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