The lunching ladies are gathered already as chef Luca Appino slips a black jacket over his T-shirt. He zips around, fussing with the small details that make a successful restaurant tick, before calling me towards the kitchen. He’s going to show me the ropes for cooking spaghetti vongole.
Home-baked breads and coils of pasta are visible through the display window. Inside, the kitchen is a tiny square room, where half a dozen workers hunch over the island counter, scrubbing surfaces, peeling and chopping vegetables, prepping a rabbit. The stoves are on; it’s fiery hot.
Luca splashes extra virgin olive oil into a deep-sided frying pan and batters three cloves of garlic with the heel of his hand to release the juice. He tosses them in whole and spins around for 30 seconds before discarding: “For Thai diners I would use crushed garlic. They prefer it.”
The pasta, which is cooking in a sieve-style pan, is running ahead of time, so the chef lifts it out and puts it in iced water to arrest the cooking process.
To the olive oil, he adds a clutch of large clams, shells open, and after cooking for a couple of minutes adds white wine, a touch of pepper and a pinch of sugar.
“The wine is a little acidic,” he says. “There’s no salt, because the clams release their own.”
He then pours in a little prawn stock and rattles the pan around. The clams clink on metal like the beat of Latin percussion. Next, the pasta, now back on the heat, goes into the pan with some of the water it was cooked in.
“The water is full of starch,” Luca says. “That makes the cream of the pasta”.
He stirs and tosses several times, then tops off with chopped fresh basil and a swirl of olive oil.
Back in the cool air of the restaurant, there’s a lot of natural wood and plants, and on the counter a display of salads and cold meats, old shop scales and a meat slicer. There are bottles of wine and grappas everywhere. Mounted on the wall a sculpture of shiny, crushed-tin kitchen utensils creates a counterpoint to several colourful paintings.
Out on the terrace, where the vongole is beautifully presented – the flesh of the clams on the spaghetti; the creamy, moist spaghetti on a bed of silvery clam shells. Each has a small pool of sauce against its mother of pearl surface.
The taste of sweet shellfish and shrimp stock comes first, followed by little stabs of basil. Then the flavour and aroma of the sea lifts from the mouth to the back of the nose, as if you’re suddenly walking on a beach. It makes a perfect lunchtime break from Bangkok’s urban sprawl.
La Bottega Di Luca
49 Sukhumvit Soi 49 | 02-204-1731 | labottega.name
5.30pm-midnight, Tues-Sun 11.30am-2.30pm
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