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Al Sorriso

Via Roma 18, Soriso, 28018, Italy

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Chef interview

Luisa Vallazza is that rarity, a female chef who gained 3 Michelin stars.

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Al Sorriso is a family affair: Luisa Valazza does the cooking, her husband Angelo runs the front of house with help from their daughter Paola. The restaurant opened in 1981, gaining its first Michelin star immediately, a second star in 1988 and their third star in 1997 (before losing the third in 2013). Luisa is a self-taught chef, completing an art degree before deciding on cooking as a career. Al Sorriso is in the quiet commune of Soriso (population 745), situated 82km north west of Milan, not far from the pretty Lake Maggiore. The restaurant has a few rooms for diners to stay.

The simple dining room had well-spaced tables and pink tablecloths. There were two tasting menus on offer, at €140 and €150, one with seafood, the other with some meat dishes, in addition to an a la carte menu. The extensive wine list had more than 600 selections, ranging in price from €40 to €7,500. Examples were Barbera d'Asti La Luna e i Falo 2007 at €60 for a wine that can be found in the shops for €15, Vintage Tunina 2006 at €90 for a wine that costs €55 retail, and Antinori Tignanello 2001 at €160 for a wine that will set you back €95 in the high street. At the prestige end of the list, Petrus 1995 was €3,200 compared to a retail price of around €1,767. 

Bread was made from scratch, with slices of white, black, olive and cereal bread; the bread was good rather than dazzling, the olive bread my personal favourite (17/20 to 18/20). Nibbles comprised cannelloni with tomato and basil, creme brûlée of a local cheese and a fried fish ball with bacon. The quality of the tomatoes was remarkable, with stunning flavour, and the bacon was also dazzling (19/20 nibbles). Tartare of Fassone beef was served with a Parmesan tuile nest containing salad leaves, with a spoon on the side with vitello tonnato sauce. The beef was lovely, lightly seasoned, the Parmesan tuile delicate and having lovely flavour, but for me the sauce was the star, the tuna flavour coming through beautifully; the salad and its dressing gave balance to this otherwise rich dish, which overall was superb (20/20).

Prawns from Sicily were served with mango sauce and little blobs of coffee sauce. The prawns themselves were of superb quality, perfectly cooked, though for me the mango sauce was a touch sweet, even with the bitter hint of coffee as balance; still, the prawns were memorable (18/20). The next dish showed some technical skill, with what appeared to be a pasta dish actually made with scallops, the shellfish cut into pasta-like strands before being cooked. The scallops themselves were from just south of Venice and were lovely (19/20). Agnolotti of chicken with spring truffles had excellent pasta, the chicken nice flavour, the truffles quite subtle; a very good dish though a little less striking than its predecessors (18/20).

Pumpkin risotto with Gorgonzola had lovely flavour, the dish enhanced with a little 25 year old Balsamic vinegar; a fine classic, simple dish with excellent technique, the stock for the risotto classy (comfortably 19/20). Spring lamb (four weeks old) was served with its kidney, liver and heart, along with a very impressive wild onion. The lamb was very good though I was actually more taken with the onion, which had an unusual blend of sweetness combined with a subtle, bitter flavour note (18/20). The meal finished with a sabayon of vanilla and raspberry, the fruit having lovely flavour (19/20). 

Service was charming. This dinner was much as I recall my previous meals here, between 19/20 and 20/20 level overall, the odd dish a little below this. Ingredients were impeccable, cooking technique excellent, flavour balance generally very good, though I was not sure about the mango, coffee and prawn combination tonight. I do not understand Michelin's change of rating here, as the food seemed to be of a generally similar standard to my previous meals. My dining companion had eaten here several times in the last couple of years and felt there was no change in quality; there are certainly plenty of worse places in the world with three stars. Certainly the cooking here is quite classical and has little in the way of chef gimmickry, but for me that is a positive thing. I find Al Sorriso to be a particularly enjoyable place to eat, showing off the lovely flavours of Italy at their best. 

Further reviews: 28th Jun 2010

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  • Daniel

    I dined at Al Sorriso with my family this past July for lunch. What I had was a very good, however not a great dining experience. Upon arrival the atmosphere felt a bit stiff in the otherwise cozy dining room, so Angelo joked around with us and did a great job of lightening the mood. Angelo let out quite a laugh at that point and while it didn't seem to disturb the few other nearby diners, it certainly shook the table. We started with some champagne, and then came the bread. The waitress came around with a selection of different slices and I chose the white to see just how an excellent piece of simple bread should taste. To say I was shocked would be an understatement, as I can buy similar bread at a supermarket in the U.S., not to mention, it was stale. The olive bread I later tried was better but it seems that the bread is more of an afterthought here. We were then presented with menus in Italian. I knew what most of the stuff was, but my family didn't so they asked anyways just to make sure they knew what they were ordering. Angelo graciously translated the entire menu from beginning to end. I started with Gamberoni which were sweet and perfectly cooked, however ultra fresh prawns don't have much going for them flavor-wise as they are quite subtle. This came with a very light, fresh sauce that reminded me of green melon, a sesame bread tube filled with courgettes and mayonnaise, as well as some greens and a whole twig of red currants. The sesame cannolo was quite hard and thick, and was difficult to eat with a fork, and the shredded courgettes inside not particularly great, but the mayonnaise, which tasted like it was flavoured with the insides of the prawn heads was remarkable-- too bad there was so little of it. Italian food is all about perfect ingredients delivered simply, without gimmicks, and I found this dish to be gimmicky for the worse. Honestly, his would have been much more enjoyable just with the prawns on a bed of courgettes with the sauce and the mayonnaise. The currants were certainly not needed either. Not a cohesive dish. By Andy's standards this seemed to be between 16-17/20. I also got a taste of some warm foie gras with peaches and Barolo sorbet which was really tasty (but came with an extremely sugary foie- filled macaroon), some warm octopus and black pig salad with peppers which had very flavourful pork and tender octopus, and a guinea fowl-filled pasta which was nice. Next I had Fassone beef, which was good but unremarkable. It was surely tender, but it was a fillet cut which had very subtle flavour and wasn't that juicy as it seemed to be very lean; the few drops of whine sauce didn't help much. With this came a delicate potato crisp, courgette crisp, greens beans, a warm tomato, a filo cup, tasteless, starchy green mash, raw sage and a wonderful cooked onion. Again quite gimmicky, and the accompaniments really varied in terms of quality, the beans and tomato not particularly great either. I also got a taste of some scallops cut into pasta strands served with olives and capers in a tomato sauce with red onion which were terrific. My brother's lamb seemed to be really good, but they left the papery husks on the accompanying roasted garlic and shallot which wasn't much help. Dessert was the high point for me, which was a generous handful of local wild strawberries topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and warm zabaglione. I think some might find the warm alcohol in the zabaglione a touch aggressive, but it contrasted really well with the ice cream, and the berries were lovely. I also tried some very light layered chocolate mousse with summer fruits which was really good. Sweet bites with coffee weren't that great, except for a great marzipan which was clearly made using excellent fresh almonds (not the almond extract stuff in the U.S.), partly because some were overly sweet, but I think this is really just due to the difference between the Italian palate and my own. All in all, a good meal, and judging just by the enjoyment of the dishes my meal felt like a 17/20, although it clearly seems that I could have ordered better. Throughout the lunch, Angelo was talking it up with the French couple seated behind us. Perhaps they really do want that third star back. This was my first Michelin star experience, but I have been reading Andy's reviews regularly for four years now so coming to this restaurant I had a decent idea of what some of the world's best food should be like. Unfortunately, it didn't quite hit those marks, but I still think this place deserves another try. (On a side note, it was in this restaurant that I witnessed perhaps the most well behaved dog in the world, who for a full two hours lay under its owner's table, out of sight, not to be heard, until at one point it momentarily peaked its head out to get a whiff of the food that arrived. At least the man didn't share!)

  • RestaurantCritic.eu

    I agree that there are worse three star places than this, and taste (both for ingredients and cooking style) and luck should of course also be taken into account. Nevertheless, I've been to several one star places that were better than Al Sorriso, and when you compare Al Sorriso to what some of the other three-star places are doing (for instance Aqua or Vendome, etc.), then Al Sorriso simply seems old-fashioned. When I read the other comments here or the ones from some reliable Danish sources, it seems that only few of us has been as lucky with the food as Andy has. At my visit in September 2012, some of the elements were some of the best food I've ever had (the scallops, the porcinis, the tomatoes, and the balsamic vinegar), but there were problems with all the dishes, whether it was lack of seasoning, poor quality ingredients (truffles, squash and pumpkin with no flavour, floury potatoes, etc.), poorly made food (sour passion fruit ice cream, bitter dried orange slices, etc.) or a simple lack of care or creativity. Despite some bright highlights, to me the food here was overall maximum one star. Then there was the service. I could tell that Angelo simply didn't like me. No problem – but he shouldn't show it so obviously (I hear similar stories from other people). See full review and pictures at www.restaurantcritic.eu/the-reviews/italy/al-sorriso

  • Rainer Mauerer

    We dined at "Al Sorriso" on Aug.1st,08. We were quite surprised about its 3* classification by Michelin. The rooms are quite old fashioned without AC. The food however, was superb on one side, but also disappointing on the other side. We had a fantastic dish of shrimps with Mascarpone and white chocolate, which I will never forget, followed by a dry turbot with some carrots, really not deserving 3 stars.

  • Mark Thompson

    We dined at Al Sorriso for dinner on February 16, 2008. The service, food, wine list, and rooms were fantastic. Three of us choose the classic tasting menu and one person choose the seafood tasting menu. Every dish was delicious and well plated. My favorite was the young Piedmont beef with Barolo sauce, pomme puree, and vegetables. Probably the best beef dish I have every had. Cheese cart of only Piedmont selections was excellent. Great wine menu, with a heavy local focus, which I thought was reasonably priced. This is our 24th Michelin three star restaurant and I consider it one of the best.

  • Iain Scott

    I note with interest your comments about not being able to eat well in Rome. I am afraid this reveals a lot about your tastes and preferences.It is possible to eat stunningly well in Rome,but if your leaning is to the french michelin experience then clearly everything will be a disappointment. You might want to try glass hostaria in the Trastevere-a welcome change rome tourist menus in that area. There is always a place for reviews but why not be a bit more upfront about what you like and dislike. Iain Scott