BANGKOK, May 14 — Judging by the number of Italian restaurants in Bangkok, it’s not difficult to surmise that residents here love Italian food, whether it’s pasta or pizzas.
Most places here serve generic Italian fare though; very few dedicate themselves to specific regional Italian cuisines... until Italian chef Paolo Vitaletti opened his casual trattoria-style eateries Appia and Peppina, that is.
Designed as “a Roman trattoria in Bangkok”, Appia is the passion project of Italian chef Paolo Vitaletti and his partner, American food writer turned restaurateur Jarrett Wrisley (of restaurant Soul Food Mahanakorn fame).
Roman cuisine is rustic and straightforward, focusing on seasonal ingredients mainly from the Roman Campagna region: cheeses such as Pecorino Romano, salumi (salted meats) and strutto (clarified pork lard).
Vitaletti, the son of a butcher, grew up with such humble ingredients used in hearty fare such as pastas and trippa (tripe stews). His menu at Appia is pretty straightforward; he aims to recreate the same sense of deep satisfaction that comes from eating good, simple food.
Entering, we feel as though we’ve just walked in from a tiny Roman vicolo (alley) rather than a bustling soi (street) in Bangkok. Appia’s décor is as unfussy as its dishes: the wood-panelled ceiling, vintage chandeliers and second-hand artwork gathered from Italian flea markets invoke a warm, welcoming ambience.
We begin with a Roman-style antipasto — an ample selection of Italian cold cuts and cheeses. Appia’s platter is strewn with mortadella (sliced pork sausage), Norcia ham, coppa di testa (head cheese), porchetta (stuffed pork roast), Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano and house-made giardiniera (vegetable relish pickled in oil, vinegar and spices).
Also, there’s nothing more Roman than Trippa alla Romana, the classic tomato and tripe stew thickened with Pecorino cheese. Appia’s pastas, from ravioli to gnocchi, are made fresh daily and definitely a must-order. (Needless to say, everything is cooked al dente or firm to the tooth.)
Carbonara here is especially decadent with the inclusion of Paolo Parisi’s famous eggs, laid by Livorno hens fed with goat’s milk. Together with crispy guanciale (cured pork cheek) and sharp Pecorino cheese, Parisi’s rich and creamy yolks coat calamarata (a type of thick ring pasta named after the calamari or squid rings it resembles) for the ultimate carbonara.
One of the day’s specials is linguine alle vongole, which is extremely popular throughout Italy. Its presence on the menu is thanks to the availability of fresh vongole veraci clams from Italy, the right type of clams to use. Tossed with a splash of white wine, lemon zest and briny bottarga (cured grey mullet roe), every mouthful tastes deliciously of the sea.
Lovers of roast meats will appreciate that dishes such as their roasted organic chicken and porchetta are prepared on the in-house rotisserie. Appia’s roasted organic chicken is their signature dish. Simple, yes, but the simplest dishes are the hardest to execute well.
The porchetta is deeply aromatic, as it’s stuffed with fennel pollen, garlic and rosemary; little more is needed beyond a generous sprinkle of salt.
From Rome, we move on to Naples, or at least the tastiest representation of Neapolitan fare in Bangkok: Vitaletti and Wrisley’s Peppina. Neapolitan cuisine derives much of its colour from the southern city of Naples. Here, ingredients are balanced between the agricultural products of the Campania region and the bounty of the Mediterranean sea.
Perhaps the best known Neapolitan creation is the pizza; a true Neapolitan pizza must be hand-made by a certified pizziaiolo (pizza artisan) and fired in a wood oven. Peppina is no ordinary pizzeria; it’s one of the few outside of Italy that fully embraces the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana’s stringent rules. Anything less isn’t considered authentic.
The way Peppina approaches this, beyond the requisite wood-fire oven and tomato sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, is to make the dough by hand (rather than machine).
Flour, sea salt, yeast and specially filtered water are mixed. This dough is then left to ferment for 24 hours before being cooked rapidly at very high heat. The result is a charred yet pillowy crust that has some tang from the lengthy fermentation.
The toppings for Peppina’s pizzas may look deceptively basic but are of the highest quality: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala (water buffalo milk mozzarella), extra virgin olive oil. Every table is furnished with a small condiment tray of peperoncino (chilli pepper flakes), olio di peperoncino (hot chilli oil), dried oregano and sea salt. Ingredients are everything.
Classic Neapolitan pizzas abound. You really can’t go wrong with traditional favourites such as the Pizza Marinara (a combination of tomatoes, oregano, olive oil and garlic) or the Pizza Margherita (basil leaves, fresh mozzarella di bufala and tomatoes — conjuring up the green, white and red of the Italian flag).
We love the Pizza Uovo, a lesser-known classic with an egg yolk oozing delectably from a sea of smoked pancetta and cheeses (a mix of soft-ripened robiola, mozzarella and Pecorino).
Peppina also has pizze dedicate or special pizzas such as the Pizza Amalfi (fior di latte cheese, yellow piennulo tomatoes, lemon, olive oil and walnuts) and the Pizza Corbara (delicate Corbari tomatoes, marinated anchovies and basil).
Our favourite is a decidedly Thai invention: the Pizza Omaggio a Bangkok, where the mozzarella di bufala is given a rich, spicy kick with fresh coconut milk, marinated tiger prawns, grated lime, fresh chilli and oyster sauce.
If the pizzas aren’t enough for you, some side orders from the griglla (grill) should do the trick. The pork liver wrapped in lard and bay leaves is robust yet tender. If you don’t like innards, try the rosticciata — grilled pork ribs marinated in gremolata, a tangy Italian herb condiment made from chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic.
Simple and good, the way an Italian mamma would feed her family. Buon appetito and Taan hai a-roi (“Enjoy your meal!”)
20/4 Sukhumvit 31, Bangkok, Thailand
Open Mon-Sat 6pm-11pm; Sun 11:30am-3pm & 6pm-11pm
Tel: +66 2 261 2056
27/1 Sukhumvit 33, Bangkok, Thailand
Open Mon-Thu 11:30am-3pm & 6pm-12am; Fri-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm & 6pm-12am
Tel: +66 2 119 7677