Kindred spirits ignite at the ‘House of Smoke’
If the sign of a standout restaurant is about foodie passion, then Chef-Partner Luca Appino’s heartfelt amour for sourcing unique artisan foods is ardent enough to make even Bangkok’s most jaded dining darlings swoon. His love of personally sourcing the most incredible ingredients from small producers, who are equally as committed, is attracting discerning fans to the smart tables at Il Fumo.
Luca’s philosophy here revolves around the importance of respecting premium ingredients. “We travel and personally go to meet the producers,” he explains. “We believe that products are the people behind them. We spend time with producers. We meet them face-to-face and they become like family. We see what they are producing and how; the passion and attention. Some are personal friends and some we find, seeking out artisans who are making something original.”
Tucked away in a lovely house off busy Rama IV, close to Sathorn 1, the ambiance at Il Fumo is of a wealthy, but not showy, family’s country retreat; an old-money vibe that fits the grown-up attitude to quality foods.
The restaurant defies Bangkok’s penchant for on-trend food fads by presenting a contemporary Italian wood charcoal grill restaurant. With Luca’s dedication to authenticity, the imported woods are turned into charcoal at Il Fumo—which means “smoke” in Italian—and the prime meats are displayed on industrial racks in glass chillers for customers to see; a food-inspired artistic installation.
Many of the meats here are exclusive to the restaurant in Thailand such as the Rubia Gallega beef from Galicia in Spain. “We had heard about how good the meat was and we went to meet the butcher in San Sebastian who hand selects the best beef,” Luca says. “The rearing is hands-on and I’ve heard they even pinch the cow’s hind to make it happy. Another exclusive is the Ca’ Lumaco Estate pork and Il Fumo is the only restaurant outside Italy they supply.”
Italian-born Luca was heading Enoteca restaurant in Bangkok, when he first met Managing Partner of Il Fumo, Choti Leenutaphong. Luca later founded La Bottega di Luca restaurant, and in 2014, the two of them partnered to open Vesper Bar & Restaurant on Soi Convent.
Choti is a kindred-food-spirit. “I was travelling in Europe and I came across a wonderfully-grilled piece of fiorentina steak in Tuscany,” he recalls. “It was fantastic and I had to meet the producers. This is how we sourced our signature Tuscan Chianina dry-aged fiorentina steak and prime rib.”
On the menu at Il Fumo the beetroot-cured amberjack game fish is velvety soft, while the burrata from a producer in Puglia makes the dish. The trio of beef tartare appetizer is made with Piedmont Fassone meat—reared in a small region of Italy—and the texture is the tenderest quality. Homemade lobster ravioli looks incredible on the plate with Hokkaido scallops, tiger prawns, and crabmeat, together with a seafood emulsion that is lifted with a baby spinach cream sauce.
But the pièce de résistance is the French Limousin steak, a charcoal grilled, free-range, grass-fed beef from France. The prime rib is dry-aged for 20 days and scoop of fondant potato and asparagus add to the sublime flavour of a meat that is a cut above the best in Bangkok. The Nutella-filled homemade doughnut pastry from Tuscany shows that high-end can still be fun too.
New to the team here (since 2016) is Head Chef Nelson Amorim from Portugal who believes, “fusion often leads to confusion” and values the opportunity to work with a team that lets quality ingredients take the lead.
What is impressive is how this restaurant showcases these incredible foodie finds which have never before been presented on Bangkok dining tables. The purity of the quality is not diminished by the desire to be creative and Luca welcomes talent and good taste.
“Nelson is innovative and compared to a few years ago today’s diners in Bangkok are sophisticated, willing to try something different,” he notes. “The mind of the gourmand has changed massively in Bangkok and restaurants are changing too. Our customers understand our philosophy and are looking for new tastes.”
The finely-sourced produce gives the restaurant an upmarket individuality which is an essential quality in Bangkok’s expanding restaurant scene. However, behind the grandness of the artisan showcase is a wonderful sentiment, as Nelson explains.
“When you sell good food in a great environment you are selling happiness,” he says. “Food is happiness and cooking is about making customers feel happy. Fine dining is almost old-fashioned, people want to feel relaxed but still eat the best food.”
For Luca, being a chef is an innate artistic expression. “When you start to see your job as creativity your passion comes true. You don’t choose to become a chef, it chooses you.”
Interview by Nadia Willan