23 Sept 2008

Sand and Linen at Sunset

‘We travelled the oceans / To see the world / But what did we see / We saw the sea’
[Charles Bernstein]
GAZING OVER the warm Ligurian sea (source of the ingredients) it seemed natural to dine on the beach in September.
‘La Prua’ (meaning ‘prow’) extends its cosy dining room onto the sand in summer. At the back, through showroom windows with basil plants on the sills, you can see the chefs in the kitchen. And they can see you too…
About ten years ago, moon almost dipping the water, I shared a benchmark dish here. Whole (grown-up) sea bass baked in salt. Every other, often stingy version has been automatically compared against it (so far failing to surpass).
As a couple of residual bathers struggled to deflate a seemingly indefatigable love doll, we started our meal with a marvellous mountain of long grissini and warm green olive bread.
The amuse bouche was arranged as a flower: a little bready ricotta diamond with a marmalade crest seated on basil leaves. I could have eaten a dozen.
The antipasti arrived on a mottled glass plate: sweet crab salad built ‘mille foglie’ (‘a thousand layers’). These involved the largest pine nuts I have ever seen and emerald green, soft spinach strands, united by the magnificent, tangibly fruity, local Tiaggiasche olive oil. A crisp disc of beetroot balanced on top. A straightforward Pinot Bianco (Lageder) cleaned the palate.
For the primi piatto (I love the excess of Italian eating), I was presented with the highlight: cuttlefish ink risotto with the entire mollusc beached on top. Simply sautéed, this alien resembled a fusion between Marvin, the dismal robot from ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy’ and Zoidberg ('Futurama’). The firm but flexible beads of risotto shone like anthracite coal. After the substantial plateful, my mouth was a black hole, although I didn’t mind. The dish brought to mind the tale of Tony Allan of ‘Fish!’ fame (a noxious greenhouse) who accused Marco Pierre White (then at 'Harvey’s') of using pen ink to dye his risotto.
The well scraped, spent tableau could have passed for a brave artwork.
Perhaps it was cheeky to choose a French bottle in Italy. The Chateau Duhart Milon 2004 did work well with the earthy ink, however. Discreetly muscular, evoking teak and polished rosewood, it was always engaging, refreshing and barely tannic. Sadly the bottle was warm when it arrived, revived after a few moments on ice.
I had a tender fillet of lightly poached red snapper for my main course. This was moist and somehow eggy, with velvety courgettes, more outsized pine nuts and ripe tomatoes peeled, with the skin left open like a fleeting ladybird. It was all very decent, although paled by the pleasure of the cuttlefish.
The soothing odour of a rich cigar floated from some distance away, combining occasionally with the elusive smell of the sea.
The frozen peach soufflé finale was inaccurately described: worth a penalty point or two on the restaurant’s artistic licence. In reality what was simply ice cream was served with overflowing frothed mascarpone and a cluster of Moscato grapes.
Having stolen a taste of the furiously good, firm brains of marron glacés with cream, rum and ice cream, I wish I had claimed that instead.
Little glasses of quietly flavoured Ramandolo, an iced tea coloured, slightly biting semi sweet wine from Fruili [more] gently brought the rather dreamy meal to a close.
Or so I thought. Rubbing my eyes, I noticed a big blank, black bottle, freezer frosted being lugged our way. Its contents: homemade, high proof limoncello: an alcoholically sluggish, day-glo yellow linctus. Powerful stuff. The rest of the evening remains a disinfectant scented blur…
Sitting on an Italian beach in September, with flood warnings lapping the U.K. I remembered a friend who asked me what the most important thing in life was. Without much thought, I said ‘food’. Fundamentally, it is life's base. And the way we eat it, social...
Incidentally, Head Chef Danilo Allochis is also known for having been challenged to design as many dishes as possible using no fewer than 20kg of white Alba truffles in a contest in Japan.
La Prua - Passegiata Baracca 25, Alassio, Savonna, Italy. T. 39 (0)1 82 64 25 57
FURTHER LINK: Truffle Tasting (Jan Moir & S)