Published in the December 2014 print magazine
YANGON – Rip-Off Rangoon, where a plate of Lok Lak about half as good as you’d get in Phnom Penh costs US$10. Where a handful of veneered restaurants and bars slap on an extra couple thousand kyat, every few months, for diminishing portions of an exponentially-depreciating quality of fare.
Refusing to join the race to the bottom is The Phayre’s Gastrobar a new restaurant with nighthawk aspirations next door to the famous Pansodan Gallery.
Wings and chips might not be Michelin star material, but at 4000 kyat there’s not much of an argument to be made with a pyramid of sizzling chicken doused in Korean-style sauce – enough to make it hard to spot the clump of paprika pr cajun dusted fries beside – in fact half buried underneath the pile of chicken.
“In Myanmar most of the restaurant[s] say their food is good, but sometimes it’s not, and usually so expensive,” said Htoo Kyaw. He is one of three young Burmese who returned home from the United States and who teamed up to found The Phayre’s, so-named as Pansodan Street was previously called Phayre Street – which was named after Arthur Purves Phayre, the first British Commissioner of colonial-ruled Burma.
The pun on ‘fare,’ which has already caught on around Yangon, was inadvertent, conceded Htoo Kyaw. Fair play to him for admitting that.
The sandwiches – again a 4000 kyat outlay – are hefty enough to warrant a snake-like jaw-unhinging, though the 3000kyat beef salad is a bit light, even as salads go. A bit of ballast – some of that thick sandwich bread maybe – wouldn’t go amiss. But the oil-drizzled foliage does come with some drool-inducingly tender strips of meat , hat should awaken the senses of even the most ardent veggie.
There needs to be Phayre warning for coffee addicts too. If you are looking for a mid-morning or lunchtime jolt of java, you might want to keep walking. At time of writing (early September) The Phayre’s served only brewed coffee – no shiny Italian espresso machine behind the bar yet.
That will change, however, said Myint Thein Oo, the second of the three co-founders of – who say they are hoping to install a coffee machine in the coming weeks.
Htoo Kyaw and Myint Thein Oo both came home in recently after years working in the United States, cutting their business teeth with big names like Macy’s and Gap.
Why come back to try do business in a city where office space is rarer than sparrows on Jupiter and where landprices are so high they should be priced in cm²?
“Just the business opportunities here,” said Htoo Kyaw, suggesting that for those in the know, Yangon is the place to be.
Only three months after opening, the idea is to open branches elsewhere in town. There’s no schedule for yet, alas. “As you know in Yangon it is hard to find a location and the price is always so high,” said Myint Thein Oo.
“We get the lunch crowd from some offices, from Sakura Tower,” said Myint Thein Oo. And there’s a weekly spillover of beard-stroking expats from the Tuesday night Pandsodan Gallery gatherings.
There was a just a half-dozen drinkers on the Friday night when The Irrawaddy visited, suggesting that for now the place is is a daytime eating spot.
That should change soon enough. The team behind The Phayre’s renovated the former Chinese restuarant interior with austere-looking timber – similar to the look of Fatman’s about a half mile away on Yaw Min Gyi St.
There should be movie nights soon – downstairs a whitewashed wall serves as a big screen for a projector parked across the room – which could also pull in weekend football fans looking for a change from upstairs at 50th Street.
Upstairs there are some couches you can sink into while sinking a few Myanmar draft or maybe a signature Pegu Cocktail. The split leves and glass facadel help keep the place well-lit. But if you’re waiting for your friends upstairs, don’t go yelling through the glass if you spot them shuffling in through the front door. The upstairs is sound-proofed – making The Phayre’s a handy venue for a private party or a work gathering.Show