There are many things that iO, this week’s topic, is not.
The 120-seat Italian restaurant is not a place for a swanky meal. The people are not boastful storytellers and habitual claims to culinary authenticity. The location isn’t prime — rather undercover, some would say. There’s no mass marketing, no robust media coverage, and no catchy name and logo.
But remarkably, the dining room at iO has never lacked in dynamism in the five years since it opened.
What iO (derived from “Italian osteria”) represents is a folksy restaurant, its own pizzeria, a wine bar (also has wine on tap), a pasta house, a cafeteria, a bakery, a deli and a cooking workshop. all under one roof.
The focus here is only on full-fledged offers that are guaranteed to satisfy the taste buds, stomach and emotions of customers, no matter who they are. The high-quality food is rounded off by a pleasant, factual service.
That’s why the osteria, always referred to as Khun Pa Anna’s (Auntie Anna’s) restaurant among regulars, is always populated by a cheerful mix of locals and westerners.
The Italian chef Anna Borrasi is the loving hostess of the house. Known in Italian restaurant circles as a lion-hearted entrepreneur, Borrasi hails from Naples but has lived in many cities across Italy and around the world.
iO is one of her Labor of Love projects. Her company, of which she is a managing partner, operates five restaurants – three in Singapore, one in Bangkok and another in Pattaya. Still, Bangkok is where iO guests can always find the gracious aunt overseeing their ever-busy kitchen and dining room.
The Osteria offers Italian dishes from different regions and culinary genres. The menu is large, with more than 100 dishes (with descriptions in English, Thai, Chinese and Russian) as well as a choice of four or five weekly specials written on the blackboard.
“Since we opened the restaurant five years ago, we have never repeated the specials,” Borrasi said.
Bread, pastries and pasta are freshly made in-house. Almost all the pasta is handmade, with the exception of the dry spaghetti.
Regular pizza options include the classic margherita; burrata cheese with tomatoes and olives; Aubergine Parmigiana with tomatoes and basil; boiled ham and mushrooms; pork cheek bacon with Taleggio cheese; and mortadella sausage with burrata and pistachios.
Pizza here is served warm in square slices. Ordering a variety of pizzas (110 baht for a small plate and 720 baht for a 20-piece five-flavor plate) is a big seller.
There are also traditional stuffed schiacciata (220baht to 380baht) on offer if you want to stray from pizza territory, but not too far. Schiacciata is Roman flatbread. And Borrasi’s recipe is 90% water, making her creation exceptionally crispy, fluffy and wafer-thin.
Filled with prosciutto, stracciatella cheese, mascarpone and rosemary, my order was heavenly and guaranteed to tempt even the smallest carb fanatic.
For small bites and antipasti, there’s seafood fritto, stuffed fried olives, Al Coccio’s baked eggs with truffles, Stravecchio garlic prawns and Angus beef carpaccio, to name a few.
Borrasi’s porchetta (190 baht each) was one of the tastiest I’ve had.
Prepared Ariccia-style, the pork belly is rolled with wild fennel and black pepper before being slowly roasted until the skin becomes brittle, thin and gleaming golden, while the flesh is still soft and juicy with natural sweet juice.
The Crispy Golden Seafood Fritto (260 baht) also drew attention. It’s a platter of light and crispy grated fish cubes, prawns and squid breaded in semolina, served with a dip duo of garlic-based aioli and homemade spicy sauce.
There’s also a hearty seafood guazzetto soup (350 baht), which has sizable fillets of fish, clams, mussels, fish, prawns and squid bathed in a flavorful tomato-based seafood broth.
We had tagliolini prawns (330 baht) for pasta. The perfectly cooked pasta was glazed with a light biscuit sauce complemented with super sweet shrimp, asparagus and flavorful crumbs.
The main course was Tuscan-style Maremmana steak (2,190 baht). The perfect medium rare, 600g pre-sliced flank steak, boasting beautiful micro-marbling and rich flavor, came on a bed of fresh rocket leaves, roasted garlic and topped with mushroom sauce.
If you’re coming in a large group, order grilled Italian sea bass (190 baht per 100g). The whole imported fish is salt-crusted, yielding firm, white flesh, and is served with grilled vegetables and three sauces, namely smoked chili sauce, Italian salsa verde, and black olive tapenade.
Our sumptuous dinner was rounded off with two impeccable desserts, both of which gave a perfect balance to the meal.
The pistachio tiramisu (290 baht), made with prized Bronte DOP pistachios from Sicily and no eggs or alcohol, presented very light layers of whipped mascarpone cream, spongy bittersweet cake and a subtle sprinkling of pistachios.
While the gluten-free Caprese al Limone Napoli or Flourless Almond Lemon Cake Naples Style (250 baht) proved truly delightful.
The restaurant regularly offers traditional Italian cooking classes by chef Anna and wine tastings. For more information, visit Facebook: ioosteriabkk.
Groove @ CentralWorld, ground floor
Rama I Street
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m
Most credit cards are accepted