Thailand’s romance with Italian cuisine is an ongoing saga with all the elements of a racconto appassionato. There’s enough drama with Italian chefs duelling it over pasta. And camaraderie over a slice of pizza, unless you attempt ranking Pizza Tonda Romana over Pizza Napoletana or vice versa. But strangely, the purists are entirely at peace with modern Italian fine dining: the accompanying voluble shrug, an in-depth essay in coexistence and appreciation of innovation.
So, where am I going with this? Only towards the newest Italian in town, Eugenio Cannoni, who heads the kitchens of one of Bangkok’s most popular Italian restaurants: La Scala at The Sukhothai Bangkok. This is where Bangkok goes for Italian fine dining and, yes, for pizzas. Their signature pizza – Schiacciatina, is not traditional at all, not by a long shot, but delicious it is. That La Scala has not featured prominently enough in the coveted ‘top lists’ has left regulars scratching their heads: What is it that the inspectors/voters don’t see or get? It makes you want to pinch your fingers together and go ‘Che Vuoi?’
But here’s another opportunity for getting that list right, with Eugenio Cannoni authoring this new chapter for La Scala. Understandably, Eugenio brings more than an element of his native Piedmont to the table. Born in the heart of the region, in Monferrato, Eugenio credits his Apulian grandmother for cultivating his ‘passion for cooking and crafting dishes’. His culinary journey began in the family restaurant and took him via one of Italy’s best cooking schools, Alma di Gualtiero Marchesi, to haute cuisine kitchens across Europe. Before arriving in Bangkok, he was Chef De Cuisine at Turin’s acclaimed Castello di Casalborgone restaurant.
We are a table of four, and in the best traditions of Italian dining, the food fuels the conversation. There truly is a lot to talk about – autumn colours and produce inspire the eight-course Viaggio Gastronomico. Every innovative technique is called to action. Every plate is a contemporary monochrome work of art. Yet every single flavour is direct, almost traditional. There is no confusion at all about what you are eating – Italian.
The amuse bouche oeuvre widens your eyes in surprise: a red cherry dipped in balsamic vinegar reduction that is a liver pâté bombe; a mortadella and truffle tart; a black sesame taco with lobster and horseradish; a carbonara cannolino and a red prawn-uni panna cotta topped with hamachi tartare. Eugenio’s creations set us off animatedly discussing the flavours – there’s not an Italian amongst, nor do we have wine in our glasses; it’s the food working its magic. (Starting November 1, the menu does come with an optional wine pairing).
But nothing prepares me for the visual impact of the first course. Titled Scampo, this carmine creation is very Latin in its intent. Under the cover of a delicate red bell pepper sheet reclines a poached langoustine with its bisque glaze. The accompanying smoked bell pepper sauce is sweet and sour, an explosion that enhances the inherently sweet langoustine forcing it centre-stage.
The hero of the following course – Fegato Grasso – is a personal favourite: foie gras. Pan-seared, Eugenio serves it with onions – stewed, reduced and coaxed into yeilding their natural sweetness. Together, it’s a warm, velvety mouthful with tart pops of calamansi. The floral finish of the citrus tying right back to the goose liver. For texture, we have delicate onion crisps standing in for the toast. Alongside, reposing on a wooden block is a deep-fried beetroot rosette topped with creamy foie gras mousse and a sprinkling of calamansi for a burst of freshness. The colours are truly autumnal.
Hokkaido scallops are the focus of the all-white capesante (Italian for scallops) course. The scallops, cooked in a carpione style (with wine-vinegar), snuggle under a scallop duvet surrounded by silky-smooth Colonnata lardo cream. My first taste of lardo was in a small riverside eatery in Rome – pure pig fat had never tasted so good. But this Colonnata lard is exceptional. It is sweet, with hints of garlic, rosemary and perhaps pepper too. Aged for six to ten months in Carrara marble basins rubbed with salt, garlic and herbs, Colonnata, way up in the Apuan Alps, has perfected this recipe since Roman times. We haven’t even dug into the dish, and already it has sparked a discussion. Dig in, and you get to the sweet pumpkin puree waiting quietly in the wings to make its presence felt. Pickled pumpkin is the unexpected curveball that ties it all together.
The next course is green: the kale flour ravioli can barely contain the flavour explosion of the traditionally braised oxtail. The acidic fermented cabbage cream sauce counters the richness of the oxtail. Topping it are crisp fermented wild cabbage leaves.
We return to shades ofbrowns with the gnocchi course – mushroom-filled and served in delightful tangerine broth topped with black truffles. It’s an easy segue into Aragosta or the lobster course that sees the crustacean or the fish (depending on availability) roasted and served in a salsa verde topped with creamy garlic milk and spherified anchovy – a take on the Piedmont bagna càuda.
The penultimate course, roasted pigeon or Piccione E Nocciole, is Piedmont on a plate. The glazed breast is served with an intense jus, hazelnut cream and a dash of yuzu. Crispy skin tops it to bring in the texture. On the side is a ‘fried leg’ – pulled pigeon meat breaded into a ball around a bone, and a black sesame cracker ‘sandwich’ stuffed with the pigeon liver and heart; the offal stewed with hazelnuts and aromatic herbs. Piedmont, as Eugenio says, is all about nose-to-tail cooking, and this pigeon dish is the perfect expression of that philosophy.
Our grand tour ends on a deliciously light note: yuzu curd – almost a lemon posset – served with a yoghurt honeycomb ice cream, yoghurt foam and meringue.
The Petit Fours form the chef’s closing notes: peach yoghurt lollipop, apple and thyme jelly, tiramisu and jackfruit tart. For an end note, it’s quite a crescendo.
Tasting menus: 4 courses (Bt2,480++), 6 courses (Bt3,200++) and 8 courses (Bt3,800++). To make reservations click here.