Stylish Italian restaurant off Nimmenhaeminda Road

An English friend, visiting Chiang Mai from his home in Kerala, asked me how I chose a restaurant for a review. In short, why were we going to Beccofino? Part of the answer was that places sort of ‘choose’ me. I’d been there twice before, not long after it opened and now, some three months later I was happy to go along and see whether standards had been maintained - if so I could then write about it.

But, he insisted, why this particular place rather than one of the numerous Italian restaurants that I have so far not reviewed. The answer came within about ten minutes of our arrival. Beccofino seeks, as it smart sounding ‘family’ name suggests, to offer a fine dining experience. It is rather up-market compared with many places which also offer pizzas and pastas, since it has many much fancier dishes and the style is elegant, definitely not your average pizzeria. There is a bar along one wall as you enter, with a second wall opening through glass doors on a large terrace with a further five
tables. A third wall boasts a large mural of Venice and a plain wall completes the large rectangular space. There is seating for up to 40 people at decent sized tables, arranged in twos, fours and eights, plus those outside.
On certain evenings, as was the case on our recent Friday visit, a very pleasant band of two – a male guitarist- singer and a female singer – perform. Their repertoire is far removed from Italy, but my friend, who originally comes from Liverpool, took the Beatles’ songs they included as a compliment.
We were offered a table for four, since, sadly, in the present economic climate there were far from 40 diners (although I am told that their brunch buffet is extremely popular and very good value). The tables are nicely laid with crisp white cloths and large napkins and we were soon provided with bottled water and assorted breads, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side. They also have fancy imported water, including San Pellegrino and Perrier, should you be so minded. We opted for a glass each of the house wine, a white and a red, at 120 baht. They also offer a wine from Umbria by the glass at 150 and there is a huge drinks menu including cocktails, wine by the bottle, beer and most drinks one can think of, though might not order.
My friend fancied a pizza, having spotted the wood-burning oven to the far right of the bar. I fancied a risotto and opted for the one with parmesan and black truffle sauce. And it was at this stage that the answer came as to why Beccofino was worth coming to over many other restaurants. Would you like the pizza in two sections, with a choice of toppings? This was in response to an order for the sea food version. This could be amended to half of that and half of any of the other 11 pizzas. The offer was accepted and we both agreed that it was the first time we had encountered such a novel idea, which would add variety to the dish.
The waitress then said to me, almost apologetically, that the risotto would take between 20 and 30 minutes. To which there is no other reply than, yes that would – or should - be the case. I remembered that only a week before I had dissuaded a Thai friend from ordering a prawn risotto when we were told that it would only take a ‘very few’ minutes. A recipe not for a risotto but a re-heated disaster out of the microwave. I’ve prepared many in my time and 20 minutes is about right, depending on the volume. (And a recommendation to anyone preparing the dish, use a good quality dry vermouth instead of white wine at the start of the cooking).
This gave us plenty of time for a starter and my companion went for the onion soup (90 baht), which came steaming in an elegant dish, topped with melted cheese and parmesan croutons. Sadly, the presentation was far better than the taste, which he described as bland. My organic rocket salad with baby tomatoes and a balsamic dressing (220 baht) was, happy to say, perfect- with a super fresh salad and well balanced dressing.
Along with the 9p.m. arrival of the ‘band’, our main courses arrived. The pizza (220 baht) was substantial, with a mercifully thin crust and was later dubbed ‘delicious’. I sampled a section of the cheese ‘half’ and concur with that verdict. I took a glass of the house red with the inevitably ‘salty’ risotto and the wine certainly stood up to the test. The risotto was suitably gutsy yet moist and creamy.
The final reason for going to Beccofino is the attentive and charming service. But naturally all of the above comes at a price. We had selected food from the less expensive items on the large menu: there are plenty of pastas – raviolis, classic spaghettis and so on at around 200- 300 baht. All the soups are 90 and some salads and other starters are somewhat more. A special Beccofino platter for two and other antipasti plus a tartare of tuna complete that section of the menu. But there are also meat and fish selections, including steaks at around 500 baht and a grilled pork chop at 320. The fish, which I tried previously, is especially good and includes salmon, red snapper and sea bass interestingly prepared. These are priced similarly to the meat.
Given the high tax on wine in Thailand – can anyone explain that ridiculous situation? – the wines are not over expensive. But you have to remember that prices here are subject to both further tax and service and with water and cover charges a meal can be expensive.
As it was, our meal (we could not manage one of the tempting puddings) came in at around 600 baht and 900 baht respectively, since I enjoyed an extra glass of wine and the splendid organic salad. Apart from the disappointing soup, the meal was fine. But given the economic doldrums and lack of tourists I imagine that the restaurant is happy for the lunch time trade, since it is in a quite fancy area off a popular and expensive road and maintain a large staff. However, it is worth seeking out, especially if you want a leisurely meal or are on a special date. It can be found stretched between Sois 5 and 7 off Nimmenhaeminda, with an official address at 20/2 Soi 5, open between 11.30 and 14.30 for lunch and from 18.00 to 22.30 for dinner. Phone 053-226-590 for further information or check them out on www.beccofino.co.th, which may give details of other branches in Thailand.


Stir-fry chilli chicken

Another easy stir-fry this week. You can increase the number of chillies if you want more spiciness.

Cooking Method
Combine oyster sauce and sweet chilli sauce in a jug.
Separate bok choy stems and leaves and slice thinly.
Place noodles in a large, heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water. Stand for 1 minute. Drain. Separate noodles and set aside.
In the wok, over high heat, add 2 teaspoons peanut oil and swirl to coat. Add half the chicken and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until just cooked through. Set aside. Repeat with 2 teaspoons peanut oil and remaining chicken.
Add remaining peanut oil to wok. Add asparagus, chilli, garlic and sesame oil. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add noodles, bok choy stems, chicken and combined sauces. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Add bok choy leaves. Stir-fry for 15 seconds. Serve.

Ingredients (serves 4)
Chicken breast fillets, thinly sliced       600 gm
Oyster sauce                                     1/3 cup
Sweet chilli sauce                              1/3 cup
Sen yai rice noodles                           500 gm
Peanut oil                                          2 tbspns
Asparagus, cut into 5 cm lengths         2 bunches
Long red chilli, deseeded, sliced           1
Garlic finely chopped                           2 cloves
Sesame oil                                         1 tspn
Bok choy                                           1 bunch