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Gianni Italian Restaurant in Bangkok

"Gianni Italian Restaurant in Bangkok"

We take a seat at our table. You have to make a reservation, and fortunately some friends told us just in time. The restaurant is crammed full and it is just an ordinary Tuesday evening. Italian singer Paolo Conte's music plays in the background while waiters rush through the tables in an ambience which is at once refined and relaxed. Someone might object there is nothing odd or unusual, being an Italian restaurant. The thing is that we are in downtown Bangkok, among banks and office buildings, in one of the throbbing hearts of that economically booming Asia which is still so little known in Italy. But for the unmistakably oriental-looking waiters, everything else would lead us to think that we are in some restaurant downtown a big Italian city.

The clientele is international, apart from a few Italians. There are hardly any tourists. We are welcomed by the owner himself, Gianni Favro, a very tall man who cuts an imposing and at once reassuring figure.

He goes in and out of the kitchen, first casting a glance at the cooker and then at the patrons. He lingers around the tables chatting in English and moving nonchalantly from a group of Americans (from his familiar approach we guess they are regulars) to a table of Japanese people. No sooner do our eyes meet with Gianni's than we both understand we are fellow countrymen and that is just enough to click, which is not bad at all when you are far away from home.

The menu is sumptuous, well-assorted and typically Italian.

Gianni offers to help us choosing and we let him gladly, as we always do when a place inspires confidence. And we are right. Our dinner begins with a choice of starters with fish carpaccio made of five different "bites": red tuna tartar sauce with julienne celery, avocado and crayfish flan, octopus and new potato salad, taggiasco olives and capers, stuffed squid on coulis of roasted peppers, scallop and crayfish poached in bacon.

the first course consists of delicious home-made maltagliati pasta with durum wheat served with fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese. The second course is sea bass for my fellow guest and lamb chop for me. The bass is flash-fried and served with fricasseed potatoes cooked in olive oil, raw tomato cubes and Mediterranean herbs. The lamb chop is roasted with garlic and rosemary. After the second course, following Gianni's advice, we skip the dessert for a refreshing and digestive sherbet. An original Italian-style coffee is the right end to a perfect dinner. From time to time Gianni leaves the kitchen and approaches our table to make sure everything is fine.

We really enjoyed coming to this restaurant. We tried in vain to remember another one among the very many restaurants we know and frequent in Italy which might resemble Gianni's for its quality and ambience. Everything was absolutely impeccable, from the atmosphere to the wide selection of menu items and the list of Italian wines (from the commonest to the rarest), from the waiters' professional skills to the quality of the food we had and the clientele.

As it often happens when something or someone draws our attention and whets our curiosity, we decided to work our feelings into an article. After all, this is Lifestyle too. We introduced ourselves and asked for an appointment to learn the restaurant background but especially Gianni's, which we imagined to be pretty adventurous. We got an appointment after a couple of days, at lunchtime, sitting around a sumptuously laid table. What was supposed to be an interview became a pleasant chat among friends.

How did you start your career as a chef?
I didn't attend the hotel-management school. Actually, I worked as a car repairman in a small town in northern Italy (Pordenone), where I come from, before leaving for the military service. I'd never thought that this would become my career. When I came back from the military service my father bought a pizzeria, as an investment, and there I started to busy myself with pots and pans. The whole thing grew bigger and bigger, and a long series of restaurants and journeys followed. I worked at the Toulà in Treviso, at Le Balze on Lake Garda, at the Sporting in Porto Rotondo, at the Madonna di Campiglio... I also worked a lot in Germany.

How did you end up in Thailand?
Someone I knew invited me to hold a stage in Italian "fine dining" in one of the most exclusive clubs in Bangkok. I took my chance and came here for a short period. After that I went back to Italy. No sooner had I returned than the very club (the Bangkok Heritage) offered me an exclusive two-year contract. I accepted and settled here. After the experience at the Heritage I opened an Italian restaurant called Vito's, in Bangkok as well. After spending seven months in Hong Kong, I came back to Bangkok to open Gianni, the restaurant we find ourselves in now.
At Gianni's the food is 100% Italian. We couldn't find the slightest hint of the local or international taste...

I've always been faithful to the traditional Italian cuisine, and I've never wanted to adjust it to the local taste. At first it was hard because of the difficulty finding the right ingredients, meeting the clients' needs, get on with the kitchen staff and so on. But I've held on to my principles and now I'm proud to say that I was able to bring the real Italian cuisine to the heart of Bangkok.

And what about the ingredients?
They're no longer the problem they used to be. They come straight from Italy, or from Europe. Now it just takes an eleven-hour flight to have anything you need. The raw shrimps we're enjoying while we speak, for instance, have just arrived from France.

What kind of cuisine can we find at Gianni's?
The traditional Italian cuisine in the most general sense. Italy is too far away from Bangkok to specialize in a regional cuisine in particular. The menu consists of two parts: one is fixed, while the other changes every week. At Gianni's the whole emphasis is on the cuisine (we partially agree, as the ambience as well is refined and the service impeccable) and the emotions that only a top-quality cuisine can give. What's important here at Gianni's is what is served on the plate. I can honestly say that I prefer putting emotions on a plate rather than creating a charming atmosphere and then letting down my clients as far as the food quality is concerned.

On arriving at the restaurant one is struck by a kitchen full of cooks and staff members, all taken up and so well-coordinated among them.

As far as the staff is concerned, there is a big difference with Europe. Here costs are more reasonable and you can have a higher number of collaborators. The kitchen is divided into departments, each with its own specialization. Everything is "home-made", from pasta to desserts. There are no ready-made meals as you happen to find more and more often also in top-quality restaurants.

What kind of clients does your restaurant have?
Of all sorts. As you can see we are in the heart of Bangkok, near some of the most important banks and corporations. There are also many embassies in the area, therefore many businessmen, business lunches and dinners. The clientele is international, including many Thai people who know and love Italian cuisine. There aren't many Italians though, even if tomorrow we've got a reservation for a hundred-per-cent Italian table. Anyway, this is not the rule. The international clientele prevails.

Gianni is one of those restaurants where, at least in Europe, you're afraid to get in. Because of its refined, elegant atmosphere one might think: "Let's hope it's not too expensive".
Here in Thailand prices are very different from the ones you're used to in Europe. A dinner for two, wine included, can be about 3,500 Baht (approx. 70 Euros) but we also have tasting menus with five courses for less than 1,000 Baht (20 Euros) per person. As you can see, we are almost always full up, that's why it's better to call and make a reservation. It saves you from coming for nothing or having to wait for a table.

What are the restaurant closing days?
Gianni's always open, seven days a week, at lunchtime and dinnertime. We only close during the Buddhist New Year's Day, called Songkran, which falls in mid-April.
How do you live far from Italy and from the world of the Italian cuisine in particular?
I like it very much here in Bangkok. The other day I was granted the official residence permit (after more than 13 years, but here things move slowly and it's not always easy to get these sorts of documents). I love keeping in touch with Italy and I go back at least once a year. From a professional point of view, I joined the GVCI (Italian Cooks' Virtual Group http://www.gvci.org/). Thanks to the opportunities offered by the Web we meet on line to carry on different kinds of common initiatives. For example, we've just awarded the Antonio Amato Prize, dedicated to the Italian cook killed in Saudi Arabia by a group of terrorists a few months ago...

Do you like living in Bangkok?
Very much. Bangkok is an incredibly lively city that makes you feel alive and offers a lot of opportunities. It's also very safe, and you don't have to be afraid if you happen to hang about at three o'clock in the morning. Apart from my job, I also have my heart here. Within a couple of months I'll become a father...

Talking about work, is Gianni your sole business here in Thailand?
No, it's not. Over the last few years, thanks to the restaurant success, there have been new opportunities to grow. In fact, I've recently started to explore some of them. We own a restaurant on the ground floor of the Gaysorn Plaza (one of the most refined shopping malls in the heart of Bangkok), together with several outlets inside other malls, Sky Train stations and big stores. There are also other projects we're carrying out at the time being. Thailand gave me a lot but I think I gave Thailand a lot as well...

If you happen to come to Bangkok, either on business or on holiday, and you feel like eating Italian, now you know where to go. And please send Gianni our best regards!

Ristorante Gianni
34/1 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road
Bangkok 10330
tel :. 0-2252 1619

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