Gavin Nazareth shares his table at Ms. Jigger with the mysterious madam behind the moniker.
I have a date with a mysterious woman tonight. I’ve only met her briefly once before. She’s friendly, fashionable, and flirty; a worldly traveller with a weakness for la dolce vita Italiano. And she definitely has a past. She’s a bit of Carmen Sandiego and Phryne Fisher rolled into one. She might even have been Billy Joel’s muse when he was writing his hit track “She’s Always A Woman”.
I’m meeting her at the Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok, the first Southeast Asian outpost of the San Francisco-based hotel brand. The design-forward, pet-friendly hotel has fast become a social hub for the city’s bold and beautiful, who come not just to pout and preen with their pampered pooches, but also for the varied food and beverage offerings.
Our rendezvous point is Ms. Jigger, which is tucked away at the far end of the art gallery-like hotel lobby ( just past Craft, the all-day bar and café that’s invariably teeming with social butterflies). The restaurant’s entrance is shrouded in ivory coloured drapes, and once you push past them you find yourself in an exceedingly elegant space: hardwood floors, wood-clad walls, marble table tops, white leather bar chairs, and comfy banquettes. Just past the reception podium is a floor-to-ceiling wine cooler stocked with organic, biodynamic, and Italian wines, while at the far end the ‘Spirits Library’ cossets a curation of bespoke, single-batch and rare spirits.
The fictional femme fatale who lends her name to this recently launched dining hotspot is a well-heeled globetrotter who has had the time of her life all through the Mediterranean, but continues to return to Italy, her “la sua preferita”. The restaurant’s curated cocktail experience, paired with exquisite Italian fare, is built around the fictional narrative of Ms. Jigger’s extraordinary travels. And it is she, you may have guessed, who is my mysterious date.
Head chef Danilo Aiassa, who helms the kitchen here, is a familiar face on the city’s culinary scene. Most will remember him from his stints at Biscotti, Ciao at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, or when he was chefowner of L’Ulivo. At Ms. Jigger he combines the freshest local ingredients with traditional culinary techniques and influences from Piedmont, his hometown, to create tantalising, authentic Italian flavours.
The menu is compact and his dishes are classic yet contemporary, devoid of the unnecessary frippery that encumbers many other menus around town. Take, for instance, his ‘Polpette al Sugo con Pecorino Romano’, or, more simply, homemade meatballs with spicy tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. This dish is chosen from the selection of cicchetti, which is the Venetian answer to the Milanese apertivo, or the Spanish tapas, or pintxos. They are plates meant to be shared with friends over glasses of wine in the bàcari, the small, local bars hidden all over Venice. Our six luscious meatballs are plump, juicy, and nicely smothered in rich, piquant sauce
Also from the cicchetti list we try the ‘Arancini Funghi Selvatici e Tartufo’, moreish crispy treats of risotto rice stuffed with wild mushrooms and black truffles, as well as the ‘Carpaccio di Bue con Pioppini, Cetrioli in Agrodolce, Scaglie di Parmigiano e Olio Tartufato’, a mouthful of a name that translates as a platter of beef carpaccio glistening slickly with truffle oil, which is then piled high with shimeji mushrooms, pickles, and shaved parmesan. A basket of warm rustic breads, consisting of rosemary focaccia, grape skin focaccia, and grissini, fills in the gaps in-between courses and conversations.
There are six different hand-tossed pizzas on offer, made with dough that has been proofed for 48 hours with fresh yeast. From this list the ‘24-Month Parma Ham’ is a standout, topped with velvety mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and succulent shavings of Parma ham that has been aged for two years, yielding a richer, more complex flavour. The other highly recommended pizza we try is the ‘Tartufata’, with nutty mascarpone cream, buttery mozzarella, and porcini mushrooms, all garnished with generous shavings of black truffles before receiving a drizzle of aromatic truffle oil.
From the pastas we settle on the ‘Risotto con Gamberi, Cozze, Calamari Zucchini, Scorza di Limone’. Risotto is romantic fling of sorts between Arborio rice, butter, a splash of wine, stock, and cheese. Sounds simple, but so many times it gets botched up, either under- or overcooked into one gloopy mess. Danilo’s, however, is impeccable. The rice is creamy with just a slight bite. The pan-fried tiger prawns, plump mussels, and tender calamari scent it with the ocean, while the bitter-sweet flavours of zucchini and the citrus intensity of lemon zest tie it together. It’s gone in a matter of minutes.
The mains, which take in surf and/or turf depending on your whims, all benefit from the kiss of the famed Josper Grill. Our pick is the ‘Costolette di Agnello in Crosta di Mostarda Spinaci Saltati e Patate al Forno’, in which meaty lamb chops are slathered with a mustard and herb crust before they meet the red-hot coals that bring out all the rich flavours. Perfectly done with a pink centre, they come paired with roasted potatoes, sautéed spinach, and wild mushroom marsala sauce.
Dessert is the airy ‘Ms. Jigger Tiramisu’, a mix of ladyfingers, coffee, mascarpone, Baileys Irish cream, a hazelnut cocoa spread, and chocolate shavings. It’s an excellent close to a great meal.
The drinks menu, created by beverage and bars manager Aaron Feder and Thai-French bartender Lorianne Spach, is also narrative-driven, and full of interesting choices that riff on Ms. Jigger’s journeys. Crafted cocktails with names such as Nuitée à Paris, Trans-Siberian, Feast of Ferragosto, Rome With a View, and Venice For One, all conjure up the intended images of exotic European excursions.
One especially intriguing sounding concoction is the Divine Proportions. “This is where we get really nerdy,” explains Aaron. “Ms. Jigger is in the city of Florence and she’s transfixed with the art of design. So this cocktail is based on the Golden Ratio, long associated with Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s a proportion ratio that you can find in flowers, in the human face, and throughout nature, but it’s a mathematical proportion that can be broken down. So I applied it to a Negroni, though I had to increase it from three ingredients to about nine. I play with different gins, different bitters, and even a little arrack goes into it to get this lovely little Negroni variant”.
We also learn about the Punch Trolley, a cocktail created tableside with cognac, rum, Earl Grey tea, and mar inated citrus oleo, flamed in overproof spirit and served over a large ice brick. And if you’re lucky, Aaron will give you a demo of how they make artisanal ice using the only Clinebell machine in Bangkok. This extraordinary device produces a 140-kg solid block of icy perfection that has been filtered and agitated over three days. It’s then carved down using an electric saw and a variety of sculpting tools to create the perfect block of ice for the drinks. Apart from being crystal clear, the ice melts at a slower rate so cocktails are not diluted as quickly. Unfortunately, under new normal lockdown regulations in place during our visit we were not able to sample these drinks, so they remain something of a mystery. But that creates the perfect excuse to return; for the cocktails, the bombolinis (Italian stuffed doughnuts), and the pleasant company of my mysterious lady friend who has graciously agreed to a second date.
To make a reservation, visit ms-jigger.com