Italian restaurant Luce renews hope in hotel fine-dining with a focused menu and traditional recipes. BY REENA KARIM
Italian fine-dining in hotel restaurants has lost its appeal,especially since there’s one in every hotel. Their menus, too, tend not to focus on any region in Italy but are instead a list of what have come to be known as standard Italian dishes—lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese, spaghetti carbonara, pizzas, you name it. And aren’t we all tired of the complimentary wicker basket of day-old bread and mediocre imported olive oil and balsamic vinegar?
Luckily though, Bangkok still has a few surprises up its sleeve. At Luce (pronounced loo-che), meaning light in Italian, the menu focuses on the Tuscan region of Italy. And instead of boring old white bread, we are greeted with warm Tuscan loaf with olives and crispy pizza bread slices.
To properly trace the history of the restaurant, one must go back to the Middle Ages. Much before the restaurant came into being, the blue-blooded Frescobaldi family from Tuscany started producing wines in the 14th century under the Frescobaldi label. In 1995, they joined hands with Napa Valley’s finest winemaker Robert Mondavi to create a new label of Italian wine under the Luce brand. Inspired by its success, they launched a line of Italian restaurants. Following the success of the original, Michelin-starred Luce in San Francisco, the brand also has a location in Moscow and opened its first restaurant in Asia here in Bangkok in January.
The Bangkok Luce is located high up on the 14th floor of Eastin Grand Sathorn Bangkok, next to the infinity pool. A massive automated door welcomes you into a space lit by the mid-afternoon sun that streams through tall glass windows. The restaurant features a large open kitchen and is dominated by warm, earthy colours, but don’t expect the stereotypical Tuscan rusticness though. The space is sleek with marble floor and walls and white leather chairs.
Heading the kitchen is Italian young-blood Edoardo Bonavolta, a self-taught chef whose back story includes stints at Bed Supperclub and La Bottega Di Luca. At Luce, he cooks Tuscan dishes the traditional way—so a lot of stews, grills, and pan-seared meats. The wood oven in the kitchen is not only used for pizzas, but also to bake fish that takes less than seven minutes to cook. Some of the fresh produce, such as the greens, come from Thailand, while meats, seafood, cheeses, and cold cuts are flown in from all over the world.
Browsing through the menu, I am delighted to see no mention of pesto or red sauces. Since it’s a warm afternoon, we start with the salmon tartare (B420). The cool and refreshing dish is a medley of cubed salmon and green apple tossed with salted ricotta cheese, chives, and salmon roe, served with warm bread. We are in an Italian joint, so it’s a unanimous decision to order in beef carpaccio (B460). The Black Angus carpaccio came garnished with salted ricotta cheese, baby fruits preserved in Italian mustard, drops of caviar and pistachio topped with balsamic vinegar. My favourite, however, is the slow-cooked Korabuta pork cheek that comes with goat cheese potato mash and assorted mushrooms (B890). Bonavolta says the pork is cooked sous-vide with rosemary and garlic for 12 hours, after which it is doused in an aromatic white wine reduction. The outcome is a tender and succulent meat that comes apart in your mouth. It is best paired with Remole Toscana (B1, 900/bottle) that carries aromas of dried plum and black berry, with hints of black pepper and liquorice.
We end with the chef’s version of tiramisu (B280). Wait, before you roll your eyes, you should know that he does not make any fancy changes to this iconic dessert and sticks to the original recipe. So what we get is not a square block, but a soft and creamy pudding in a martini glass.
The restaurant’s cellar carries all the 10 grape varieties of Frescobaldi and Luce wines (B1,900–9,500 a bottle). You’ll also be impressed by the number of vintage bottles from across the globe on their wine list. Even though they don’t have a sommelier, the servers are well-trained and can suggest wine and food pairing.
Published in Masala magazine Bangkok, April 2014