Review of 2014 and the UK restaurant discovery of the year: Locanda De Gusti.

Hi All! Sorry for the year’s radio silence. We’ve had an interesting 2014 restaurant-wise. To warm you up for our discovery of the year in the UK, let us catch up with a brief summary of just the main events…

A trip to Tokyo allowed us to sample 3* Michelin Nihon Ryori Ryugin, which was disappointing overall. There was more fire in a more basic izakaya in Roppongi, Warayakiya.

In Florence, we were equally underwhelmed by the luxurious Il Palagio (poor value for money), as well as by very hyped-up Ora d’aria (pretentious). Both restaurants are 1* Michelin, but we discovered instead a future star, a young talent by the name of Enrico Panero at Ristorante Da Vinci in Eataly Florence. We found top Sicilian cannoli at Ara: E’ Sicilia, we had great fun at Il Cibreo Teatro del Sale, but we met with poor attitude at another restaurant of the same Luciano Picchi stable, Il Cibreino.

In Barcelona we continued to find reasons to queue at ‘institutional’ tapas bar Cerveceria Catalana, less so at the newer Paco Meralgo, good but a tad overpriced.

In Trentino-Alto Adige we returned to excellent Andrea Fenoglio (1* Michelin in Merano), we discovered charming Locanda Alpina in Brez, as well as a simple joint with strong dishes in the centre of Trento, Moki, and we continued to enjoy Scrigno del Duomo (both the osteria upstairs and the formal restaurant downstairs), even if sadly it has lost its star.

In London, we found that ex-masterchef professional winner Steve Groves is a real talent at Roux Parliament Square, we continued to patronise our historical Italian favourites Latium and Briciole, both creations of inspired Chef Maurizio Morelli, were in for a crushing disappointment at ex-fave Koffmann’s (is he closing?). We have also had good but not wowing experiences at 2* Michelin Marcus and 3* Ducasse.

In Fife we have been many times at the place of another Masterchef finalist, The Adamson’s in St Andrews, which serves very simple but impeccable food, and because of a change of address we have been fewer times than usual at the still excellent Peat Inn, where Chef Geoff Smeddle is still going strong and holds on to his well-deserved star.

In Edinburgh, we have first of all enjoyed the strong New Zealand-style ‘gourmet coffee’ culture of the city, notably at Wellington Cafe (for Man) and Castello Coffee (for Woman), but also in many other places, and also the high-level patisserie of Patisserie Maxime. For food, beside the greatest of them all for fine dining, The Kitchin, with Castle Terrace as a close second, we always enjoy at a lower price point Galvin’s Brasserie De Luxe and especially our 2013 discovery of the year The Atelier.

Which brings us to this year’s discovery…Locanda De gusti. This is a unique family restaurant, run by Neapolitan chef Rosario Sartore (alone in the kitchen most of the time!), helped by a very strong small team that includes his wife Maria (puddings?), and Raffaele and Elena in the front of house, who work wonders. Even at the most incredibly busy of times, when one fears everything might collapse, everybody always deals with pressure in a cheerful and relaxed manner, and miraculously things work out – the Neapolitan way…with a charming Russian touch (Elena).

Paccheri con la ricotta

Paccheri con la ricotta

Rosario’s sauces are lovely, vibrant with herbs and just the right punch of hotness, rich without heaviness. Who can resist his pasta with lobster? We’ve always eaten it so greedily that we always forgot to take a picture, and it is our favourite dish! Here is a cousin

Linguine ai frutti di mare

Linguine ai frutti di mare

The Parmigiana is the best we’ve eaten out (and in fact we forgot to take a picture of that, too!), but it is the way he treats (the always fresh) seafood, be it stewed, grilled or fried, that amazes us, so superb it is.

20140801_194437

With very few concessions to fanciness and empty frills, this is a relatively simple and traditional cuisine, trattoria style: but it ain’t that easy…not at all: if it was, how come so few succeed in achieving such standards?

It takes not only skill, but good ingredients. For example, the cherry tomatoes from Piennolo, which you can see in many dishes here, are of a quality that is lacking in vegetables at many a starred restaurants. And the seafood itself is always immaculately fresh, like these mussels:

Tubetti con le cozze

Tubetti con le cozze

As we said, seafood and Seafood pasta are specialities,

Cavatelli con le cozze

Cavatelli con le cozze

Monkfish and beans

Octopus and beans

but Locanda goes strong also with traditional Neapolitan meat dishes (e.g. ragu’) and desserts

Selection of traditional sweet treats: pastiera, struffoli, sfogliatella

Selection of traditional sweet treats: pastiera, struffoli, sfogliatella

struffoli

struffoli

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Always conclude with a proper Nepolitan Kimbo coffee…

Espresso

Espresso

This is not a routine operation always dishing out the same stuff day in and day out: here, if you are Italian and have been in Naples, you re-live the pleasure of old flavours, and anyway anybody can perceive it’s a labour of love and of sincere passion, because it shows in the plate! The value for money is fantastic. No wonder the place is going strong.

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