Mountain-top dining at Fienile, Val Gardena
March 30, 2019

One of my favourite things about a skiing holiday is the food. Not just the fact its nice. Not just the setting, which generally tends to be spectacular. It’s the fact that quite often you’ve worked fairly hard for it. You’ve either ski’d all day and need a big feed, or you’ve schlepped to a piste-side hut and need to refuel. Either way, you’ve earned it.

The thing about that is that sometimes even the most mediocre of places can seem wonderful when you’re seeking refuge from the cold, rest from the exercise, and a much-needed injection of alcohol – the key to all good skiing. Like any drink-lubricated moment, the memory can often be so much better than the experience itself.

With that in mind, when we returned to Selva di val Gardena in the Dolomites in Italy two years after our last visit, we wondered if things really were as good as they had been on our first trip. We’d booked the same hotel, planned similar days on the pistes – all based on an epic experience approximately 730 days before.

Within minutes of arriving at the Aaritz Hotel – a hotel so lovely I felt compelled to write about it after our last trip – we knew the memories were well-founded. But what about some of those piste-side spots? One of our memorable lunches in 2017 was a mountain-top restaurant called Fienile.

We’d ski’d hard (as hard as a bunch of amateurs can), the weather wasn’t great (see picture on the right), and all we wanted was a good feed in the warm with a glass of wine. They obliged. We feasted on tomahawk steak on a hot stone, freshly made bread, pasta dishes from the gods, and shared a dessert. A perfect few hours.

Buoyed by the success of our Aaritz return, we decided to return on our latest trip. It was a different day. The skies were blue, we were at the end of the week and looking for somewhere to enjoy lunch before hitting one last apres ski party. There was no need to shelter from the weather and instead we were lucky to bag a booking for one of the tables outside, overlooking the rose hue of the Dolomites and sparkling snow.

Fienile is all about the meat. Yes, there are starters that reflect the cuisine of the region – a hybrid of Italian and Austrian due to the history of the area. But really steak is their thing. Main courses are entrecote or florentine steaks, often served to share.

And then there are the scrawled blackboard specials of tomahawk or chateaubriand, served as we remembered on a hot stone for the whole table, complete with a pile of roasted veg and homemade bearnaise. It didn’t take long to agree on a chateaubriand for four, but not before we’d been reminded of the joys of Fienile’s basket of bread, with olive oil of only the kind you get in Italy and a selection of salts, plus a rather tasty ‘leek butter’.

The beef was as good as we recalled. Good quality, it hadn’t been left to sit on the hot stone, allowing us to whip it off as soon as it arrived so we could each cook our bits as much as we liked (in my case not much). The accompaniments were simple – a supporting act to the headliner, fresh veg, cooked so the sweetness could sing and a bearnaise laced with enough fresh tarragon to add flavour without being overpowering.

Chateaubriand at Fienile, Selva

The wine list, unsurprisingly, was great and we may or may not have consumed three bottles of wine during that long, lazy lunch in the sun. Of course, eating al fresco in a setting like that helps, but it turns out we’d eaten virtually the same meal on our last visit (see below) and there was no sunshine to add a sheen to that one. Just a cosy room they call the wine cellar, complete with the ambience that good food, good service and the clunk of ski boots down stairs can bring.

When in Italy, if you spot tiramisu on the menu, it’s probably wise to have it. Forget weird watery sludge, fake coffee bitterness, and silly squirty cream. This is the stuff of decadence, indulgence and general loveliness. The coffee fresh, the savoiardi light and still retaining some texture, and the mascarpone/egg mixture golden and rich, all covered in a generous dusting of cocoa.

If you’ve had tiramisu like this, you’ll probably be more wary of choosing it as a dessert anywhere that hasn’t got some clear Italian links. You’ll only be disappointed. Unlike us, who ordered a few more drinks to celebrate our wisdom in returning to what we had remembered as such a great place.

Tiramisu at Fienile, Selva

I have to admit, in some cases if I knew a restaurant was still serving up virtually the same dishes, complete with the same sides, two years on, I’d question its imagination. But when it comes to Fienile, I think it’s a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. They do what they do, and they do it bloody well.

We paid in full for our meal at Fienile. They didn’t know I was a blogger, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t care even if they did.