Sunday, October 25, 2015

Locanda del Pilone: revisited Oct 15 (Alba in Piedmont)

October 2015

Loc. Madonna di Como, 34 - 12051 Alba CN, Piedmont
Tel: +39 173 366609

After the previous night's underwhelming dinner at Piazza Duomo, we were craving for a good traditional Piedmontese meal. After spending the morning at the truffle fair in the Alba town centre, enjoying the festive atmosphere and tasting the various wines and hazelnut spreads (hazelnut being the other main export of the area, after the white truffles and wine), we drove short distance up the hill to a one Michelin starred restaurant, Locanda del Pilone. We have been here before in 2009, but that didn't really count since the chef and management of the restaurant changed after that visit. Chef Masayuki Kondo runs the kitchen now having taken over a few years ago. He was most recently at Villa Crespi (a restaurant we love) understudying chef Antonio Cannavacciuolo, and also spent time in the Piedmont region while working at Guido (another restaurant we love), so expectations were high for this meal.

Locanda del Pilone is a lovely restaurant to come to for lunch because it sits on a hilltop overlooking the lush vineyards in the valleys below. It operates as a B&B as well and also produces its own Barolo under the Boroli label (we had a few glasses of their wine and they were lovely). The restaurant interior is quite traditional yet there is a subtle elegance about it, and on a clear day, the views out of the windows are stunning.

Immediately after we were seated, we were served a selection of amuse bouche (white chocolate with white truffle, cheese puffs shaped as macaron, aubergine with cheese, beetroot cracker amongst others), which were quite tasty. They were quite relaxed about showing us the menu and taking our food orders, and only did so after we finished the amuse bouche. We quite liked this slower pace which matched with our rather lazy mood that afternoon. The menu had a few meal options but we liked their traditional menu which showcased the more familiar Piedmont classics.

Their palate cleaner before the meal started proper was an interesting and refreshing burrata cheese 
with tomato foam.

We enjoyed the Piedmontese beef tartare with hazelnuts. The beef was very fresh and the use of hazelnuts was a good tie-in to the region. The hazelnut meringue was an interesting addition to the dish to create a bit of sweetness and crunch to the dish.

One of our favourite Piedmontese dishes, the agnolotti 'plin', which was a local stuffed pasta with pork, veal and rabbit, was cooked to perfection. This was the dish with which we opted for the white truffle option and the white truffles went beautifully with the pasta.

The use of confectionary with the beef was again evident in the beef cheek with amaretti biscuits. We loved the richness of the tender braised Piedmontese beef which was again paired with the sweet and crunchy hazelnut biscuits.

The pre-dessert was an unexpected carrot soup with hazelnut with cheese pastry. We liked it and thought that it was quite interesting.

The dessert was again unexpectedly a vegetable (sweet potato with hazelnut and pear). This was an innovation not lost on us and the appearance of the hazelnut again gave it the local flavour. We absolutely loved this dessert.

A most satisfying lunch ended off with coffee and some petit four (tiramisu with ginger, financiers, white truffle cream on cracker, basil macaron and jelly).

We were impressed by Chef Kondo's adherence to the traditional cuisine of the region but with daring use of certain ingredients which gave his dishes sufficient sophistication without changing the nature of the regional favourites (for example, in many of the dishes, we detected the subtle use of Japanese ingredients including a flower with a distinct flavour which we are familiar with in Japanese cuisine, as well as sweet potato for dessert). In addition, the service staff was also professional to a fault, to an extent which we did not expect from a one Michelin star restaurant in the Italian countryside. Perhaps they are aiming for their second star, which, on the basis of the accuracy of Chef Kondo's cooking and the level of service we experienced that day for lunch, we will not be betting against happening in the next few years.

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