With some meals, it’s just hard to know where to start. During our Italian ski adventure we decided to escape the hotel (lovely as it was) for one night and treat ourselves to an early Valentine’s double date dinner with our friends. A combination of local advice and Trip Advisor research led us to the fabulous L’Ortiche, and how grateful we all were that it did.
This little gem in the heart of Sauze d’Oulx is a proper great find. Amazing food, excellently presented, great wine, and fabulous service. It doesn’t just tick all the boxes, but ticks them with big fat thick marker pen. Yes, it’s that good.
From the minute you walk in, you’re made to feel welcome. Not just “punter” welcome but real “guest” welcome. The restaurant is traditional and Alpine in style, yet has the added swanky touch of glittering glassware and linen napkins – a bit of a change from the daytime eating experience we’d been having up the pistes. Owner Jill took us through the amazing menu with knowledgeable and passionate descriptions that are so often lacking in many restaurants. Isn’t it just so refreshing to be served by people who are as passionate about food as you are?
As we munched on Italian breadsticks and selected a rather nice Argentine Malbec, we dealt with the collection of temptation that was the starter, or antipasti, menu. I went for creamy salt cod, served with black venere rice and cream of avocado. The presentation was beautiful, the rice al dente, and the salt cod nicely tasty but not overpoweringly fishy.
Mr M went for Battuta di Fassone – finely-chopped raw Fassone beef (basically steak tartare) with a yoghurt dressing, crunchy artichoke and a fried quails egg. It was explained to us that Battuta means finely chopped, rather than minced, so the meat isn’t bruised and indeed it was melt in the mouth soft, with the artichoke adding a crunchy texture and the quails egg oozing its yolk through the beef.
L’Ortiche prides itself on the quality of its beef, of which there is plenty on the menu, with in-depth explanations as to where it has got such beautiful meat from (Alba in Piemonte). This is food sourced and prepared with love, and it shows. We agreed we probably couldn’t manage a pasta course as well as everything else, so skipped to the main event. Since we’d already fallen in love with the idea of steak (obviously!), I eschewed the slow braised cows cheeks and chose the sliced Kentucky Black Angus steak – succulent strips of beef, cooked as rare as I could get it, and served with roast potatoes, rocket and thick generous Parmesan shavings.
One of our friends had the same as me, while the other had the Garonese sirloin steak served with possibly the best pepper sauce I have ever had. At first it didn’t look up to much – a white cream sauce with peppercorns inside. But one taste, and we were all hooked. The peppery taste permeated through the whole sauce, the peppercorns softened and chewable. Apparently the secret is to use the fillet tails, fry them until you get the rich, beefy juices from them, add brandy, peppercorns and cream and, importantly, no stock. Delish!
Mr Manning went for one of the specials, a whopping 600-650g T-bone steak. No surprise there. Again, it was great quality meat, cooked perfectly, and plenty of it to put a big smile on his face. We certainly weren’t short of tastes, with a variety of mustards to choose from, as well as two different rock salts to sprinkle on top – smoked beechwood and Himalayan pink. Both perfect for emphasising the meat and adding their own little pizzazz.
Having read the reviews, we didn’t even need to see the dessert menu. L’Ortiche does a fabulous cheeseboard. You don’t choose your cheese, you get what you’re given depending on what they’ve got, and trust me – it’s gonna be good. We were brought a selection of about seven cheeses, each split into four slices, with crackers and green tomato chutney. The cheeses were even arranged in the right order, so you started with the mildest and worked your way round to the strongest. From mild Tallegio through a soft local cheese to a particularly pongy final offering, which I think was Taralli. We even treated ourselves to a glass of sweet Sauternes dessert wine recommended by one of the staff. Perfect.
After an espresso and some lovely liqueurs we stumbled out of L’Ortiche four hours after we arrived, feeling not only like we’d been served an amazing meal, but that we’d been guests of people who aren’t only in the restaurant business to make a buck, but to share amazing eating experiences with other people. L’Ortiche is a family-run restaurant, but even the employees seem to be part of that family, treating their jobs with the same passion as their bosses. There’s attention to detail at every level, from the menu planning to the quality of the ingredients, the wine list, the advice on that wine, the execution of the cooking, the presentation, and the creation of an atmosphere that you just wish every restaurant could produce – that gentle hubbub of people eating great food and enjoying every second of it.
I can’t quite explain how glad I am that we found L’Ortiche. The only problem now is deciding whether I can base my next skiing holiday purely on my need to return to this restaurant….
We paid in full for our meal at L’Ortiche. They only knew I was a blogger after the meal, when I told them on our way out!