I Portici is in a hotel in central Bologna, and was the only Michelin starred restaurant in the city at the time of writing. The ground floor dining room is in what was once a theatre, and the restaurant had been open around ten years when we visited. The head chef is Emanuele Petrosino, who trained at three star Michelin Piazza Duomo in Alba and two star Coutanceau in La Rochelle before becoming sous chef at one star Taverna Estia in Naples. He was sous chef at I Portici before working at two star Dani Maison in Ischia, then returned here as executive chef. Tables were widely spaced, and the decor was very smart. You could order a tasting menu at €95 but there as also an a la carte selection.
The wine list had labels such as Codronchio Il Montichino Rossi 2010 at €55 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €33, Zind Humbrecht Riesling Heimbourg 2009 at €70 compared to its retail price of €45, and Barolo Brovia Villero 2012 at €105 for a wine that will set you back €71 in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as Leflaive Les Pucelles Puligny Montrachet 2011 at €300, barely above its current retail price of €267, and Louis Roederer Cristal 2006 champagne at €500 for a wine whose current market value is €261.
The meal began with an array of nibbles. Anchovies had good flavour and were served with bell peppers on a disc of bread, though the latter was quite stale. What appeared to be a small tomato was actually shaped tomato bread, and there was also a gazpacho with basil and little pieces of a local cheese. The tomatoes were good but I would have preferred a regular gazpacho, as the extra elements, especially the cheese, were just a distraction. Cannoli with a white fish filling was flavoured with saffron, but the outside was rather hard. Carrot mayonnaise flavoured with ginger was fine, and there was also a slice of ham wrapped round bread, cheese, apple and lime, as well as a pleasant beetroot nibble (13/20 average). This was followed by a light fried pizza bread coated in ham, serve alongside a pea sorbet. The bread was light and delicate, reminiscent of an Indian bhatura bread, and the peas had plenty of flavour (16/20).
Bread was partly made here, and partly supplied by a bakery in Puglia: both were good. Crusty potato bread was excellent, as was a brioche-like bread flavoured with mulberry jam. Two different grissini bread sticks, one with fennel seeds, were delicate. There were also some fresh breads including one flavoured with saffron and tomato one with squid ink and the other made with chickpea flour, rather like a popadom. Overall the bread was excellent (16/20).
A single fried langoustine was served with pieces of guinea fowl wrapped in the skin of the bird, along with apple and cauliflower, as well as a rich reduction of the cooking juices. The langoustine was quite delicate and had at least some residual sweetness, while the guinea fowl had nice flavour (16/20). Red mullet was attractively presented with potato and saffron, along with tomato sauce with olives, basil and capers. On the side was tagliolini with tomatoes, spinach, black olives and capers. The mullet was carefully cooked and had good flavour, and the pasta had nice texture, the sauce lovely (17/20).
The dish of the meal was spaghettone with beans, endive, bell pepper and five different kinds of tomato, including San Marzano from near Naples and Datterini from Sicily. The pasta had a touch of firmness but tasted good, and the tomatoes were genuinely impressive, having deep and delightful flavour. This reminded me of the superb tomatoes I tasted on the Amalfi coast (18/20). This was a lot better than pasta with tiny pieces of red prawn, garlic, olive oil, cabbage and notionally some chilli pepper, though the latter was undetectable. The main problem was the pasta, which was al dente to the point of being downright hard (13/20).
Sea bass arrived with lettuce, seaweed tempura and potato with lemon. The fish was cold: I don’t mean not quite piping hot. It was stone cold. We tried to get the attention of a waiter, tried again, and the tried some more. It was literally minutes before I managed to catch the eye of a waiter, who wandered off in a leisurely way and must have found the manager, who eventually came over. After initial scepticism he admitted that the dish was cold, by now the sort of temperature that you might measure of a corpse on a slab in a morgue, and at least took the dish off the bill. I have no idea what happened here. My Fassone beef with pepper cake and ravigotte, a mayonnaise with anchovy sauce, was just fine, the meat piping hot, nicely cooked and having good flavour (15/20).
We ordered a citrus dessert but then waited, and waited some more. These familiar with the play “Waiting for Godot” will get the idea, though the experience was missing the repartee of the actors in the play. This experience was not entirely uncharacteristic of the evening, as service was generally attentive but had significant flaws. We were confidently presented with the wrong starters: not a big deal in itself. As mentioned, we ordered dessert, but none arrived, and when we asked after it the bill arrived instead. I gave up on the coffee after dessert we had discussed with the waiter since dessert was clearly not going to happen. In general the dishes had arrived at a leisurely pace, but towards the end of the meal the operation seemed to seize up entirely.
The staff, especially the capable female sommelier, were very nice, but overall this was pretty messy, albeit well meaning, service. The bill came to €186 (£166) per person. If you ordered three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be £120. Overall this was a rather erratic meal. There were some real highlights like the genuinely lovely tomato pasta dish, but also some flops like the cold sea bass. If I average out the scores for the courses and ignore the sea bass then I get an average of 15/20. Given the hardly trivial price point this was not what one might expect, and the service was also mixed, yet I can easily imagine coming here on another night and having a really excellent meal, given just how good the top dishes were. It is a difficult meal to score, though I am inclined to be kind as the best dishes were very good indeed.