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!

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