There’s no question the French owners of Oskar have struck a seam of gold with this wonderfully edgy, exciting and un peu méchant venue. Often copied but as yet not convincingly duplicated, it has set the pace for more than a decade in one of Bangkok’s most thriving entertainment areas. Oskar’s mixture of great food and wine, risqué glamour, high energy music and that inimitable French style is really hard to beat.
Credit for its outstanding cuisine goes Julien Lavigne, one of the bistro’s co-founders and a talented chef who first learned his trade in the kitchens of his French and Sicilian grandmothers before perfecting it in collaborations with the Pourcel brothers, the acclaimed Michelin star restaurant owners.
These collaborations began at the renowned French brasserie La Compagnie des Comptoirs, and thereafter at the London-based French restaurant W’Sens. In 2006 Julien moved to Bangkok to join D’sens at the Dusit Thani. It was there he continued his association with the Pourcel brothers for the next five years.
Oskar’s seven founding partners are also behind Kika. Well known French-Laotian restaurateur Sanya Souvanna Phouma of Quince restaurant fame has been taken on board as an additional partner in Kika. Launched in March 2011, Oskar originally occupied the ground floor of a detached building adjacent to Bed Supper Club, then at the height of its success. Both the location and timing couldn’t have been better, especiallyas the area’s other popular nightspot, Q Bar, had recently closed, leaving a gaping hole in Soi 11’s pulling power.
“Yes, it’s true. We were lucky being in the right place at the right time – a great place to start out the night for a meal or a drink before heading off next door to Bed Supper Club,” remembers Julien.
Two years later, with Oskar’s reputation as a quality restaurant and late night venue firmly established, Julien and his partners were able to lease the two apartments upstairs to accommodate the crowds. More space has been added since then, so today it’s about twice as big as its original format.
From the outset Oskar’s interior has always had a typically Gallic ‘feel’ created by designer Frédérique Guillouet, the group’s talented architect. The focal point on both floors is a large sit-up bar reminiscent of a Parisian brasserie where easy conversation between strangers is encouraged. Sofas and tables of varying sizes line the walls.
After about 10pm, Oskar goes through a subtle metamorphosis, with the dimming of the lights and upping the music volume. What starts out as an early evening snack bar, then becomes a gourmet restaurant before turning into a disco, complete with DJ, attracting Thais and expats in roughly equal numbers. Julien admits that many customers use Oskar as a warm-up bar and meeting point before venturing to other nearby late night nightspots. This is the time when the girls heavily outnumber the men.
The local culinary scene is indeed changing, says Julien, with Japanese and Spanish restaurants making their mark. “People from all over the world are coming to Bangkok to dine. It’s fantastic, but opening a restaurant is not easy – not like 10 or 12 years ago.” Julien works hard, of that there is no doubt. He can be usually spotted at Kika by day and Oskar night overseeing operations and some 100 staff. So it comes as a something of a surprise to discover that last year he and Stéphane Carric launched Ace Consulting Asia, a F&B consulting company, which works closely with restaurants to elevate every aspect of the service industry. One of their first clients was the Pippa rooftop restaurant at Mytt Hotel Pattaya, where they helped devise the menu and perfect the ambiance.
Then, in January 2019, together with Stéphane he opened Mama Pasta, a new chain of Italian restaurants specializing in affordable pastas and pizzas costing not more than 230 baht per dish. One outlet has already opened next to Krungtep Kretha golf course and Wellington College International.
Julien claims to keep Sundays free for himself, but given the workload, that seems unlikely. There is some consolation, however, knowing that his influence on Bangkok’s dining scene continues to grow.