, the brother-and-sister team behind Roast (possibly Bangkok’s top brunch café).
It simply demands to be explored; every layer like a different world in the Norse mythology. (Would we bump into Odin or Thor or — best of all — Loki here, we wonder?)
We enter The Market (the lowest level) where an assortment of gourmet food and drink purveyors awaits to be discovered. It’s fitting, then, that we first encounter the roots of Yggdrasil before the various realms of the World Tree make an appearance.
Only these roots aren’t attended to by the Norns who water the mythical tree with water from the well of Urd.
Any water found here is likely to be filtered and carefully monitored for its hardness and pH levels since it’d be used to brew specialty coffee.
“Roots” here refers to the home-grown coffee roaster Roots that sources for beans not only from the usual suspects (Ethiopia, Kenya, Costa Rica, etc.) but also small farming families in northern Thailand.
The higher altitude and micro-climate there create an ideal environment for growing single origin coffee beans with delicate flavour profiles when processed, roasted and brewed with proper care.
We move deeper into the Market towards shops that remind us of Vanaheim, home to the wise Vanir — gods of fertility and harvest. For what better way to reap the rewards of the fields than making bread with the milled grains?
Maison Jean Philippe bakes artisanal bread according to the stringent French guild standards — meaning no stabilizers or preservatives plus a slow fermentation process to add depth of flavours to the dough.
From the chicken coop, meanwhile, comes another rite of fertility: Egg My God offers an “egg-citing” eggs-centric menu including their signature khao kai kon (runny omelette).
A little fire — something the fiery denizens of Muspelheim may celebrate — and consequent wok hei can go a long way too. Soul Food 555 dishes up honest-to-goodness Thai comfort food using local, organic and sustainably farmed ingredients while Eastbound adds a contemporary twist to Vietnamese classics.
“Oven breath” works too: Peppina on Sukhumvit 33 has an outlet here so we can have authentic Neapolitan pizza from wood-fire ovens with Soul Food 555’s lamb krapao and Eastbound’s duck banh mi.
Yes, it’s perfectly okay to mix and match, as it were. Outside the Market is an open mezzanine area lined with wooden boards and pockets of green. Tree branches offer shade so many choose to enjoy their haul from the Market shops al fresco.
Others investigate and test poses for the perfect Instagram picture. We really feel the communal spirit here, even amongst complete strangers. No one is truly a stranger when they have smiles on their faces.
Even the giants of Jotunheim would have much to be merry about — there is plenty of meat and bones here for them. Carnivorous diners go crazy for melt-off-the-bone six-hour-roasted pork ribs and eight-hour-roasted beef ribs from the aptly named Meat & Bones.
All that meat would be terrific with tacos and burritos from the neighbouring Mexican restaurant Barrio Bonito for a belly-busting meal.
Wash it all down with some ice-cold tipple that would please the frosty folks of Niflheim. Craft beer specialist The Beer Cap has niche craft beers from around the world on tap and by the bottle.
Wine lovers aren’t left out either; The Barrel has sommeliers to recommend the right wine, whether to go with a Xian-style lamb bun from bao-focused Xiao Chi or a garlic butter drenched crustacean from The Lobster Lab.
Above the Market is the Village, where quaint little shops are nestled amidst the greenery. A space not unlike Midgard where one may indulge in earthly pursuits.
Here is a vintage store (Treasures, offering fashion from yesteryear), there a florist (Plant House with monthly flower collections). There’s even a spot for audiophiles seeking high-end sound products (Soundcity by Mahajak).
The third level, the Play Yard, could well be home to the light elves of Alfheim, full of the carefree innocence of children at play. Families can enrol their little ones in classes (not run-of-the-mill lessons either; here tiny tots could dance hip hop one day and plant herbs the next) at Little Pea. Educational toys, games and books from around the world are offered at Enginou.
After climbing enough steps, after getting happily distracted by what feels like a new experience around every corner, we finally ascend to heaven. Or Asgard, the realm of gods. Only here they call it the Top Yard, and it’s where the flagship Roast café takes centrestage.
There almost always seems to be a queue to get a table inside, where you can watch the baristas pouring latte art behind the bar or the chefs cooking up a storm... and where there is air-conditioning.
We are happier sitting outside, on the weather-worn wooden tables with fresh air and falling ferns for company. Nothing says weekend brunch more than their cranberry brioche French toast or their head chef’s eponymous Johnny’s Burger (with enough melted Cheddar cheese and crispy bacon to alarm a cardiologist).
Coffee, yes, of course, but also some refreshing strawberry honey iced tea and rosemary-spiked pear sparkler to cool off.
No sign of Loki but The Commons remains an uncommon experience, even for lovers of weekend brunch hideaways.
We have a feeling spaces like this — lovingly curated with a clear concept in mind — will be more common in the near future. And anything that helps build new communities from strangers is very welcome indeed.
335 Thonglor Soi 17, Bangkok, Thailand
Open daily 8am-1am (opening hours of individual vendors may vary)