La Villa

The ideal place to watch the Vespas ride by

La Villa is not a newcomer on the Chiang Mai restaurant scene. With a history going back 20 years, and the driving force Italian born Lele having been here 30 years, it is probably the most senior Italian eatery in town. This is important to remember. Bad restaurants do not last. Good ones do.

La Villa is at the busy end of Ratchadamnoen Road (opposite the Writer’s Club and The Hug) and has many sections to it. There is an open area at the front, plus a raised dais section which is covered. Behind those there is an old wooden house, with a couple of dining rooms there as well. Off to one side is the kitchen area and the all-important wood-fired pizza oven, which, as any Italian will tell you, is the most important ingredient in making any great pizzas.

With the very pleasant weather we were having that evening, we plumped for the open section, with the rustic table settings adding to the informal ambience of the restaurant.

We were fortunate in that we were joined by Lele himself, who hailed originally from Torino, and his Thai wife. Wine was suggested and Lele went off to bring back a bottle of Barbera D’Alba, a pleasant quaffable red, which just happened to come from Torino as well! (Italians do tend to be somewhat proud of their origins!)

The menu is fairly extensive, as Italian menus tend to be. Looking first at the pizzas, there are 17 choices, ranging from a couple of Focaccia items (B. 70 and B. 80), the classic Margherita at B. 100 and then going up to the top item being a salmon pizza with zucchini, olives, oregano and cheese for B. 180. Of course you can also make your own, with a huge list of 22 toppings.

Pasta lovers are well catered for with over 30 home made pastas with the vast majority priced between B. 100-140. All styles are on offer, including fettuccine, ravioli, panzarotti, lasagne, gnocchi, cannelloni, spaghetti and penne.

Another section is called Hors d’Oeuvre, and you can indulge in 10 choices between B. 35 at the lower end with garlic bread, all the way through to B. 200 for the classic imported Parma ham.

Main courses, for those who want to get their teeth into something meaty, include chicken with fries, pepper steaks and grilled beef steaks at the top of B. 200.

Finally, there are soups (B. 60-80), salads (B. 60-100), beverages and desserts.

We tried many of Lele’s specialties, including his La Villa style bruschetta which had chunky tomato with vinegar and garlic on white pizza bread, followed by his Pizza rustica which is based upon tomato, mushroom, zucchini, eggplant and oregano smothered in oodles of stringy cheese. Beautiful! “Grandmother’s recipe,” said Lele, with an outrageous grin.

Lele did warn us that he does not do ‘instant’ cooking. “All the food is fresh, so you must wait some time,” said Lele.

We also tried his baked mussels in the shell, with butter, garlic and bread crumbs, and this was another superb choice. Even the pork steak in pepper sauce, though not strictly Italian, was well cooked and very tasty and filling. No complaints from anyone in the Dining Out team.

It was a wonderful Italian evening. Good food, good wine and good company. Plenty of arm waving to prove a point. Unhurried, as all good Italian meals should be. Dining out should be far more than just nourishment, it should be a gustatory and intellectual experience, and our evening at La Villa was all of that.

It is an inexpensive eatery that should be approached as Italians would. Go there with friends for a relaxed evening and enjoy yourselves, watching the Vespas go by. If you try hard enough, you could almost imagine you are sitting in the great piazza in the centre of Torino. Believe me, or ask Lele. Highly recommended.

La Villa, 70 Ratchadamnoen Road, Chiang Mai, telephone 053 216 531, email lelelek @hotmail.com. Open 11 a.m. till 11 p.m. seven days (but closed two days per month, when the spirit moves them). Parking behind the restaurant.