Michelle Goh And Pongcharn ‘Top’ Russell’s MICHELIN-Star Mia Bangkok Has Personality (Actually, There’s Two)

Top Russel and Michelle Goh at Mia Bangkok

Michelle frowns at the description. Her and her husband, Pongcharn ‘Top’ Russell, who together run the restaurant Mia Bangkok, which opened in 2019, and which has just been awarded a MICHELIN star, aren’t really a ‘dynamic duo,’ she says. “Maybe we’re more like WALL-E and EVE,” she decides, “only with more cats!”

Mia Bangkok, in an unassuming two-story house across a leaf-strewn yard in the city’s Khlong Toei area, is a revelation. 

On the ground floor there’s a refined bar behind a curtain (it’s called Behind The Curtain just to avoid any confusion). Beside it is a pastry kitchen, and then upstairs, there’s three dining rooms: a dark, intimate one, and a tropical one and a flock wallpapered one – Pongcharn ‘Top’ Russell studied in England after all. 

“Each room has its own aesthetic,” Borneo-born pastry chef Michelle says, “I like the dark room while Top is more into the flowery one – especially during lunchtime when the daylight trips off the tropical furnishings.”

Michelle and Top are like WALL-E and EVE only with more cats
Michelle and Top are like WALL-E and EVE, she reckons, “only with more cats.”

Mia Bangkok’s Modern European Cuisine With An Asian Soul

There, Top and Michelle serve modern European cuisine tasting menus with Asian influences, although they’re not too fussed about labels. 

They call it Modern European as a kind of shorthand. And it is that, but it’s also infused with some Asian soul, Michelle says, elaborating on the description a little.

“Top and I cook what we like to eat,” Michelle shrugs. “And we’ll always put eating pleasure above anything else, which, I think, appeals to foodies and the uninitiated alike.” 

Michelle studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. After that, she worked with Anna Polyviou at Sydney’s Shangri-La before joining Neil Perry at Rockpool, before heading up the pastry section at award-winning Sühring at only 23 years old.

Top was raised on the holiday island of Phuket, before moving to England where he worked at London’s Gauthier Soho, and at The Pearl, under Jun Tanaka, and at Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch. Returning back to Asia, like Michelle, he worked with Jason Atherton at Pollen Street Social, and at Bangkok’s Freebird, as executive chef.

Mia Bangkok’s mini cuttlefish tacos,

Accessible And Enjoyable

Technique-rich and refined, Mia Bangkok is straight-up unabashed fun too with expansive and interesting wine pairings, with lots of natural and biodynamic wines. Some are served by the glass – the natural Ismael Gozalo ‘Sin Nombre’ and the sustainable Abbaye Saint Antoine Vieilles Vignes Chablis.

“That was the intention, 100%,” Michelle agrees. “Fine dining should be accessible and enjoyable.” Still, there’s a steely seriousness behind the scenes. “We take what we do extremely seriously,” Michelle nods, “but all that is in service to giving our guests a good time.”

For food so carefully prepared; created and presented with such fun and finesse, they’re unafraid to add to the burden of the kitchen – which also serves brunch Saturday and Sundays — by offering inclusive options, with 5-course and 8-course tasting menu choices, and a vegetarian and a vegan menu, “so that no one misses out.” 

There was clearly a demand, Michelle says. Friends had long complained about the paucity of vegan and vegetarian options in fine dining spots in Bangkok. So, just to test it out, they tried serving an eight-course vegan tasting menu during the Jae Festival – Thailand’s annual nationwide vegetarian festival held every October – and the reception was positive.

Then they added vegan and vegetarian options to their tasting menus all year long, embracing the no-butter or cream challenge. “Well, we really enjoy the boundaries – they force us to be creative,” Michelle continues. “We don’t use meat substitutes. It’s all raw or whole plant based ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains.”

In all the menus, the courses are roughly arranged in the European way, Michelle says, with the five-course menu created first, to keep the price-point accessible, and the “full experience” eight-course menu with luxury add-ons like  caviar, truffle and oysters. Both go from small bites to cold dishes, to hot savory dishes, then a palette cleanser and then dessert.

Stacks of well-balanced flavor at Mia Bangkok.

Inspirations From All Over The Place

Despite working together, Top and Michelle share such a strong passion for food that means they never get bored of it, or each other. 

“Work and life is inseparable,” Michelle says. “And we pick up inspiration all over the place.” However, the one time they talk about work the least, she notes, is when they’re engrossed in eating together.

All that comes through in the borderless dishes they serve – a mini cuttlefish taco and a hay-aged pigeon with a red cabbage and barley risotto. 

Or in their simple, sentimental and ever-present sourdough brioche course “that’s very close to our hearts because it depicts the start of the relationship for both Top and myself.”

Mia Bangkok’s three dining rooms for different tastes.

Accolades Aren’t Everything

Not surprisingly, the MICHELIN star, while meaningful, didn’t change things too much. “Our outlook really hasn’t shifted,” Michelle says, although they’re respectful of the award from “one of the best guides for quality food and fine dining.”

“Perfection is an illusion, but, regardless of accolades, we’re trying to get a little bit better every day,” she smiles. 

They’d rather focus on the small but important day-to-day stuff – like creating an empowering workplace and offering exceptional guest experiences. “Accolades aren’t the reason we do what we do,” Michelle muses. 

Personality means a lot more (especially when there’s two).

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