This restaurant, up on a hillside overlooking the Barbaresco vineyards, is set in a 1930s building that used to be a school, and has a Michelin star. It was opened run by Maurilio Garola (the chef) and Nadia Benech (the wine director) in 1998. The wine list here is famous. There are 150 selections from Gaja alone, and over 600 different Barolo choices. In all there are currently around 3,200 different labels and 70,000 bottles on site. Perhaps wisely, the prize bottles in the cellar are in a vault protected by a steel door a foot thick. The vast list is searchable from their web site, and prices are very moderate, with cheaper wines marked up a little but some of the pricier bottles barely more than their retail price.
The dining room has picture windows looking down over the vineyards of the Langhe. This was quite pretty even on this misty November day (ideal weather for truffles) but must be stunning in the summer. A nibble of salami and mash was followed by further amuses bouche: salmon, a tart of ricotta cheese, a different sausage and a pistachio mousse. These were very pleasant if unexceptional (14/20). A selection of bread was excellent, from the grissini through to the white, brown and fruit bread (16/20).
Cardoons (artichoke thistles) came with bagna cauda dip, a widely used recipe that originated in Piedmont. This was nothing if not regional and seasonal, though to me the cardoons were on the mushy end of the spectrum, and even a grating of white truffle could not hide that (12/20).
We shared three starters. Vitello tonnato was a decent rendition of the classic dish, the veal of high quality and with pleasant tuna mayonnaise (15/20). Breaded prawns with hazelnuts were fried and were fine if unexciting. However a baked onion stuffed with veal sausage, Amaretto cookies and served with cheese fondu was a revelation, the combination of the sharpness of the onion and the richness of the cheese working really well, the dish prettily presented too (17/20).
Gorgonzola risotto was a simple but very well made version of the classic, having excellent texture here enhanced by white truffles (16/20). Ravioli of anchovy with cardoons (artichoke thistles) had carefully made pasta though the filling did nothing for me (13/20). A different ravioli of ricotta cheese served in a basket of hay was better, the flavour delicate and the pasta lovely (15/20).
Breaded veal was a hearty main course, the meat having good flavour, served with hazelnut cream and Asiatic salad (16/20). Goat was served with its own crackling, was nicely cooked and also stuffed with Taleggio cheese. The latter was offered with an apple beignet, which was one way of offsetting the richness of the meat (15/20). Veal cheek was tender and had good flavour but sadly was too dry, even with the Barbaresco wine sauce (14/20). For dessert, guanduja tart with tobacco ice cream was nice until you reached the tobacco ice cream, which was an idea best off back on the kitchen drawing board (13/20). Chestnut and persimmon (14/20). Apple, cinnamon and calvados (14/20).
The bill came to EUR 129 (£109) per person, with a cheese course and good wine. If you had three courses and a modest wine (easy to find on this list) then a typical cost per head would be about £70. This seems to me not unreasonable given the generally very good food and lovely setting, to say nothing of the delights of the wine list. Overall, this is an experience to be recommended when in Alba.Book