BRUSSELS: The large raviolo stuffed with a whole burrata and a tartare of red prawns flown in from Sicily is cooked for just 52 seconds in boiling water. Chef Ugo Federico of Brussels restaurant Racines wants the burrata to melt but remain inside the pasta and the tartare of prawns to be served as a tartare, i.e. still cold. The end result is not only spectacular to see but also to eat. It is one of the signature dishes at Racines but it is not the only spectacular pasta dish.
Soon after, there is a tortellino ‘carbonara’. For purists, it is not exactly carbonara because Ugo is using Parmiggiano Reggiano that has been aged by Belgian cheese affineur Van Tricht instead of Pecorino Romano for the filling and there is truffle instead of guanciale to top it up. There is a pasta with nduja and provolone Silano from the same region that hits all the right notes. It is on the right side of spiceness and the creaminess from the melted cheese combined to perfection with the acidity given to the cheese by the zest of lemon and orange.
These are pasta dishes worthy of any top restaurant in Italy. It is like taking a trip to Italy in the comfort of your hometown.
Racines has established itself as one of the best Italian restaurants in Belgium and also is in the list of top Italian restaurants outside of Italy. Owned by two friends Ugo Frederico and Francesco Cury who left Italy with a vision to open an Italian restaurant but with not much knowledge of Belgium or Brussels, they’ve clearly left their mark.
Today the restaurant, in Flagey, is one of Brussels gastronomic jewels and one which is likely to become more and more popular as the owners give the restaurant a new direction. They’ve had time to reflect during COVID-19 pandemic on the things that worked and those that didn’t and they’ve decided to consolidate their offering on a fixed menu because this is ultimately what most of their clients want.
The two have known each other since 2004 when they worked together at Tuscan giant Cibreo where they met. Being early risers, the two became friends and would travel around Italy in an orange van called Ernesto which Francesco bought.
They would make a typical Tuscan breakfast – a ‘panino’ or sandwich with butter and anchovies something they serve as a welcome at Racines – and set off to discover the wines and Italian gastronomy. They had a preference for Rome given this was only three hours away from Florence but slowly they built their knowledge and repertoire of not just the food but also the wines of Italy, something that they present at the restaurant but you can also walk in and pick up a wine or wines for home.
Italian restaurants abroad have a tendency to disappoint and the reasons are varied. First, the country’s territory, produce and regional subtleties make it very difficult to define what constitutes Italian cuisine. Take it outside of Italy and that context can become even harder particularly when chefs also want to make use of local produce (and rightly so). Then there are the cultural differences that make it sometimes hard to please some customers. Serving pasta al dente as it should be is one of them. Often compromises have to be made.
Not at Racines. And certainly not with the paccheri with tomato sauce. Ugo comes out to tell me that he makes an exception to not serve dried pasta for this dish that uses excellent tomatoes from Puglia. He’s found the perfect paccheri and he serves them al dente just like he eats them at home. It might take customers who are maybe used to pasta cooked differently by surprise but this is something the two will not compromise on.
When it comes to fish, the two have opted to use fish from the North Sea. They know that some of the things are imported given this is an Italian restaurant so to compensate they try not to use meat and also to use local fish and produce where this is possible.
The welcome antipasti are playful and interesting showcasing the repertoire that the two have developed and if you are looking for some of Italy’s top Italian natural wines then this is clearly the place to be.
Racines clearly hits all the right notes. And they are making a name for themselves with their fresh pasta which is exceptional. They have taken the approach from Piemonte to the extreme using 40 instead of 30 egg yolks for every kilo of flour they use which gives the pasta an incredible richness.
Italy may be 900 kilometres away from Italy but with Racines it feels that much closer.