Bangkok’s heat, humidity and rains mean there are few months when it’s truly comfortable to dine outside. So it’s good to take advantage of the cool season, particularly at an atmospheric riverside restaurant like Ciao. It might be going too far to describe this impressive Italian as the youthful side of the Mandarin Oriental but the place has a funky, relaxed edge you might not usually associate with the city’s ‘Grande Dame’. It has a central bar of nightlife-red with a tented canopy, a water wall of chequered slate, and funky lounge sounds pumping four-to-the-bar bass as the boats dance by on the river.
A good place to start is a stool at the bar with a glass of prosecco, and pick at the spuntino menu of snacks like crispy light bruschetta topped with belly of tuna, pine nuts, fresh lemon, salt flakes and black pepper (from B170). Later, head to a table under trees strung with fairy lights and choose from Chef Luca Casini’s menu. The two sections are ‘classic’ and ‘chef-inspired’.
From the former, we took antipasti of burrata, ox heart tomato and wild rocket (B460) – the burrata very soft, with just enough elasticity – and, from the latter, crabmeat salad with egg mimosa (B450). It’s a very well-executed, well-seasoned dish, the sweet crabmeat gaining a luxurious texture from being marinated in lemon, mustard and honey but still light and fresh in the mouth. There’s a salty balance from a teaspoon of black herring roe placed on top.
The pastas are mostly homemade and include spaghetti chitarra vongole (B550), featuring the fat strings of the rarely used chitarra, which adds body to the dish. The sauce is not too wet, not too dry, and well-balanced, rich in flavour but restrained. And the kitchen hands go to the trouble of disposing of the clam shells before serving, making it easier to eat. Also good is the ravioli with spinach and ricotta, finished with a dousing of sage butter sauce (B480).
The pick of several well-executed mains was grilled tiger prawns (B720) served with a bisque type sauce, but made without cream. It’s deceptive in that it has less textural body than the traditional, so looks light in the jug, yet retains full, rich flavours with a slight sweetness and a tiny hint of chilli.
There’s more deception in the navel orange dessert (B310). It’s not an orange at all but made of orange-coloured chocolate. Crack it open to reveal a filling of ricotta and marzipan cassata with segments of actual orange that add a juicy sour note. There’s also a list of 10 cheeses (B550 for a selection).
Beyond the bar, overlooking the garden, a small room has a chef’s table, available for four to eight diners at B4,000 each. Wherever you sit, there’s a comfortable feeling to Ciao, at once sophisticated but very laid back. It’s a good place to watch the sun go down.
Mandarin Oriental, 48 Charoen Krung Soi 40 | 02-659-9000
mandarinoriental.com | Noon-2.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm