ACHIEVING HAPPY EQUILIBRIUM
Written by David J Constable
Photos by Sofie Delauw from Cook_inc. 22
The long and complex menu doesn’t bode well. For starters, it’s late in the winter evening and took me over three hours to get here for dinner, plus I’m tired and can hear the repetitive tip-tap-tip-tap-tip-tapping of child’s feet running around me as a four-year-old slides across the polished restaurant floor – way past his bedtime. It’s a cosy Italian ristorante though, and I’m a greedy Brit in Tuscany, so shuffle my lardy arse comfortably into the chair and look forward to plate after plate of crostini and a gargantuan Lampredotto sandwich.
Woah, but hang on, this is 14-courses, plus all of the surprise appetizers, amuse-bouches and added accompaniments. Gianluca Gorini’s menu is a litany of lavish ingredients, but even I, from time to time, am guilty of unwarranted snobbery. The restaurant da Gorini in San Piero in Bagno, on the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines, presents fabulous and inventive food in his own style – light rather than heavy, but still full of robust flavours. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was exactly what I wanted. The customary lineup of Italian ingredients are all evident – salsiccia, radicchio, Parmigiano cream, winter chestnuts – convincing me that I was in very safe hands, but these are paired alongside kooky catches that have no place appearing on such a menu in inland Toscana. Creations are both classic and contemporary, a difficult balance to pull off successfully in a time when outlandish chefs are all wanting to wow the diner.
As the winter daylight falls, I find myself tucked away in the corner of the restaurant, seated among friends, the family of Gorini – including his wife, Sara Silvani, and boisterous son – emerge from the kitchen with plate after plate of striking creations. First, a few light and delicately designed dishes such as Fallow deer tartare with a citrus sting of bergamot, chestnut honey and robust grated coffee, followed by “Mandorlato” of cod with rosemary. Then, a plate of Roasted artichoke with artichoke sauce, capers and a sprinkling of dried matcha tea – “an absolute masterpiece, probably the most interesting of the year”, as proclaimed by Identità Golose in their 2019 guide. For me, it was the only duff note of dinner, a tandem clash of artichoke spiked with piquant capers as salty as a marathon runner’s jockstrap and the lingering vegetal taste of powdered matcha difficult to shift.
It’s when the pasta courses arrive that things kick into gear and Gorini’s talents flourish. Robust tubes of Rigatoni come with a smoked Parmigiano cream, mace, coconut and shards of dried sausage. It’s a bowl of food that demands to be mopped up and a show in smart innovation, with the mace offering a tinge of citrus and cinnamon while the addition of shaved coconut adds a Southeast Asian twist to proceedings, melting nicely with the cream for a release of milky gamma-octalactone. A light-textured trio of Ravioli stuffed with shallots, salted goats’ cheese and withered chicory was a design of such simplicity, such straightforward craftsmanship of envelope-thin pasta, that it was one of the evening’s most outstanding courses. Meat courses follow in the form of Local roe deer with orange cauliflower and carnation, then Grilled pigeon with aromatic bay extract, and a skewer of pigeon offal – the delicious organ pop of a little heart and lung. The ripeness of the deer and the acidity of the orange dance happily. What’s striking is the way the meat has been adequately rested before reaching us. As a result, the deer has softened up, and I clear my plate immediately.
Everything is sophisticated and delicate, wild when needed but never steering away from Gorini’s roots. It’s his roots, heritage and family that are so important to the framework of da Gorini; the household atmosphere of the restaurant creating a warm and open environment – deliberately family-friendly – and a continuation of the hospitality Gianluca encountered after growing up in a family of restaurateurs. From the go, it’s clear how important food and family are to Gianluca, and how he uses these as fuel to thrust himself forward. Gianluca has managed to create a happy equilibrium between family and business, running the restaurant with his wife and receiving a helping hand in front of house from his son. A special mention also to sous-chef, Filippo Tura, and cognoscente wine recommendations by Mauro Antonio Donatiello – many organic and biodynamic from the region. In all, it’s a masterful balance, a whiz-bang in culinary creativity that, as is always the way with Italians, comes back around to family. I’d go back weekly if I could, for all 14-courses… and some more.
Via Giuseppe Verdi, 5
47021 San Piero in Bagno (FC)
Tel: +39 0543 190 8056