To “feel at home” in an Italian restaurant is, if anything, a weary cliché. However, there are rare moments when an eatery truly earns this title. Il Fumo, the latest addition to Bangkok’s fiercely competitive Italian market, evokes such a feeling – even if it’s your first time there.
Tucked away just off Rama 4 Road, the intimate 90-seater is the brainchild of savvy restaurateurs Choti Leenutaphong and Debby Tang, the husband-and-wife duo behind the wildly successful Vesper Cocktail Bar & Restaurant. They’ve also enlisted the help of one of Bangkok’s most famous culinary minds and long-time personal friend, Chef Luca Appino of La Bottega di Luca and Pizza Massilia.
Built inside a 20th century villa formerly owned by descendants of King Rama IV, the restaurant’s layout and cosy interior design elements carry the warmth of a familiar home. A quick sip of a warm-up cocktail and then a dash past the stunning meat display reveals a smart and minimal white dining area, terrace and two private rooms – one of which is a partnership with Johnnie Walker & Sons and features an impressive selection of the brand’s super-premium range of single malts.
The restaurant separates itself from Bangkok’s traditional Italian heavyweights with its wood charcoal grill – hence the name, which is Italian for “smoke” – and select cuts of Europe’s most prized meats.
Chef Luca’s famed ability to source rare ingredients from the far corners of Italy shines through in the restaurant’s menu – Fassone beef from Piedmont, pork neck from Cà Lumaco, red prawns from Sicily and a selection of fine cheeses, including a 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano, are mouth-watering examples. Canadian lobster, Australian wagyu, and New Zealand pork add a nice international balance and prevent the menu from becoming too Europe-centric.
The Prized Steak
The crown jewel of the restaurant’s meat selection is undoubtedly the dry-aged Rubia Gallega from Spain – exclusive to il Fumo. Cooked medium rare, the striploin is a scintillating, deep-flavoured masterpiece worth the price of admission alone. The steak is served frills-free, with just a bit of caramelisation from the grill for texture and a dash of salt to bring out the natural moisture of the meat. Good luck putting the fork down long enough for an Instagram photo – we tried.
The restaurant’s penchant for wood-fired wizardry doesn’t stop with the hefty slabs of aged meat or seafood. Almost every dish gets a hit of charcoal smoke, like the Gambero Rosso with red prawns and tagliatelle. Lightly coated in a prawn bisque, the flavours of the fresh pasta hold their own as subtle smoky accents from the grilled shrimp and cherry tomatoes provide a satisfying balance that encourages each bite to be cherished, not scarfed down.
The Frutta Grigliata was another highlight. This time, Moscato wine peach and strawberries get the wood charcoal treatment. Carefully smothered in a pomegranate reduction and ricotta, the seasaw battle between smoke and sweetness was arguably the most memorable use of the grill all evening, and the perfect meal-capper.
A Warm Personal Touch
Il Fumo’s outstanding cocktail menu, designed by Choti and Debby’s team at Vesper, deserves a mention too for its clever revival of forgotten classics like the Whiskey Daisy and Louis Old Fashioned.
Its drinking den, modelled after legendary European bars such as The Ritz and Barcelona, features dark wood panelling and tufted leather seats that make it a natural landing spot after strolling through the door.
There’s a warm personal touch felt even in the smallest of the restaurant’s details. The food and drinks menus read like personal letters, and come packed with historical titbits, jokes and thoughtful musings by the owners. The wine list features select bottles from their personal collection – including a divine Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011 when we were there – and the private room on the second floor is decorated with a smattering of knick-knacks and art to make it feel like a personal residence.
The magic ingredient might be the ambiance, the food or the vibrant hospitality of Debby, Choti and Luca among the chatting diners – more likely all three. Whatever it is, eating at il Fumo feels reminiscent of dinner at a friend’s from beginning to end – the way it should be.