Time-honoured adages exist for a reason, but sometimes they are better ignored. Case in point: the new dining changes at Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok. The hotel’s food and beverage managers could have easily clung to the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” when planning their 2016 calendar, but they didn’t.
Just seven months ago, Shangri-La’s Angelini restaurant was a legendary player on Bangkok’s Italian dining scene – winner of a whopping 12 “Best Italian Restaurant” honours at the annual Bangkok’s Best Restaurant Awards.
Fast forward to today and Angelini is nowhere to be found. In its place is Volti Ristorante & Bar, the new face of Shangri-La’s Italian fine dining. The daring move to drop the well-established Angelini brand came after the revelation by Shangri-La brass that the restaurant’s reputation hurt its approachability. Fine? Yes. Affable? No, and it had started to wither under its special-occasions-only reputation.
Launched mid-December last year, Volti aims to aggressively dispatch that reputation with a soft-lit open layout, live music, exceptional cuisine and a general ambiance that maintains luxury appeal without screaming for black ties.
A New Kitchen Captain
Leading the kitchen brigade into this new territory is Chef Luca Casini, a 13-year veteran of the hospitality industry and former head chef of the Mandarin Oriental’s Ciao restaurant. He describes his cooking style as many Italian chefs would: strict dedication to simplicity, fresh ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.
It would be a mistake to think the restaurant’s rebranding includes downplayed cuisine. Volti’s fare is fine dining, through and through. Luca’s first order of business was increasing the number of imported Italian ingredients used in Volti’s kitchen – something he says has become easier in Bangkok over the years.
His marinated octopus starter is a prime example. Caught in the Mediterranean Sea just off the boot heel of Italy, special cooking and marinating techniques by Chef Luca turn the normally chewy seafood into a soft and tender substance with a taste reminiscent of red meat. A soft bed of potatoes complements the texture of the meat nicely, while capers and olives provide a salty balance to round things off.
Although the dish sounds simple, the surprising texture and taste of the octopus is something everyone should try – and had our entire table raving.
And that’s the idea, according to Chef Luca: familiar dishes with just enough of a twist to surprise diners.
The yellowfin tuna carpaccio, another signature dish from Chef Luca, embodies this philosophy with a light-handed touch. At its heart, tuna carpaccio needs only four ingredients: tuna, salt, pepper and high-quality olive oil. Because of its simplicity, chefs often dump excessive sauce and garnishes on the dish in an attempt to make it stand out.
The offering at Volti is a good balance of both. The four mainstays are there, while a light sprinkle of pickled onion, oranges and tiny dabs of mustard sauce add flavour and depth without overpowering the succulent fish. It’s a great example of how to make a carpaccio interesting without ruining it.
Respect for the Fundamentals
The delicate approach and respect for tradition is obvious with each subsequent course. The fettuccine porcini is a perfect example of pasta the Italian way.
The cep mushroom sauce is light enough to let the delicate flavours of the fresh-made fettuccine shine through, while the generous chunks of porcini mushrooms add the occasional earthy accent to round out the overall taste. No fireworks, just quality ingredients with enough differentiation to be individually appreciated.
Every dish on Volti’s new menu follows the traditional Italian cooking manifesto to the letter: simple, fresh and bold. If the brimming dining room we witnessed turns into a regular occurrence, the rebrand is sure to be a smashing success.
The quality is there, the right chef is there, and the menu items are the right combination of sophistication and approachability to appeal to everyone, not just Bangkok’s foodie elite.