Friday 26 June 2009

Onto a Winner

Manchester's sadly defunk Sunset Radio featured, among many characters, one DJ with a thick Jamaican accent and a penchant for Dub. Occasionally caught short after over indulging between records he'd splutter out the immortal catch phrase, "If it's nice, play it twice", then pop the needle back to the start!

If he hasn't gone the way of his old station that DJ would enjoy this bit of Italy. Liguria's very laid back and down the narrower medieval streets the air's often thick with his favourite herb. When the hunger kicks in there's quality pizzerias, masses of respectable trattoria and, if royalties from a remix ever materialise, there's Ristorante Apricale Da Delio.

It's hard to believe somewhere like this survives in a village whose permanent population struggles to reach 500. But the last 2 kilometers aside, it's very well connected. Ventimiglia, San Remo and Imperia are a short drive. Monaco and Nice are not much further. Add to that a growing reputation and it's connectivity is not without risks...

Yes, MW dined at Da Delio in 2005 declaring one dish "terrific". On the Winner scale I reckon that's just below "historic". Amusingly, next to the original review they've stuck this Italian article explaining exactly who Michael Winner is. A shame my Italian's so poor because I'm rather curious myself.

Front of house Daniel, son of chef Da Delio, recommended a delicious white from the local pigato grape. A real cracker, Mauro Feola's 'O Mai Ben' 2007 had similarities with Albarino but more gentle aromatics.

Perhaps egged on by the wine's refreshing lemony bite we decided to go for the full Italian... then the antipasti arrived. These were big appetisers.

What the menu called warm potato and poricini 'made like lasagne'. This was really good. Like a light potato dauphinois infused with scents of the forest floor.

'Rombiole et Tomini', fresh Piemonte cheese wrapped in leaves, vine I think, with pears layered between white bread. This was sublime. The warm melting cheese cloaking the cold terrine.
Primi piatti next.

Rabbit ravioli in a rabbit sauce scented with thyme. One of their 'signature' dishes. Perfectly executed, the ravioli filling had an almost bovril like intensity.

And luigini d'oro with spring garden vegetables. Pasta disks made without egg. Tasty alright, but bound by a tomato sauce that didn't really hold it all together.
Time for some red wine. Chef Da Delio was out front now too. This is an 'all hands on deck' family run place and service was a little stretched at times, but when it's so warm and friendly, who cares?

Picking up on our obsession with all things local he recommended 'Maccario Dringenburg's Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore 2007' saying it best combined 'the old with the new'.

Splendid stuff, light colour belying it's strength with a lovely balance of fruit and acidity. Reminiscent of Burgundy and Barolo, like Barolo, I find a scent of roses in many rossese wines. But it maybe the name playing tricks with my palate.
Alas, no room in the stomach for young goat stewed with white beans from Pigna, a little town just up the road, so went for the olive wood grill options.

Wow. Fassone beef, another import from Piedmonte. Incredible, the texture of tuna loin with an understated beefy flavour and great minerality. You could taste the iron.

Lamb chops, pink and sweetly caramelised. Both dishes accompanied by unassuming looking potatoes. They tasted divine... infused with local olive oil, a hint of rosemary and smoke from that olive wood grill. We shared a desert and aided our digestion with a huge glass of incredibly smooth Pigato Grappa. They're obsessed with digestion in Liguria... can't imagine why!

It wasn't hard to decide where to go for our last night... "If it's nice, eat there twice".
This time, among yet more delicious plates, lurked one of the best pasta dishes I've eaten. Up there with those of Franco Taruschio when he still had The Walnut Tree. Made from spelt flour it came with potato, French bean, the dreaded sun dried tomato and a pesto that hadn't been pounded. Deconstructed if you must.

It was beguiling, each taste perfectly complimenting and balancing the other, to create a new whole. Truly historic...

Plazza Vittorio Veneto, 9
18030 Apricale (Imperia)
+39 0184 208 008

35 Euros for anti, primi and secondi. Prices include cover and service. For cooking of this quality a real bargain! Nice wine list too. Good selection of local Rossese, Pigato and Vermentino with very reasonable mark-ups. How refreshing!

Sunday 21 June 2009

Arriving in Apricale

"Come on, you have to admit, it's incredible. Just 40 minutes from Nice. Parking right outside Edinburgh terminal. A pittance for car hire. The place has bars and restaurants. Flight times are perfect. There's even a wine we've never tried before....".

So it continued and by the time we were in the air I was sick of myself.
The night before we'd been treated to dinner, and, as usual just before a holiday, drank more than we should. Now the after effects of that indulgence helped shut me up, and drifting in and out of sleep I imagined what would happen after we landed.... pick up car, easy journey, nice Italian food, new wine..... then at 39,000ft over the Alps......

... I suddenly realised I didn't have my driving license. Aaargh, the shock was horrendous, the perfection was shattered. What a bloody idiot. Images of smiley faced winemakers, restauranteurs and olive squeezers were instantly replaced by those of reluctant taxi drivers and endless queues for busses. As the initial shock slightly subsided, we tried convincing ourselves that this new reality, although very different, could be just as good.
At Hertz I went through the motions, "No, neither of us has a driving license". After a look only the French can give she said, "Ah, well, in that case...(pause, here we go, it is all over)... your only chance is for the DVLA to fax a copy". Mon Dieu, a glimmer, a faint hope, could it be possible?
Two hours of tension, calling Swansea and staring at a fax machine, but eventually it came through. What followed was the sweetest drive of my life. It was like sighting the promised land..

We parked up then made our way through the cobbled streets and understood why cases with wheels were a recent invention.

It was dark by the time we'd freshened up.

At the Piazza.... one place was still open and blasting out Frank Sinatra tunes.

By now I'd have eaten anything and declared it manna. What I got was their 'special'.

It lived up to it's name. Soft polenta and fresh porcini dribbled with grassy olive oil, flecked with pecorino. The soft mealy polenta infused with the woody, funky aromas of the porcini. Delicious. And, a first taste of the local wine, Rossese di Dolceacqua. This one a 'superiore'.

Enzo Guglielmi's 2006 was a lovely old style Italian, real strength of flavour- bruised plums on the nose, very minerally, a sourness too but balanced by a richness and sweet black fruits. All was once again well with the world... very well in fact.


Friday 5 June 2009

Old fruit...

College fashion shows can be hit or miss affairs, and sometimes they're a hit entirely unintentionally. I'll never forget a show at the Glasgow School of Art, held in an intimate auditorium, packed with students, family and friends.  As the show got underway it transpired the theme was Adam and Eve. One of those brilliant ideas that should have remained just that. Suspending disbelief for art students masquerading as models is one thing, but when they start acting as well...
It was brilliant! Side splitting hysterical scream out loud funny and we had to hold it in for thirty minutes. Tantric laughter!

This year Cardonald College staged its end of year bash at the Old Fruit Market in Glasgow's Merchant City. We were late arriving after a cock-up on the cocktail front. 

The venue should be great for fashion shows, but they had a stumpy catwalk, so along with the majority of the crowd, we were miles from the action. 

Now, in a previous blog I'd said the most unfashionable thing you can ever think of is simultaneously the most fashionable... it appears there are exceptions...

A man in a kilt and a Canadian woman compèring for one. They had to read off cards... and couldn't. At certain points, accompanied by keyboards, they'd belt out songs like "I'm every woman". 
Who on earth thought this was a good idea? It was excruciatingly naff. The students must have been raging. I was, and the £4 gin and tonic with no lemon in a plastic glass didn't help.

Afterwards we popped into Black Sparrow for a debrief and drink. Overall the consensus was, this year, the Art School Show won... unfortunate circumstances mean I've no pictures of that.

Corona's back on my radar. They must have a push on because it's everywhere again. It's the perfect beer if you're thirsty and don't fancy a beer. But you simply, absolutely MUST have a wedge of lime! And this summer, Brazilian Limes are THE limes to be seen with.... they're just so fabulously, adorably... yellow.

0141 221 5530