Italy’s regional cuisine explored with Sardinian-inspired culinary flair
Amidst Bangkok’s sophisticated diet of fabulous five-star fare, it is sometimes tempting for the city’s gourmands to become complacent; to expect the best and nothing less as one gourmet dish after another is savoured… one silver-plated spoonful at a time. Dining at the Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok hotel’s casual fine-dining Italian restaurant Scalini, all foodie wonder, excitement, and passion is restored with the impressive culinary skills of Chef Roberto Pinna.
New to Bangkok, the talented cook—who was a semi-finalist in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition in Southeast Asia in 2016—brings with him the fresh taste of his Italian island home, Sardinia; exploring the regional and seasonal tastes of Italy with creative panache. Chef Roberto blends a heartfelt love of the power of ingredients with expertly executed and innovative culinary techniques and bold flavour combinations. The result is a unique menu that sparkles with true Italian charisma. Specials from Sardinia, Sicily, Tuscany, and Piedmont are being introduced throughout the year and it this regional approach that really sets Scalini apart and takes diners on an authentic culinary voyage.
“Because Sicily is an island there are a lot of seafood dishes from this region of Italy,” the Chef de Cuisine enthuses, “and it is totally different than the mainland classics. Arab, Spanish, Greek and Turkish influences from the past are reflected in the food, so you get more citrusy flavours and some spice with cous cous and cinnamon too.”
The à la carte menu reflects the chef’s Sardinian heritage, where his love of cooking began as a teen helping out at his uncle’s restaurant. Since then he has worked in some of the finest kitchens and some of the best hotels and resorts in the world, from Malaysia to the Middle East and the Caribbean, Ireland, and Switzerland. His global career and background has inspired a quest to create dishes using local sources rather than simply relying solely on the import run, as well as an appreciation of seasonal produce.
“My philosophy is to try and use fresh local ingredients, and to look for quality produce such as organic vegetables,” he explains. “I come from a farming background and we ate our own organic produce and seasonal foods. I like to support businesses and producers where I am based. For example, where I’m from we cook a lot of dishes using sea urchin, which I love, and I now source this from Japan rather than Italy because it’s great too. We even buy some cheeses from Thailand.”
All this leads to a menu that is totally unique and extra special. Marinated Hokkaido scallops with Mediterranean red prawns, local pineapple, and a unique onion ice cream is an outstanding dish that takes diners way beyond the borders of Sardinia and out into another dining dimension altogether—simply divine!
Equally inventive is his French Fine de Claire oysters with a mozzarella foam, Thai watermelon served as a granita and as sous vide bites, plus slithers of locally sourced raw asparagus. A sprinkling of bottarga grey mullet salted and cured sea roe is the perfect Italian topping. A monkfish tortellini dish again keeps the flavours distinctly Italian whilst adding a layer of slow-cooked fish underneath and presenting a thoroughly modern classic.
“I think a menu should change at least two or three times a year, with at least 40 percent of the dishes being replaced,” Roberto says, and it is this approach that gives dining at Scalini a feeling of being onboard a beautiful culinary voyage. “We follow the seasons, promote regional food, and introduce a new special each week.”
Fashioned after a 1920s Italian-American eatery, Scalini’s roots are without doubt Italian, although a rebranding last year to create a more fine-dining restaurant includes a spectacular steak menu. With Phrom Phong’s myriad of Japanese restaurants, the menu does not feature Wagyu, but instead some pretty amazing Australian cuts, grilled on the open kitchen’s lava stone. A huge 20 oz chargrilled Porterhouse steak marinated with olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs and black pepper is a Tuscan style dish served with baby spinach that is a must-share for steak lovers; robust, succulent and delicately rustic.
Scottish Caorunn gin with red apples is a perfectly original aperitif for a menu that is definitely deliciously different, whilst the wine menu and recommendations are equally as impressive. Even the heavenly-sounding brownie with chocolate mousse and Sambuca ice cream is a dessert that promises an interesting and surprising difference.
Chef Roberto is adding his own stamp to the Bangkok restaurant scene at the Hilton and it is certainly his Sardinian stock that is adding all the flavour.
“Food should be made to eat, and at the end of the day taste is more important,” he points out. “It’s about creating balance in the body of the dish. Presentation is important, but this can be changed and adjusted. The essence of good Italian food is the ingredients, and using these in a way that finds the inherent flavour of a dish. You can still update the concepts and be innovative, but you have to stay true to the taste.” Interview by Nadia Willan