SAN PIERO IN BAGNO: In an unspoilt part of Emilia Romagna there a small village called San Piero in Bagno. The whole commune has just around 6,000 inhabitants. It’s just over 100 kilometres away from Bologna and Modena where we’ve spent a few days and the contrast is astonishing. There are no Ferrari’s or Maserati’s driving past in this sleepy village despite the fact that this is Italy’s region that is known for its fast cars and its slow food. What there is instead, is this sense of peace, of time standing still, of authenticity, stunning landscape and exceptional produce.
Just outside the village, as you exit the motorway there is a small bar and trattoria were truckers normally stop called Alto e Savio. It is mentioned in many Italian guides including Osterie d’Italia. There are absolutely no frills here but the service is not only fast, it is also welcoming and for very little you eat excellent regional cuisine. It’s as if this is a prelude to what one can expect in the centre of the village.
We are here not for a quick stop at this place or because we want a retreat (it is possible to spend a night or few nights in a monastery 50 kilometres away) or a rest in one of the natural hot baths in the area but rather to eat at Da Gorini, a restaurant that chef Gianluca Gorini and his wife Sara Silvani (front of house) opened in 2017.
It has been on my bucket list for at least 2 years, way before Michelin awarded it with one star in 2020. Gianluca Gorini is considered to be one of the rising stars of Italian cuisine and together with Riccardo Camanini and Antonia Klugmann is among a handful of chefs leading the way in modernising authentic Italian cuisine while giving their own personal touch.
They have one thing in common which is a sharp focus on where they come from. In this regard, Gorini’s work starts not in the kitchen but rather in sourcing produce around him. “I don’t need to go far. This is an unspoilt, untouched region where quality is all around you,” he tells us at table.
I’m dining with the family and this is a place that welcomes children. Their child is ever present in the restaurant and that’s how Sara and Gianluca always wanted it to be. If you’re there you might see this young boy walk to the welcoming sofa in the reception and make himself comfortable in front of the fireplace on a chilly autumn evening. Whenever he’s not there, regulars end up asking where he is.
Despite national and now international recognition, Gianluca and Sara have kept their feet to the ground continuing to do what they have done up to now. The pandemic may have slowed down their path to recognition but their work has continued and only two weeks ago they placed second in a list published by 50 Top Italy for signature cuisine.
Gianluca is at his best giving his personal interpretation to the territory around him. The welcome is one which tantalizes the taste buds.There is spinach with pumpkin seeds and paprika, a parmiggiano reggiano tart, apple and marinated beetroot with anchovy butter inside.
There is egg with truffle and a guanciale and pecorino crostini which are the perfect welcome before the first star dish of evening. This is a tartare of deer served with a mayonnaise of honey, olive oil and honey vinegar (no egg), dill, coffee and bergamot. It is perfection on a plate.
Gianluca then came to serve his next dish and this centred around his love for artichokes. It was practically one ingredient on a plate. He first braised the artichoke in white wine and when it was tender he grilled it on fire saying this represented the Italian approach to cook everything on the grill or ‘a la brace’. The leaves are turned into a cream, the centre part is diced and served below. The artichoke is served with gently toasted herbs that are mixed with sundried tomatoes, capers and anchovies which give depth of flavour and a taste of the Mediterranean to the dish.
Next up was another vegetable based dish. This time was savoy cabbage cooked in the oven with miso from barley, sesame seeds and sesame oil. It was left to maturate for 10 days in the fridge and was then finished with a hazelnut cream, salted hazelnuts and black truffle aromatized with scotch whiskey. A taste of autumn and a perfect combination of flavours.
The next dish served to showcase Gianluca’s philosophy. As he himself explained at table, rice with olive oil is a staple when people are sick and want something comforting. It is where the idea of this dish, he created just three weeks ago came from. The risotto that’s cooked in a broth of clams has no butter and the creaminess comes from the olive oil and a touch of parmiggiano reggiano. It is dusted with dehydrated olives and origano. A comforting dish, perfect for a cold autumn evening.
What followed was probably the pasta dish of the year for me. The game ravioli were served with porcini mushrooms and an intense broth that reminded me of a ramen with mushrooms, seaweed, vegetables and spare ribs. There is a very slight Japanese touch in Gianluca’s cuisine which comes from spending time with Japanese colleagues in the course of his career. “Their techniques enable me to express the best of the produce I have around me,” he told us.
The children get a ravioli filled with liquid shallot and a goat’s cheese (primo sale di capra) which reminded us of a Chinese dumpling.
The pigeon dish served with an onion al cartoccio and a bay leaf extract again highlighted Gianluca’s talent in making an exceptional dish look simple.
For dessert, also because we were talking in passing about my wife’s sweet tooth he served us with a quartet of the desserts on offer, a Zuppa Inglese DaGorini, a millefeuille with barley, coffee and a spectacular rosemary and chestnut honey, an autumn dessert with pumpkin, chestnut, raisons and orange infused with rhum and cinnamon. For our daughter, he served a blackberry cream, caramelised blackberries, yogurt and juniper.
Da Gorini’s decision to settle down in San Piero in Bagno stems from the fact that he wanted to settle down in a place he could call home and be able to raise a family away from the hustles and bustles of a city. It is his wife’s home town and one he’s made his also due to the fact that he hails from a neighbouring region.
A visit confirmed the hype centering around this restaurant in Italy. Michelin normally awards three stars to a restaurant that’s worth a special journey. All I can say is that this is one of those restaurants where a journey is definitely worth your time and effort. And like us, you’re likely end up faillingin love with the region and the area as well and want to return sooner rather than later.