La Scala at Sukhothai Bangkok: Where Sacrificial Overindulgence Is Bound To Occur
Part of the pleasure of dining at this Bangkok-based Italian establishment is that you just don’t expect it to be as good as turns out to be. Despite the fact that La Scala has some serious notches on its belt ever since opening its doors in 2002, my first impressions didn’t make for an enthusiastic trip. Let’s begin with the ceiling-length promotional banners against mundane whitewashed walls on the outer facade of the building. Tacky. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the timeless sanctuary that is Sukhothai Hotel. Every nook and cranny exuding traditional beauty emulated from infrastructure to the tiniest design elements. Yet, the stand-alone building that the recently renovated restaurant was relegated to, had somehow been forgotten. It’s dated and derivative, devoid of the same artistic pleasantries displayed by the stunning Celadon, surrounded by lotus ponds.
However, once you’ve gotten past the stale outer shell, and are led to your plush cushioned seats (by an eloquent, long-legged hostess donning a stunning off-shoulder red gown paired with ruby slippers that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz would kill for, no less), you’ll be enshrouded in a tres chic atmosphere. Since most of my gut feeling about a restaurant is formed within the first 10 minutes, this proved to be a zero to hero instant. The bold splashes of red provide relief from the black overlays in the dining space, whilst the shimmer of mosaic tiles, impressive glassware and decanters lining the shelves, spoke volumes of La Scala’s class.
There’s pedigree here, and it shows from the effortless simplicity of the menu that reads like an indecisive person’s nightmare. Chef David Tamburini is the brainchild behind this stridently seasonal menu. Being awarded with one Michelin star twice, once with Ristorante La Gazza Ladra di Palazzo Failla Hotel and the other at Ristorante Casa Grugno in his hometown of Sicily; a certain inquisitiveness towards Asia led him to Hong Kong and subsequently Bangkok, Thailand. Finding residence in this prestigious establishment, Chef David quickly implemented a menu which showcased a catalogue of continents worth of ingredients. Call it worldly or sacrilegious from deviating from the orthodox, but at the end of the day, it’s the type of stuff that you don’t just respect, but crave.
The wine list is extensive and ambitious. It’s brilliant and a major bonus where such an extensive menu is concerned. The bread trolley rolls up and you’re served slices of warm sesame crusted loaf. Dipped in extra virgin olive oil, the crunch of toasted seeds in contrast to dense Italian imported floured bread crumb makes for a moreish experience. And that’s just the bread.
Antipasti are the best part. Soulful rejuvenations of the classic starters, La Scala produces a tidy list of 7 items that will have your brain gears spinning in anticipation of the wildly conceived flavour combinations. I loved the Seared Hokkaido Scallops with kale and Brussels sprout salad. It arrives as two plumps pucks, draped in just enough herring caviar to keep them snug. Crisp kale and sautéed Brussels sprouts provide a nice textural corrective to the tender scallops. Also excellent was the Crispy Potato Skin filled with its own foam, flanked by grilled octopus dressed in a vibrant green olive sauce. Potato skins are manipulated and deep fried till they form puff like shells reminiscent of Yorkshire puddings, and they tear open with a blissful sigh to reveal warm aerated potato puree.
No verdict can be passed without the mandatory Primi Piatti course. I admit to being smitten with the 24-month-old Parmigiana Reggiano and rocket Ravioli. A stalwart in the world of cheeses, there’s no writing off its incredible provenance in this simple yet intuitive dish. Beautifully nipped parcels of perfectly cooked pasta form the bedrock, while crisp parmesan crisps contribute intense bursts of savouriness. Sour White Butter sauce provides an inspirational palate and the divine interiors of the ravioli are a treat. A vegetarian alternative is the Spaghetti with smoked eggplant juice. The details are good where they matter.
At this juncture of a very successful meal progression, one can’t help but make a play for the secondi course. And we did so, trudging through our choices with full steam ahead, willing the gut to ingest more food in fear of missing out on potential dish stardom. Yes, some may call it gluttony. I find valour in coining it as sacrificial (over)indulgence.
The reaction to the meat dishes was one that comprised imaginary standing ovations and muted resounding applause. French Lamb Saddle, roasted to perfection is served on young chicory sautéed with garlic and drizzled with classic egg and cheese ‘caci e ova’ dressing, done with so much restraint that it enchants the lamb instead of overwhelming it. The prize is in its crisp thatched skin above unctuous flesh. If you’re trying to break down what makes this dish so delicious, you’re faced with a never-ending rabbit hole of textures, skill sets and secrets. In a carnivorous mood, I’m not going to talk you out of ordering the Grilled grass fed Charolais Steak, it’s magnificent, sporting just the right amount of seasoning not to require the distraction of any flavour accessories.
Bursting at the seams, we couldn’t resist ordering the Itakuja Chocolate Fondant cake to round up the meal. It’s a no-brainer. A tanned tubular structure is pried apart to reveal torrents of Valrhona Itakuja molten chocolate. There’s something inherently lovely about the double fermented chocolate, redolent with fruity flavours from passionfruit and a robust base contributed from Brazilian cocoa. It’s side kick of grilled banana was hardly necessary, but the restaurant does something novel and devilishly delicious with it when they drizzled it with balsamic tradizionale di Modena. Aged tediously through a range of barrel sets, decreasing in size, the prized good was the highlight of the dish. I traced my bare finger across the empty plate and I was proud of it.
Brilliance and flourish emulates from the night’s dishes. They made for many beautiful moments which are best shared with loved ones (whom you should also be able to tolerate an arduous 3 hours meal with as you plough through the courses). La Scala’s menu reads like it was reserved for the uppercuts of the dining society, however, what it delivers forms the pillars of filthy foodie dreams even for purists. Unforgettable.