Argh I’m so behind with my blog posts. Looking at pictures of our trip epic road trip, it feels like a million years ago but I’m only just over a month behind. Ironically I’m writing this after just returning from Italy AGAIN for the day job (tasting prosecco, because someone has to do it!)
If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook you’ll know we spent most of our two-and-a-half weeks cruising round Europe eating and drinking. There are so many places, so many meals, so much wine that I could probably keep this blog going for the next five years but instead I’ve decided to share the one, knock-your-socks-off meal and then very soon I’ll also show you a little round-up of everything we did.
Lake Garda has been on my ‘list’ for quite some time. Everyone raves about it. So when we realised we could travel home from Tuscany via the Italian lakes, it was straight on the list. There are tonnes of places to camp on the shores of Lake Garda so we picked somewhere on the south side, giving us the chance to see a few places there and save the north for our next trip.
One of the must-sees in the south of Lake Garda is Sirmione – a picturesque peninsula complete with grotto, fort, thermal baths, beaches and a bucketload of bars, restaurants and gelateria. On the day we popped over on the ferry, we hadn’t planned where to eat, fairly confident that we’d just find ourselves somewhere and the food would undoubtedly be good. It was only when we were having a little mooch with the dogs along the beach that we spotted this little place…..
It doesn’t get much better than that hey? To sit on a terrace on the shores of Lake Garda enjoying lunch is probably on most people’s list, not just mine, so we decided to try to book a table. An hour or so later and there we are, walking through the tiny door into La Speranzina. As you can see, from the street it doesn’t look like much, but once through the stone archways, we found ourselves in a glorious hidden garden that opened out onto the beautiful terrace we’d spotted from the beach.
Once inside, we realised that La Speranzina isn’t just any old restaurant. It’s one of the stunning ones. It’s also one of the ones that makes you realise that focusing too much on Michelin stars is a bit of a mistake. Because as far as I can see, it hasn’t got one. And the dining experience here is easily as good as some of the places I’ve been to that do.
Someone behind this restaurant gets that it’s the details that count. From the miniature table next to your chairs that mean you don’t have to put your handbag on the ground to the special dog bowls brought to your table that show that us weirdos who love our animals really appreciate it when other people get that. The staff were polite, knowledgeable and fun, the setting marvellous and the general look of the place effortlessly elegant, exactly how you’d imagine a restaurant on the shore of Lake Garda should be.
There’s an a la carte menu but places like this are all about the tasting menu, in my opinion. La Speranzina does three – ‘Our last fifteen years’, ‘Discover new tastes’ and a raw fish menu. We opted for the first – adding in the optional extra two courses to make it up to seven dishes, plus (of course) pre-dessert and some the ‘Little Sweets’ that finish it off. So in reality, a whopping nine courses of classic fish, pasta and more.
The wine list proved a bit more challenging – that’s it up above here being held by Mr M. A proper bible of wine and one that’s pretty terrifying when you start flicking through, given that we found a bottle in there for about £4,000! But La Speranzina’s sommelier scored it another point by not only recommending a wine that would be a good all-rounder to suit our entire menu, but one that was within our price range (a remarkably reasonable £40).
I won’t go on and on or you’ll never get to the end, but put it this way – the food was stunning. Finely-tuned combinations of flavours by a chef that clearly isn’t scared to stay a bit classic, without shying away from a few twists and turns to elevate them beyond the ordinary.
The appearance was a juxtaposition of traditional and modern, mixing silverware and slate as the perfect backdrop for the artwork presented on it. So, ladies and gents, without further ado, here are those many courses (that’s after the amuse bouches and the bread…!)
Crispy scampi and sea bass, lemon, chive, salad of fruit and vegetables
Yep, this definitely isn’t like any scampi you’ve had in your local Wetherspoons, trust me.
Scallops, morels and buffalo ricotta cheese, peas and lime
Creamy scallops, earthy morels and a lovely sweetness of the peas. Not to mention pretty impressive on the plate.
Tortelli with gorgonzola and mascarpone, Breton lobster, walnuts
You can’t be in Italy without having pasta, and this gorgeous tortelli was the perfect example, with an added crunch from the walnuts.
Ravioli, carbonara-sauce, asparagus and foie gras
My favourite of the pasta courses. Buttery, al dente pasta, silky melt-in-the-mouth foie gras and the thinnest ribbon of asparagus.
Morone fish, burrata-cheese and tomatoes, spring onion, chard, anchovy powder
Another simple one. Meaty fish, slightly bitter chard, salty anchovy and sweet spring onion and tomato – all tied together with the creamy burrata. Balance, balance, balance.
Turbot, asparagus and saffron, liquorice and hollandaise sauce
I think this narrowly won for me out of the big fish dishes. I love turbot anyway and of the two fish dishes, this was the more ‘out there’. A plate of sunshine thanks to the saffron, with the classic hollandaise and asparagus combined with an unexpected hit from the liquorice.
A selection of sweet treats, served traditionally in silver vessels. I’d love to tell you what they were but I was too busy admiring their prettiness and shovelling them down my throat to take notes.
A brilliantly refined version of an Italian classic which, if you’ve ever tried a real tiramisu, you’ll know is light years apart from the fake coffee-tasting, soggy, saccharine sweet poor relative of a trifle that you’ve had in the past.
‘Little Sweets’ may have been accurate in terms of the size of the individual petit fours but that didn’t account for the sheer number of them. Like the pre-dessert, I wish I’d written down what everything was but I was just having too much fun. Cool presentation though, huh?
And there you have it. An epic meal that I’d say is well up there in our top 10 meals ever. The food was perfectly in keeping with its surroundings – light, summer food to be enjoyed with a chilled glass of wine as you watch the Lake Garda boat traffic glide by. But it certainly doesn’t rely on its setting to impress, with brilliantly-executed, well thought through dishes that I’m pretty sure would impress the harshest critic as well as winning the heart of someone less accustomed to such fine food by virtue of its lack of snobbery or style over substance.
What can I say, La Speranzina is one of those foodie fairytales. Unplanned, unresearched, and stumbled upon in the most glorious of settings. The stuff memories are made of.
La Speranzina is definitely one for a special occasion – or just a day you’re having a bit of a blowout. Although I definitely don’t think it’s over-priced. Our tasting menu was 88 Euros for five courses, 100 for the seven. Pricey I know, but how often are you going to have an experience like that?
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