Sweet little restaurant offering Italian food at modest prices

Reviewing restaurants is inevitably a form of criticism, though not a very scientific one unless one is dealing with the fancier elements of haute cuisine. It is, I would suggest also more subjective than writing about a film, an art exhibition or a new novel, since one is on the sharp end of what is being offered rather than in receipt of the fully packaged art object.
We always bring our personal baggage to any such review – nowhere more so than in the case of movies – but it is unusual to meet the writer or director during the course of a viewing, but you will often encounter the chef and or owner at a restaurant.
All of which waffle brings me to saying that my reaction to visiting Billy’s was subjective. I was very taken by the attempt being made in a fairly new eatery (about three months) situated in Kampaengdin Road, which is a very hands-on affair, situated not that far from the Night Bazaar and Thapae Road. By the way parking is very easy.
It’s a small place with just 24 covers. The tables have bright red gingham check covers, the walls are simply decorated and there’s some Italian tenors singing along rather insistently – as they do – in the far background.
The menu is clearly laid out in English and Thai and offers a fairly reasonable selection of Italian food, with a few ‘extras’ such as smoked salmon (145 baht) which might not generally be on offer at the local trat.
I went there quite late one evening after a superb jazz concert at Payap and my Thai companion and I were initially the only customers, although authentic Italians came in well after 10 p.m. and this seemed a good sign (Italians being nearly as fussy about their food as the French). We were both hungry since it was 9.30p.m. and neither of us had eaten since noon.
Whilst we checked out the menu for main courses and for ‘research’ we enjoyed a small carafe of the house white, which was exceptionally smooth and as far from the vinegar offered at too many restaurants as one might get.
My friend went for the classic veal with tuna sauce (NOT a dish I approve of – just think of veal crates) and enjoyed a vast portion of it, and finding a space for a couple of the grilled vegetables which I had chosen. These – including aubergines, onions and zucchini – needed a sprinkling of extra salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil but were fresh and generously served. They came with tiny garlic slices and we also had a single portion of garlic bread.
Nong opted for the grilled salmon, which came with a range of fresh vegetables, cooked al dente. The fish looked delicious and was soon demolished. I went for a classic pasta dish as a sign of what the basic menu could offer. There were pizzas and many pastas ranging from 120 baht to around 200. Mine was Puttanesca and my only criticism would be that it was not gutsy enough, since this tasty sauce is famous for just that quality with its olives and anchovies that were meant to set the street walkers (from whom it derives its name) around the ports up for the night. Still they would not have complained about the size of the portion, whatever they said later at night.
The red wine was truly excellent and Billy assured me that he had taken a long while to find a good value house wine – this was from Puglia in southern Italy and was robust and full bodied without being overpowering. It was served at room temperature, although he said they kept some in the ‘fridge for those who liked it that way. Certainly this wine would not be enhanced by such treatment, which should only be reserved for young and lighter reds. Naturally there were plenty of other drinks available, from Singha beer to spirits and plenty of softer options.
At present they are not big on puddings and it would be nice to see a small selection of ice creams or the odd sorbet on offer. As it was we settled for a tiramisu (they had sold out of panacotta) as the only option and it proved a little spongey but was helped down by a limoncello.
Thanks to the alcohol and a full-scale dinner we managed to notch up a bill of around 1,000 baht, with a tip for the attentive waitress. It would be easy to eat well for half that amount, by avoiding expensive starters – though my vegetables were a mere 75 baht – and cutting down on the booze. Still I’m on the side of the guy who remarked that a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine. We were also given bread and mineral water as a matter of course, and drank the latter whilst choosing not to recall W.C Fields’ reason for not doing so.
So back to my subjective criticism: this was a charming dining experience, not just for the food and wine but for the obvious pleasure that the young people got from running this little venture. Seemingly he was previously a chef at one of Chiang Mai’s most famous Italian restaurants and has now branched out on his own.
I’m grateful to a friend Paul who knows his way around a table napkin or two for recommending this new venue, which I will happily return to. You can find it at 20/3 Kampaengdin Road and if you have trouble finding it just phone either 086 653 0962 or 081 288 1480 for directions in either Thai or English. They open from around noon each day.


Potato Salad - Asian style

Salads are something you can eat all year round in Thailand. This salad is based on German potato salad, but given a unique twist with some Asian herbs. It is easy to make, but just that little bit different to make your guests ask for more.

Cooking Method
Place potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water, and cook about 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Now cut potatoes, while still hot, into 2 cm pieces. Set aside to cool.
Heat the olive oil in fry pan. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and stir-fry until tender.
In a bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, sesame oil, chilli sauce, wasabi powder, ginger, crushed bacon bits and turmeric.
Toss the cooled potato and vegetable mixture with the onions, mayonnaise mixture, and coriander until well mixed. Place in refrigerator until serving.

Ingredients                  Serves 6
Potatoes, scrubbed               750 gm
Extra virgin olive oil              2 tbspns
Onion, diced                          1 large
Minced garlic                        1 tbspn
Salt and pepper to taste
Mayonnaise                              1 cup
Lemon juice                           1 tbspn
Worcestershire sauce      1 tablespoon
Sesame oil                             tbspn
Chilli sauce                               1 tspn
Wasabi powder                       1 tspn
Ground ginger                         1 tspn
Ground turmeric                      1 tspn
Bacon bits (crushed)               cup
Fresh coriander chopped         cup