Everything they make is a labour of loaf.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
It’s always a pleasure to visit an establishment that’s been getting a lot of buzz, and discover for myself that it does, indeed, live up to the hype. BARTELS quietly slotted itself into Sukhumvit’s packed F&B scene last November, but it wasn’t long before its unpretentious atmosphere; inviting – and thus, Instagrammable – corners; all-natural menu; and most importantly, no-frills, classic sandwiches; made it the literal toast of the town.
Founded by Eva and Nicolai Bartels, from Denmark and Norway, respectively, BARTELS started with the modest aim of baking high-quality, handcrafted sourdough, but word of mouth soon turned it into one of the places to go in the city for simple, delicious sandwiches and drinks, made from local, natural ingredients. “We don’t pretend to be something we’re not,” Nicolai tells us. “It’s all very real. We hire people who are good at what they do, who love coffee and making food, and we partner with small, artisanal producers. It’s not molecular gastronomy, but I think if you make basic food with the right ingredients, it can be something truly awesome, and our customers know that.”
What struck me when I first walked in was that the restaurant is sunk a foot or two below ground level, which immediately creates a sense of separation from the bustling Phrom Phong streets only steps beyond the wall-to-wall windows. The high ceilings, brushed concrete walls, and open-plan space are made cosy by the hanging greenery, simple furnishings, and bookshelves, while a rough-hewn wooden table dominates the middle of the café. White screens break up the space into more intimate nooks, while an open bar/kitchen allows guests to see (and smell) the magic happening – I maintain that there’s nothing quite like the scents of freshly-baked bread and coffee to make you feel right at home.
Having recently expanded upstairs due to unprecedented demand, the floor above consists of comfortable seating and quiet corners for guests to turn into a co-working space, and there’s even a small play area to entertain kids while their parents work from ‘home.’ Vibrant pieces of art are hung strategically; a rotation of artwork that I’m informed is from local artists partnered with BARTELS.
FOOD AND DRINK
We began our meal with the Ocean blue (THB 250) smoothie bowl, a beautiful concoction of pineapple, banana, mango, and recent nutritional trend, spirulina, which tasted just as good as it looked. Refreshing and sweet without being cloying, it avoided the powdered aftertaste that usually accompanies spirulina, and I’ll admit the cobalt blue colour was so pretty my camera ate more than I did!
What we were really there for, however, were the sourdough sandwiches, leavened over 24 hours and baked in 300 degrees in their in-house stone ovens. None of the bread they serve is over three hours old, and it shows – with the first bite of their Sweet ham & brie (THB 300) sandwich, I instantly became a believer. The savoury smoked ham from Sloane’s is offset by the hint of sweetness in their homemade red onion chutney (which I strongly recommend), while the brie cheese rounded out the whole affair.
We then tried what we were told was a universal favourite, the Grilled cubano (THB 250), which did not disappoint, despite opting for their vegan version (THB 270). Although fresh bread doesn’t need to be grilled to add flavour, I have to admit that there’s nothing as indulgent as biting into a piping-hot, grilled sandwiched loaded with melted cheese. The vegan Polony sausage and ‘mozzarella’ were convincing substitutes for their non-veg counterparts, but the star of the show for me was the hit of heat from the pickled jalapeños.
Bangkok’s recent alcohol ban in restaurants has made me appreciate healthier alternatives, and the coldpressed juices in BARTELS are some of the most natural I’ve tasted. Opt for the Tropical green (THB 150) if you like your drinks less sweet – I personally loved the flavours of kale and parsley, while the pineapple and green apple elevated it from mere ‘health juice’ comparisons. The Recharge (THB 150) was my favourite, as a fan of ginger, which undercut the characteristic tartness of the passionfruit; while the Iced tea morning glory in wonderland (THB 150) was a study in unusual combinations, mixing iced tea with orange, pineapple, carrot, and passionfruit for an interesting, yet refreshing take.
For those who like coffee, the Beetroot latte (THB 140) is very pretty in pink and doesn’t shy away from the punch of beetroot, but I’d definitely suggest ending your meal with a pot of ‘Channabis’ tea, infused with CBD, for some post-prandial relaxation.
Since most of the city seems to have already sampled their Cubano, I’d recommend the Wasabi salmon (THB 320) made with Norwegian smoked salmon and cream cheese, with hints of wasabi adding the right amount of umami notes to keep it flavourful and moreish.