If you ask most locals about the Italian eatery Sorrento, many will think you are talking about an old, defunct restaurant that used to sit along the middle of Sathorn Road.
Despite being a staple of Bangkok’s dining circuit since 1989, the much-loved Sorrento closed its doors almost four years ago when one of the founding partners passed away. After more than two decades in business, the restaurant disappeared – just like that.
But a growing number of astute foodies and Sathorn locals have noticed something interesting: Sorrento was quietly revived, and many would argue it is better than ever thanks to five entrepreneurs and close friends who teamed up with the original chef from the old location, Santad “Tai” Sridao. They’ve renamed the restaurant Sorrento Sathorn and moved it to a new location on Sathorn Soi 10 – a hotbed of new dining ventures.
Leading this charge to re-establish the once-proud brand is Pongpak “Ton” Sudthipongse, an investment banker, restaurateur and entrepreneur who is better known to the masses as Diageo’s “Best Bartender in Thailand 2015” and one of the top 20 barmen in the world under the same banner.
Hokkaido Scallops with Themidor Cream
Chef Tai’s original thermidor recipe – red onions, mushrooms, white wine, parmesan cheese and a bit of mustard to cut through the noise – certainly got the job done, but the updated version takes it a step further.
Now the dish is flame-broiled to melt the parmesan and add charcoal flavour before finishing with a splash of lemon to lighten the heavy sauce. The result is an appetiser that hits your taste buds with the power of a main course without dropping into your stomach like one; a very impressive start to the meal. It’s a shame there was only two scallops.
Snowfish with Chorizo
On the surface, Chef Tai’s roasted snow fish with chorizo, walnut and red pepper relish seems exactly as advertised; mild and soft fish accented by more aggressive chorizo and pepper, lightened up with crunchy green beans and cherry tomatoes for texture and freshness.
However, the presence of tomatoes on the plate is far more specific than “freshness”. Ton’s bartending sous vide wizardry comes into play here, infusing the tomatoes with a subtle mint syrup that acts as a natural palate cleanser – increasing the flavour impact of the rest of the dish after every bite.
The aptly named Pizza Sorrento is so traditional in its approach that one thinks Bangkok’s Italian community would mutiny if any of Sorrento’s new owners tried to tamper with it.
It’s a no-frills, classic Neapolitan pizza. Just four ingredients top the pie: prosciutto, mascarpone, tomatoes and rocket leaves. Dishes like this are when the freshness of a restaurant’s ingredients are put to the test. There is no way to mask frozen tomatoes, old rocket leaves or dry meat. Simple pizzas are a quiz in how well you follow the Italian cooking gospel.
As you might expect, Sorrento Sathorn’s commitment to traditional technique shines. The pizza is everything a pizza should be. The fresh cheese melts subtle flavours into the mouth with every bite and the tomatoes punch through so fresh you’d swear they were picked moments earlier. Every ingredient shares an equally noticeable piece of your palate, making you yearn for another bite.
While the changes to the restaurant’s food and overall aesthetic maintain a careful balance between old and new, there is one element of Sorrento that is entirely innovative: the cocktails. With two of the best bartenders in Thailand behind the helm, Sorrento’s penchant for cutting-edge mixology certainly isn’t a surprise, but definitely impressive.
Every aspect of the restaurant’s cocktail game is world-class – heavy reliance on fresh ingredients, custom-made waterless syrups and sous vide infusions, for example – and its menu is as ambitious and creative as any in Bangkok.
The Butterfly Effect, one of Ton’s personal recommendations, mixes Vermouth Bianco and lychee liqueur to slightly dry the intensity of Absolut Elyx Vodka and white peach. Served in a closed bronze container shaped like a pineapple, the cocktail walks a nice line between fruity and dry, making it an ideal first-course companion.
“I even sous vide the syrup with ginger to tickle your stomach so you can keep eating,” says Ton. “But it’s so subtle you probably wouldn’t know unless I told you.”
It takes a lot for an Italian restaurant to impress these days in Bangkok’s oversaturated market, but it’s surprising how impressive simple cuisine can be when it’s well executed. Sorrento scores top marks all around.