The day: 3rd November, Dinner.
The place: Via Margone, Ravina, Trento, Italy (tel +39 0461 349401)
The venue: Locanda Margon
Closest airports: Brescia (Ryanair), Verona (British Airways)
The food: Modern interpretation of regional Trentino cuisine
The drinks: mainly from Trentino Alto Adige and Italy with some foreign choices (especially French), at all prices and with very honest markups
In Italy for a week, we are deep in ‘Lunelli-land’, among the vineyards that produce Ferrari, one of the best Italian ‘metodo classico’ fizzies (i.e. champagne, but the French prevent us to call it that). The Lunelli family bought the vineyards three years ago from the previous owners, and they are also behind the “Surgiva” water found more and more often in Italian restaurants both in Italy and in London. Spumante, water and now… fine food. In place of the old ‘Marlene’ restaurant, a new sparkling building surrounded by vines and more vines. It is not all that easy to find along a very narrow road – if you think you are lost, you are probably heading in the right direction. And here, chef Walter Miori, holder of a Michelin star for many years at his previous lovely Fior di Roccia, has opened his new enterprise last September, obviously together with his charming wife Franca, as usual in charge of the front room. Will the Mioris be corrupted by the move to a more ‘corporate’ environment? Will the brushing shoulders with the rich and powerful of the region destroy the old family atmosphere? Let us investigate…
The restaurant has a fantastic position, a terrazza in the midst of vineyeards, on the hills overlooking Trento and the Adige valley. Inside is a sober and elegant dining room, in mostly light tones, and with an adjoining all year usable conservatory which is full of light (the pitcure is darker than reality).
The menu has a lot to offer: Starters, all at €16, include eel from lake Garda marinated in grappa and served with a terrine of sardines and grilled vegetables; Primi, all at €14, include moka orzotto (i.e. barley treated risotto style) with rosemary; and cabbage canederlotti with Puzzone di Moena cheese and truffle butter. Mains are all €25 bar for the traditional Trentino dish of carne salada and beans (these from Lamon), at €20, and include for instance the jar of luccio perca (a type of pike) and prawns in a saffron broth. A selection of cheeses is also available at €15. In addition, there are set menus, too. Being where Ferrari is produced, there is a “Bollicine” (i.e. bubbles) menu at €65 per head, made up of five courses each accompanied by a suitable bubbly. Then there is the 5 courses “surprise menu” at €50 per head, with dishes chosen by the Chef on the night. Can you possibly guess what we went for? The drawback is that we did not know what dishes were about to come, so we describe them as they arrive, not with the ‘proper’ names that the Chef might have conceived for them.
Before this, though, we are offered a glass of Ferrari brut. And when here they say ‘May we offer…’ be reassured that they really mean ‘offer’ (listen, Malga Panna…): beautiful, so much so that we’ve got to show it to you!
Here we are, the bread basket arrives:
and what a sight, the signature potato and flour “brushstrokes” (the thin slivers you see towards the back) sitting proudly with all manner of rolls. Sumptuous. Oh, and here we go with the first surprise in the surprise, a little present from the kitchen:
– Chestnuts soup with ‘cappone’ (capon, i.e. a rooster castrated when 60-70 days old, slaughtered when about 6-7 month old), chestnut bites and Garda extra virgin olive oil.
Sweetness is the dominant note, but in case it is too much, in comes the cappone. The soup is quite thin, and the neutral background of the cappone is ideal to provide additional texture. The olive oil is delicate like the overall dish, a pleasant and unobtrusive start to the dinner, tuning the palate on the sweet register for the next dish.
Here comes the first entry proper of our surprise menu: a ‘Liver triptic’ made up of the following:
– Foie gras with ‘mostarda’ pears
– Foie gras terrine with green tomato comfit and thyme sauce
– Pate’ de volaille on a Tropea onion comfit with balsamic vinegar sauce and vanilla seeds
The above were accompanied by sliced warm pan brioche.
This was a superb dish. The first treat was mostly ingredient driven: the foie gras of superior quality, the pears perfectly cooked and seasoned (though maybe the piquant hit of the mustard did not come out with full intensity as might have been intended). The terrine had a smoky undertone, and was also simply excellent, with good acidity from the green tomatoes. The pate’ perhaps a tad too sweet in itself for Woman, ‘corrected’ by the salt flakes on top. The accompanying just warm pan brioche slices were slightly crispy outside and most light inside, a very suited complement to the rich trio. Overall, this was a quite sublime expression of a full range of sweet notes, almost a dessert for a starter, in an array of decadently soft consistencies, balanced by hints of tangy and smoky notes: a dish yielding a sense of great harmony, and attractively presented.
It is looking good, and the next item to appear is:
– Buckwheat “Half moons” Altoadige style with spinach and ricotta filling, with butter sauce and Grana cheese slivers
Again a delicate, balanced dish, with some grip courtesy of the humble but crucial poppy seeds and the buckwheat of the dough. The ricotta was a little tamed by the flavoursome spinach. No question about the quality of the butter and the grana, which conferred a hearty regional soul to the ensemble.
Now a question sneaks in: foie gras, butter sauce, grana, this is all quite fat, but the dishes turn out light, they leave your palate clean: how does he do that? Well, no time to ponder on this, here comes the next surprise:
– Baccala’ (i.e. salted cod) chunk (thankgod we do not have to write menus) on black eye beans guazzetto (soup).
A lighter (and welcomly so) dish in the sequence, the cooking of the baccala’ was unbelievable, so moist and tender it was that it felt as fresh cod. The dried matchstick size endive (an ingreedient used in several dishes) and potatoes on top were playful, an excellent saffron sauce caressing the beans in a simple and graceful combination, making this a classic dish.
But the mains are not over yet: after fish, a little bit of game:
– Quail stuffed with ceps and chestnuts wrapped in pancetta, with a thyme sauce, carrots and crunchy mangetouts.
Ok, we may be boring you by repeated use of the same adjectives, but this was yet again flawless cooking of the bird, with the stuffing seamlessly binding to it. Also very pleasant was the interplay between the sweet pureed carrots and the mangetouts. Note the trademark crunchy aspect on the top (attending to the chewing instinct is important to Miori). We missed a little some punchy reduction of the kind we are used to in other top Italian restaurants that have incorporated French techniques, but the flavour of the quail meat itself was very full. As usual, Chef Miori’s hand is very delicate, concocting a traditional dish (stuffed bird) interpreted in a modern, clean and fresh way.
And now for the final surprise, another trio consisting of:
– Lemon leaf crème brulee
– Gianduia (hazelnut chocolate traditional from Piedmont) mousse
– Liquorice pannacotta with vanilla extract.
In Man’s words, this dessert was a cathedral: powerful in its masterfully presented, uncrammed variety of themes and flavours. The three main components were just the backbone, all around were the sweet tanginess of the pomegranate grains and the passion fruit here, the darker tones of the pistachio and the cinnamon bark there. The crème brulee and the gianduia mousse were luscious. The liquorice pannacotta (in the glass) was an authentic stunner: so intense, fresh and edgy, perfectly smoothed by the thin layer of vanilla sauce on top.
Finally, a tray of petit four varied in assortment (from torrone, to chocolate to fruit) ending a very remarkable dinner.
With a bottle of Hofstatter Pinot Noir at €29 (resveratrol is good for you) and two 0.75 litre bottles of water at €3 each the total bill came at €135, that is around £90.
What a memorable dinner it was, both for the individual dishes and for the carefully paced sequence (which got its very final full stop with a fragrant and very dense home made liquorice Vov when touring the kitchen). Mrs. Franca Miori at ease commanding the dining room with the help of two capable and charming waiters, the service has retained the intimate and relaxed style we were used to, with just a touch more of formality. In the kitchen, chef Walter Miori is a supreme interpreter of the modern take on Trentino’s regional cuisine, at the same time caringly preserving and adapting the tradition His dishes are balanced, rich and at the same time almost miraculously light. An experienced chef, with complete and precise command of his dishes, he is also a professional of great integrity who takes no shortcuts whatsoever on execution and materials. And, for somebody who has held a Michelin star so consistently for so many years, he is a refreshingly down to earth man with an obviously undiminished passion for his job. Now in this more elegant dining room, the lovely setting in the vineyards and the relaxing views on the Adige valley, we wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the stars came in twos…but, whether the official recognition comes or not, Locanda Margon is an obligatory stop for the gourmet and the lover of Italian cuisine.