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Locanda del Pilone

24 November 2013 1,870 views No Comment

It’s been a good year for eating :) Four Michelin stars I’ve got this year; four different one star Mich restaurants. Plus loads of visits to Pizza Express. Food heaven!

Mich #1 was in Saas Fee at the start of the year. A twinkling, snow-laden forest setting, gorgeous warm European flavours. The second was on the coast in Liguria. Fresh seafood by the seaside. Nobu for work, and then here, by accident on a relaxed Sunday afternoon.

pitch perfect

photo 2-3Piedmont’s countryside is interesting – you can drive for hours only seeing dull landscape, uninspired towns and industrial parks. Then you pop out on a hill and there’s a postcard vista of vineyards, stone farm buildings, olive greens and general Italian blissfulness. Locanda del Pilone is perched on a hill, rolling vineyards and truffle farming close by. There’s also a long distance panoramic view of the Alps which is truly breathtaking with all its icy blues and summit mists. Locanda del Pilone is a converted barn and retains a lot of original features, with lots of comfort and style. But really, you could have sat me in a leaking barn, on a haystack, with mice chewing my socks and I wouldn’t have noticed – because the food, and service, were knock out.

scratch the itch

Before we even looked at a menu there was an appetizer plate with all different nibbly bread bits: savoury pistachio biscuits, fennel seed bread sticks, caper & olive bread with goats cheese, rabbit macaroon sandwiches, pastry cases with cheese & walnut, focaccia cake with butter & herbs, grissini, piadina with smoked salmon & prosciutto. That’s an impressive pre-match selection isn’t it. We also had regional sparkling wine, just to help get in the mood.

niche dishes

The menus themselves were also impressive; they included information about the building, and information about the local artists whose work was on display. We ordered and then the gifts from the chef started to roll on in… I was treated to warm red prawns with chilled tomato confit – refreshing and light – followed by aubergine cooked in Coca-Cola served with tiny pink pickled onions and super strong basil. The aubergine was – as you might think – dark and sticky with the acidic garnishes cutting through. Nad had a brilliantly crafted dish, all about the five senses that included popcorn, salted bread, chocolate and foie gras, I’m told it worked. And he followed with the Coca-Cola aubergine but served with dried meats. We were already satisfied and the starters hadn’t yet arrived!
photo 2-2We self medicated a Nebiola to refresh our palates, debated which of the super sharp waiters looked like Gucci models, and which looked like Bond villains, and nosed at the truffle tasting menu that our neighbours were having.

lovely and rich

Our starters were beautiful. Nad had steak tartare with Jerusalem artichoke puree – pure melt – and his plate was so pretty, with actual (edible) flowers as decoration. Mine was way better though. Described as chestnut cappuccino with scallops and salted biscuits, I had a glass tumbler with smooth, weak, and yes chestnut flavoured cappuccino. Tempted as I was to ask for a soy version I resisted… There were a few teaspoons of froth and floating inside succulent scallops – melt, melt – and the somehow still crunchy biscuits. Does it sound ridiculous? The flavours, aromas and textures worked fantastically, and the experience of the dish (bear with me) was pure enjoyment.
We were at the point where we would have welcomed a chaise lounge instead of a next course, but that was just the starter, we still had primo and secondo to go!

ditch the diet

Sticking with his preference for local rustic food, Nad had spaghetti with a ragout of local sausages, that is to say the sausage was from Bra, a nearby town infamous for its sausages. The dish had a rich, delicious aroma. Mine was red prawns with porcinis, Jerusalem artichoke and porcini mayonnaise and four perfect sprigs of different fresh herbs that locked all the fresh and earthy flavours together. Secondo – we’re rattling through now – was roasted kid with autumn vegetables for Nad, very excellent, and spaghetti with ‘scent of the Mediterranean’ for me. I’ll explain… This was another beautifully presented dish: perfect gleaming spaghetti in the middle of the plate, with different spices sprinkled as spokes coming outwards. There was garlic salt, paprika, black pepper, dried anchovy, and more, so the colours and yes, the scent, were really powerful. It was very very brilliant.

kitchen kitsch

There were obviously some key ingredients and flavours that the kitchen was working around, which makes the menu and the experience lovely and seasonal. I was so impressed with how stimulating the dishes were, in fact Nad’s teaser dish ‘five senses’ had been a good indicator of what was to come. We didn’t order dessert, but the chef wasn’t finished with his gifts so we had sweets anyway… a selection of petite fours arranged on a piece of slate: very light sponge with hazelnut cream, tiny rice crispies covered with dark chocolate (with spoons to help eat them!), white chocolate balls with lime and chilli – unreal, dark chocolate salted squares, fizzing orange, sugar coated fruit jelly and green tea macaroons. That’s pretty cool isn’t it.

When we leave the restaurant the sun has come out more, the hills are really alive with colour and the Alps are twinkling. And that’s how a Sunday afternoon rolls in north Italy, understated class and pure pleasure.

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