A few weeks ago I was driving from Venice up to the Swiss Alps. I suddenly realised I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days. Yes, I’d had loads of coffee and various nondescript sandwiches from motorway service stations but I hadn’t had a meal. A proper meal with hot food. So I decided that was my next priority.
I ALWAYS ASK LOCAL PEOPLE where to eat when I am in a new town. In Italy, this generally works very well. Italians are very serious about their food and always know where you can eat well, and for a sensible price. So I asked the receptionist in my hotel where I should eat. The response was ‘carne o pesce’ in other words meat or fish. This is the standard initial question. I felt like eating fish, after all I was on the shores of Lake Garda, so my reply was ‘pesce’. I was directed to ‘Bella Italia – Pesce’ a fish restaurant, literally five minutes from the hotel. By the time I arrived the lunch time service was coming to an end. However I was welcomed in like a long lost friend and the chef himself came to the table and asked me what I’d like to eat.
ASK THE STAFF – it’s a good idea to ask the advice of the staff in a new restaurant and get them to tell you what is particularly good in the kitchen that day or if they have any dishes of the day. The chef, Fabio Codognola was so incredibly helpful. He suggested that I try a variety of small plates, ‘assagiati’ so that I could sample a range of flavours and textures. I willingly agreed. The sommelier appeared with a bottle of local Garda white wine for me to try – I was happy to oblige. Then all I had to do was relax, eat the freshly made bread and contemplate the arrival of the first course. This was expertly prepared king crab, flaked and cooked incredibly lightly with ‘radicchio tardivo’ (a red lettuce or chicory type, leaf vegetable that grows abundantly in the Veneto region, especially in the province of Treviso). The crab was garnished with a delicious mustard mayonnaise and pomegranate seeds. The dish was fresh, zesty and quite delicious.
NEXT IT WAS RAVIOLI – freshly-made that morning in the kitchen. The ‘fatto in casa‘ home-made ravioli was filled with ‘mezzancolle’ a flat-backed prawn that is common in the Adriatic Sea and unheard of in English waters. The ravioli was cooked to perfection, very slightly ‘al dente’ with a slight firmness when you bit into the pasta. It was served with tiny white carrots, they might have been parsnips, and once again the overall impact of the dish was superb.
AFTER A SHORT PAUSE came ‘caposanti’ with a liquid parmesan sauce. I ate the dish so quickly and enjoyed the combination of the scallop with the ‘parmigiano’ so much, that I totally forgot to take a picture. However it was divine. Even the wine I was served had an interesting history. It was a local dry white wine produced in the area of Valpolicella, which is really famous for its red wines. The producers had taken four grape types and blended them together, minus the skins to produce a full-bodied and excellent quality white wine. The combination of the local, high quality white wine with this series of fresh fish dishes was quite simply, as the Italians say ‘squisito’.
THE STAR OF THE SHOW – Then the star of the show arrived. A perfect piece of ‘branzino” delicately grilled and then smoked. It was presented on a bed of deliciously creamy mashed potatoes and the most tender of leeks. The ‘branzino’ was served ‘grigliato’ although it had also been gently smoked. It arrived at the table with a glass dome over the top. As the chef removed the glass dome I was invited to inhale the delicious, earthy, wood-smoked aromas of the dish. The fish melted quite literally in my mouth, it was so tender that you could ‘cut it with a breadstick’ as the Italians say!
There was also a small, second pasta bowl of ‘spaghetti con scampi crudi’ again delicious but I failed to get a photograph. It must have come before the fish, but quite frankly I’ve forgotten. The whole assembly of dishes was so wonderful. Perfectly sized portions and elegant combinations of flavours. A truly memorable and mouth-watering lunch. However it wasn’t just the quality of the food that made this lunch so thoroughly enjoyable, it was also the quality of the welcome. From the minute I walked through the day I was treated more like an old friend than a brand new customer.
Fabio, the chef was professional, friendly and totally charming. The staff were all dedicated to their craft. As I got up to leave and pay the very reasonable bill, I complimented Fabio, the food and the restaurant. Truthfully I hadn’t enjoyed a lunch as much as this one, and so unexpectedly, since maybe the day in October 2008, more than ten years ago, when I was taken to Mauro Uliassi’s restaurant in Senigallia, Le Marche for lunch by my friends at the Senigallia Tourist Office. Last November Mauro Uliassi was awarded his third Michelin star. He is now one of a dozen chefs in the whole of Italy to hold such a culinary honour. I wonder if that same recognition is around the corner for Fabio Codognola. He’s certainly got the skill and the passion if it is the Michelin road he chooses to follow. ‘Complimenti Fabio – veramente un pranzo prelibato – grazie!’
- Trattoria Bella Italia, Pesce is located in Peschiera del Garda, about 30 minutes west of Verona. The address is: Via Sebino, 29 – 37019 Peschiera del Garda (VR) Phone: 0457553227 / e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mauro Uliassi’s sublime restaurant ‘Uliassi’ is located in Senigallia, Marche, Italy.
- I’ve written about Uliassi twice – here are the links:
- Gastronomy of the Adriatic – Senigallia, Italy
- Mauro Uliassi – Senigallia, Italy – 3 Michelin stars
WHY NOT…….To include Bella Italia Pesce in a travel itinerary in Northern Italy why not consider visiting some of the family-run vineyards in this area. Our specialist travel site: www.grand-tourist.com creates unique and fascinating travel experiences throughout Italy. A trip to the Roman Amphitheatre in Verona for an evening of opera would also be a fabulous experience in this part of the world!
Lago di Garda – sunset, February, 2019 www.educated-traveller.com