A traditional host serving up modern Italian with tantalizing flair
Imagine dining at a fine Italian table, where the host greets you like an old friend, serving up gourmet specials that he knows you will love, regardless of whether they are still on the menu or not; a restaurant with an ambiance reminiscent of how a meal out used to be. Welcome to the wonderful world of Gianni Ristorante; an iconic Italian institution in Bangkok, whose chef and patron, Gianni Favro has been wining and dining those in the know for over 20 years. Like a fine vintage, this restaurant only gets better with age.
Reputation aside, this homage to the fine flavours of Italy has never lost its place amongst the city’s appetite for dining out. On the contrary, it is enjoying something of a revival, ever-more relished for being the rarefied restaurant species it is.
Born in the city of Pordenone, close to Venice, Gianni’s passion was to travel. After working in his dad’s restaurant, at the age of 17, he realized here was something he liked, was good at and that could be his meal ticket to take him around the world. Visiting Thailand over a quarter of a century ago, after a particularly cold winter season working in Sardinia, Gianni became involved in a food promotion event in Bangkok. After working in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Jakarta, he instantly felt at home in Thailand.
“From day one everyone said I would need to adjust the cuisine for Thai diners,” he remembers. “Mine was the first fine-dining restaurant in Bangkok and keeping that authenticity is better in the long term. Many restaurants come and go and few last over two decades. My cooking philosophy has always been that you can always do a better dish and that you can always improve. The first priority is to get the best ingredients, and the second priority is not to ruin them.”
Whilst Gianni welcomes the evolution of Bangkok’s dining scene, and is perhaps surprisingly uncritical of what must sometimes seem like foodie fads to this kitchen maestro, this is a restaurant that is not jumping on the rollercoaster ride of dining trends; a thrill that whilst exhilarating can sometimes leave diners on a culinary loop-the-loop to nowhere. Instead, here is a grand steam train, majestically ploughing through Bangkok’s fine-dining landscape as delectable dishes come into view. All that is left to do is to sit back and enjoy the experience; after all it is the journey not the destination that counts.
“For me, dining is all about the food,” he goes on to say. “The main thing is the food. A lot of places focus on the décor only, but if I want fancy designs I can go to a museum. I understand it is about a need to catch people’s attention, but that is not for me. Of course you need to develop and introduce new ingredients and techniques, but only as long as this enhances the food. There are some chefs who can cook, say, 10 dishes really well, but you need to know the basics of cooking and how to create balance.”
Gianni recounts stories of Italian nuns in Bangkok raising rabbits and growing herbs for him and how he cooks his divine tomato sauce in the oven, not on the hob, to preserve the rich and sweet flavours of Italian tomatoes grown in North Thailand. He speaks of how he still feels excited being in the kitchen, perfecting his art. For all his traditionalist sentiment, borne out of a love of real Italian foods, the cuisine at Gianni is deliciously inventive. This is modern Italian served up with tantalizing flair, without a pizza crust in sight.
Raw scampi with olive oil powder and a horseradish mayonnaise sets the tone of elegant delicacy, whilst sous vide octopus with a potato and parsley cream is a hearty yet gentle dish. A sea scallop is perfectly cooked with a cream sauce made from fennel and saffron sourced from someone Gianni knows, adding an artisanal feel. The paccheri pasta, the finest from Italy, is exquisite as a small dish with homemade tomato sauce, burrata cheese, and basil. The coastal spring lamb continues to reveal how Italian cuisine is so much more than stodgy plates of carbs. A panna cotta dessert with mango and passion fruit granite, along with a quirky fruit tree with homemade chocolates, proves good food can be playful without losing the essence of traditional flavours. The award-winning menu of purely Italian wines, bar a couple of champagnes, is simply incredible.
There is a lovely sense of pleasure without the guilt of indulgence that dining at Gianni inspires. Putting his name to his restaurant is more than Italian tradition, it is an expression of an accomplished chef and a bona fide culinary connoisseur who loves great food and wants to share it with his customer-friends.
By Nadia Willan