Written by David J Constable
Photos by David J Constable – Cover photo by Francesco Tommasi (from Cook_inc. 20)
Occupying a space on one of Lucca’s famous cobblestone palazzos (Piazza del Giglio), Ristorante Giglio carries a list of stylish Italian aperitivi — vermouth, prosecco, Campari, Aperol — but it’s their impressive list of over 600 “ethical” organic and biodynamic wines and beers that have made them celebrated amongst the local, youthful beatniks.
A rustic institution, much loved by its regulars, Ristorante Giglio gained a new cult following last year when Benedetto Rullo left the smog and graffiti of the capital for Lucca, joining friends Lorenzo Stefanini and Stefano Terigi. Two became three, and a new kitchen trio was born.
The restaurant already had a history of kitchen collaborations and generational torch-passing, having opened in 1979 under Franco Barbieri, Giuliano Pacini and Loredano Orsi, the reigns were handed to Paola Barbieri in 2000, before her son, Lorenzo, got in. The injection of youthful creativity presented a new contemporary dimension for the restaurant. Menus evolved, moving effortlessly from the rural traditions of Lucca and Mantua to a more diverse gastronomic identity in which foreign influences — particularly Asian — are present, without abdicating the Tuscan region.
In a time when international Italian food appears mostly in a bastardised, commercial form, three young chefs have put their travels and experiences to use, taking only minor poetic leanings and drawing on their Italian heritage to create new plates of fresh eating with the nonsense, pretension and snobbery left out. To oppose the age-old proverb, too many cooks do not spoil the broth, in fact, they improve and define it.
Without pontificating all of the guff of organic and biodynamic wines, the three friends are more understated, recommending, in a subtle nudge-nudge-wink-wink persuasion, their suggestions to diners. The food meanwhile is all that is good and true of nonna’s kitchen table. No dish has the dull, monotonous colouring of creamy pasta or dank garlic bread; this is all vibrant stuff, carefully assembled after months of research, discussions and recipe testing. Plates slap you with their freshness and psychedelic colouring, willing you to pull out your phone and photograph.
Pairings that on paper look disastrous are in fact majestic creations that dance on the tongue, creating an accomplished and surprising menu laced with achievements. Take, for example, animelle (veal sweetbreads) with pumpkin and the citrus-sting of grapefruit; and Smoked hare with red cabbage, tempered in a light pine-nut milk and rabbit innards pie. Chicken liver with eel and pomegranate is a marriage as unlikely as Donald Trump and Angelina Jolie, but it works perfectly. Raw cuttlefish and citrus dashi have its roots in Japanese cuisine, while Tortellini with cream and soy sauce packs a punch. Thai spicing is used to marinade a locally-sourced Shoulder of baby lamb that, if the world was to end tomorrow, would very likely be my last chosen meal. A final mouthful of succulent, fatty, full-on-flavour, euphemistic mutton before a fireball of fury explodes the Earth.
A special mention for the bread. This is some of the best-unleavened bread I have ever eaten, bread that deserves a bombastic paragraph of celebration all to itself. By sticking to their principle of threes, three grains — rye, spelt and an ancient variety of wheat called Gentil Rosso — are blended and allowed to rise slowly, increasing in size as if blowing hot air into a balloon. I guiltily stuff my face, pulling away fist-fulls of warm dough and dipping it into puddles of golden olive oil, soaking up the local liquid like thirsty sponges.
Last year’s Michelin star was a reward in persistent refinement for Ristorante Giglio as they continue to strive and evolve. Even though the chefs have their own lives and families, they remain united as a creative culinary trio, each dedicated in their duty to bring their bespoke piece of genius to the table, just enough so that each part of the puzzle creates a whole.
Piazza del Giglio, 2,
55100 Lucca – Italy
Tel: +39 0583 494058