Values are in the Fine Print at ‘Italics’

COCONUTS HOT SPOT — Inside Italics a Thai guy is spinning dough in the air and around his shoulders like a slinky basketball. There’s no doubt he may not be Italian, and he makes a damn good Margarita.

He also nicely sums up what this latest edition to Soi Ruamradee is about: With a menu of pastas, pizzas and appies, Italics is heavily Asian-inspired but not quite out-there enough to be fusion.

The restaurant opened just a couple weeks ago. They’re calling it a “soft” opening, probably to excuse all the drilling and construction happening out front of the refurbished house that’s home to the restaurant and deli bar, where a whisky and cigar lounge will soon be added.

I walked in knowing only the buzz: Italics is the brainchild of Michelin-starred James Noble (formerly Mick Jagger’s chef) and 100 percent of everything served is sourced from Thailand. Indeed, the interior design echoes this commitment to provenance: Black-and-white, avant-garde photos of cows and women in sexy poses next to cuts of meat.

The eclectic menu starts with appetizers that strike strange combinations but surprisingly work. Take for example the seared watermelon, topped with cured pork belly and grape balsamic jelly cubes on the side. Pork and watermelon together is just a weird idea in theory, but in practice presents a delicious sweet and salty contrast. The balsamic cubes end up as a bit of an afterthought off to the side the plate, but when included in a single bite with the other two ingredients there’s a pop that’s purely next level. Likewise Japanese edamame beans and pesto sound like a very bad experiment in fusion, but when that edamame is wrapped inside a dough ball as a paste it’s a chewy delight, reminiscent of Chinese buns.

The main courses are heavy, just the way that Italian should be, but with a very contemporary spin. I could hardly make a dent into the coffee braised beef short rib mixed with duck fat, topped with deep-fried gnocchi and a layer of greens underneath. It was rich and savory, and I would’ve loved to shovel in a few more bites if it wasn’t for those appetizers. I also really enjoyed my dinner partner’s el dente pasta dish: slow-braised beef penne in a Sambuca peppercorn sauce that was creamy yet finely textured by the meat.

And when the menu says these pizzas are hand-kneaded and high-thrown, it isn’t joking. The chef, a young Thai guy with a swirly, shaved hairstyle, left the wood-fired oven (visible through a glass window) and tossed around a knot of dough in wild 360s.

The food and its presentation (lots of little jars and swirls of color) are great, but the service needs to improve. It’s a new restaurant, and the skills of staff could still use some fine-tuning. For example clearing plates and better timing to ensure the main course comes out just long enough after an appetizer. But with the official opening not for another month, there is definitely still time.

The restaurant is ambitious, aiming for servers to be able to field inquiries about exactly where the ingredients come from to their customers (according to its marketing copy). The sourcing is definitely a really cool talking point, with the beef in the penne and short rib coming from what the restaurant touts as an ethical supplier in Nakhon Pathom and the pork (salami, pastrami, parma ham, right down to the cured pork belly appetizer) sourced from Joe Sloan’s farming cooperative in Chiang Mai.

It’s touches like the pizza guy and values that are going to make this place popular for large parties and get-togethers (including the fact that you can eventually also enjoy a single malt before or after in the same building). So you can either wait until Italics has a little more polish in the coming months, or beat the rush and go straightaway.

(Source: Coconuts Bangkok)