Uliassi, named after its chef/owner Mauro Uliassi, opened in 1990. It was initially just a beach hut in the seaside town of Senigallia in the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast. It has been refurbished several times over the years, but the view directly over the beach remains. You can reach it from Bologna in a little over two hours by car, a journey of 187km, or 116 miles, and there is also a local airport called Ancona if you can find an airline that flies there. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2000, a second in 2009 and a third in 2019.
As well as well-spaced tables in the main dining room, there were several tables outside on the terrace with a direct view over the beach and the Adriatic beyond. On a warm early summer day like this with a cooling breeze it is an idyllic spot. There were two tasting menus as well as an a la carte selection, which is what we chose. Starters were all €45, pasta dishes €45 and mains €50, with desserts €25. Tasting menus were available at €160 and €190.
The wine list was extensive, and went well beyond Italy, with bottles from Lebanon and Armenia for example. It had labels such as Kunstler Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2013 at €55 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €16, the excellent Jermann Where Dreams Have No End 2013 at €85 compared to its retail price of €62, and Elena Walch Beyond The Clouds Alto Adige Bianco 2012 at €140 for a wine that will set you back €52 in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri Sassicaia 2002 at €300 compared to its retail price of €251, and Dal Forno Romano Vigneto Monte Lodoletta Amarone 2010 at €620 for a wine whose current market value is €325.
The meal began with a selection of canapés. A wafer of foie gras with hazelnut praline had pleasantly rich liver flavour but was fridge cold. An olive was filled with raw beef and covered in crunchy almonds, a nod to a popular local snack. There was also toast with anchovy and summer truffle and chickpea cracker with soy mayonnaise and flax seed, as well as a seaweed cracker. Finally there was deep fried squid with balsamic vinegar. These were all very pleasant, the squid tender and working nicely with the vinegar, the chickpea cracker particularly good (18/20 nibbles on average). Bread was made in house, a selection of sourdough, Pecorino cheese bread, seaweed bread and flatbread, as well as grissini. The sourdough was very good, with airy texture and a pleasingly crunchy crust (17/20). A final canapé was steamed mantis shrimp with bearnaise sauce with tarragon and seaweed. The shrimp was carefully cooked and the sauce was excellent, if a touch salty (18/20).
Potato purée had embedded within it local red prawns, garnished with summer truffle from Marche and a dried chocolate crumble, which I was rather anxious about but fortunately produced no sweetness. The mash was lovely and the prawn had good natural flavour, the hint of earthy aroma from the summer truffles complementing the seafood nicely (18/20). Sole was fried and served with spinach and butter with a parsley sauce. The fish was nicely cooked and the spinach was excellent, lightly cooked and having plenty of flavour (18/20).
Fusillione pasta came with pistachios, rosemary and bottarga (dried grey mullet roe). The pasta was cooked al dente, the pistachios being roasted and crunchy, the rosemary subtle to the point of invisibility, the bottarga not too dominant (18/20). Game offal ravioli with caramelised hazelnuts was very good, the meat flavour coming through nicely, the texture contrast of the hazelnuts with the pasta working well (18/20).
We both had fish main courses, and something came off the rails in the kitchen with this course. Monkfish had a sauce made from white wine, aromatic herbs and fish soup. The sauce was very nice but the monkfish was distinctly overcooked, having a texture worryingly on the way to resembling cardboard (barely 13/20, and this much only due to the sauce). Wild sea bass came with morels and cooked mango with a white wine and citrus sauce. The mango texture was odd, being quite hard, the morels reasonable but their flavour rather limited. The sauce was pleasant but the sea bass, though it had good flavour, was also a little overcooked, albeit less so than the monkfish (13/20).
Cassata here was ice cream with candied orange and almonds and made with goat milk, with crispy goat milk and a little mint. This tasted better than it sounds, the orange flavour coming through well, the mint flavour just a touch strong (17/20). Deconstructed tiramisu had deep coffee flavour and the sponge having good texture (16//20). Coffee was from Illy, and came with a little box of petit fours. There was orange chocolate with Gorgonzola, strawberry with maraschino, a biscuit with chocolate and popping candy, chocolate cake with a local herb liquor, pistachio macaroons and cylinder of apple flavoured with another liquor and also (rather dominant) mint.
Service was charming, the staff being friendly and attentive and the topping up of drinks flawless. The bill came to €229 (£204) per person with a bottle of Jermann Dreams wine and a glass of dessert wine, plus coffee and mineral water. If you shared a modest bottle of wine and just had three courses then a typical cost per person might be around £150. Overall the experience at Uliassi was certainly most enjoyable, with a spectacular setting and warm hospitality, the menu being quite appealing. I was, however, concerned about the ability of a seafood restaurant to overcook two of the fish dishes, so although the rest of the meal was generally excellent this issue drags the average score down, just barely reaching 17/20 overall. Still, there is that sea view.