HIDDEN IN THE quiet residential maze of back streets that link Sukhumvit Sois 65 and 71 and with a decor that relies on dark wood and dim lighting, Italian-Mediterranean restaurant Lucca is the kind of place diners go to eat rather than be seen.
Named after the Renaissance-era city in Tuscany, Lucca has risen from the ashes of the former neighbourhood Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Rimsai and can accommodate 45 people indoors and another 15 on the terrace.
“There are many Italian restaurants around town and most of them rely on unusual concepts and a trendy ambience to attract customers. I wanted to go back to basics with good food and a friendly atmosphere. I believe the flavourful food and the high quality of ingredients will draw diners and have them coming back for more,” says young restaurateur Natdanai Yuvaboon.
“As the rent here is much less than we would be paying in Thonglor and Ekamai, we can afford to keep food prices at a pocket-friendly level. Our prices are 20- to 30-per-cent cheaper than hotel fare even though the quality of ingredients meets the standards of a five-star hotel.”
That quality is evident in the vegetables alone. Natdanai uses only organic veg from his farm in Sampran of Nakhon Pathom, which supplies rocket and other salad leaves and mushrooms to neighbouring markets and restaurants.
“Two years ago, I opened the Farm Shop in Soi Thonglor selling organic vegetables. As residents in the area rarely cook at home, the business didn’t do well even though I later added simple soups and sandwiches,” he says.
Fate intervened when Natdanai was introduced to Hee Chanyadee, an experienced chef who has worked in the kitchens of such leading hotel restaurants as the Narai, Shangri-La and Sukhothai and the two joined up to open Lucca last year.
“My original plan was to open an Italian restaurant, but Hee is also keen on Mediterranean cuisine and has added some French and Spanish dishes. About 60-70 per cent of the ingredients are imported while most of the fresh vegetables are from my farm.”
We start with Crabmeat Avocado Tartar (Bt270), a light dish of Alaskan crabmeat seasoned with pepper and lime and cooked with chopped capsicum and avocado tartar. It’s served with a mixed salad.
Natdanai’s own farm supplies the ingredients for the Caesar Salad (Bt230) featuring organic cos lettuce, poached egg, shaved pecorino romano cheese, croutons, and anchovies and topped with a home-made dressing with crispy bacon.
Fresh black mussels are imported weekly from Australia and are served in the dish called Tasmanian Black Mussels in White Wine Sauce (Bt350). The mussels are meaty and fresh and come with garlic bread perfect for dipping in the sauce.
Chef Hee makes his own tagliatelle and gnocchi and the gnocchi with gorgonzola and gnocchi with sauteed Alaskan crabmeat are favourites with customers. Natdanai and Hee are currently promoting their recently introduced pizza, which falls neatly between the fluffy and thick, and the thin and crispy varieties.
My personal favourite is the Foie Gras Pate with Truffle Pizza (Bt390) where the foie gras is spread on the dough with mozzarella cheese and the truffle paste is added after baking. Also delicious is the Gamberetto Pizza (Bt320) with home-made tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese topped with seasoned tiger prawns and garlic.
A recommended main dish is Snow Fish with Sherry Vinegar (Bt1,210), in which a generous portion of the fish is pan-seared then served with bacon bits, fried garlic, shallot and grilled vegetables of asparagus and zucchini in sherry vinegar.
While the dessert menu offers the classics like panna cotta, chocolate lava cake and tiramisu, pass them over in favour of the Cannoli (Bt150) – finger-sized, tube-shaped shells of fried pastry filled with cream mascarpone cheese.
ITALIAN BY DESIGN
>> Lucca is open daily except Monday from 11am to 2pm, and from 6 to 10pm.
>> It can be reached via Sukhumvit Soi 65 or Soi Pridi 15 off Sukhumvit Soi 71. BTS Prakhanong is the nearest station and a shuttle car is available by calling the restaurant in advance.
>> Call (02) 714 2207 or visit www.LuccaDining-Bkk.com.