Still eating in the Langhe

Trattoria della Posta int

A follow-up to last week’s Eating in the Langhe.

I don’t want to rub it in but our four recent days and nights in Barolo and Barbaresco country were magical. Glorious sunshine and clear views over the golden vineyards to the snow-covered Alps; great wines and food enjoyed with great company; and the pleasure of making some new discoveries.

According to the latest survey from Future Market Insights forecasts, wine tourism will grow by an annual 13% a year over the coming decade. I am sure that the number of visitors to the Langhe will only continue to increase, so please bear with me while I describe four more restaurants in the area.

Note they are all relatively small and each of them was full when we ate there. Although tourism will doubtless increase, the roads, a series of hairpin bends which somehow cling to the steep slopes, will not – and cannot – get much wider.

It’s also worth pointing out that four-course meals are de rigueur here: antipasti, primi piatti (pasta usually), secondi piatti (main course) and dessert. Weary of tourists who, perhaps understandably, want no more than a salad – especially at lunchtime – some restaurants are warning customers that if they order only one course, they will be charged, say, €30 for it whatever it is. This is region of trencherpeople!

Gianfranco Massolino at Trattoria della Posta

No longer in the old village post office but relocated to grander premises a few kilometres outside Monforte d’Alba, Trattoria della Posta is an institution still run by Gianfranco Massolino in the kitchen, pictured above, with his adroit wife Marita in the dining room.

Its sequence of very different rooms (see main image above this article) gives off an early-20th-century feeling with its bookcases, open fires, ancient light fittings, oil paintings, an old Berkel salami slicer, weighing scales and leather couches. All of these conspire, very successfully, to create an atmosphere where you can comfortably sit back, tuck your napkin (presented tied in a red tassel on your plate) under your chin, and enjoy their very good and very personal food and wine.

A large menu and wine list were presented by the friendly but slightly harassed sommelier Mauro, who explained that the lunch service that day had finished only 30 minutes before dinner service began. His face was to fall further when our first bottle of 2021 Barbera from Giacomo Conterno was corked. The second bottle was excellent as were our two bottles of 2018 Barolo: a Monvigliero from Burlotto and an Arione from Giacomo Conterno. These three bottles came to €485 out of a total bill of €880 for the five of us.

prawn carpaccio della Posta

The food was of a uniformly high quality, from the grissini to the cotechino on a bean purée that preceded our antipasti to the plate of petits fours. Most novel in this inland terrain perhaps was the opportunity to enjoy a fish dish, a carpaccio of red prawns from Puglia which exhibited the kitchen’s skill with a sharp knife. Our meal also provided introductions to two local first courses: a dish of bagna cauda, the Piemontese anchovy dip, served in a scooped-out roasted red pepper, and a whole onion, roasted, cut in half and stuffed, served with raw Bra sausage on the side. (They love raw meat in these parts.)

onion della Posta

This was followed (it was a Saturday night, after all) by very light gnocchi with a runny cheese sauce and a rather heavy, chewy but flavourful piece of cockerel as well as an elegant version of crisply fried porcini which we all enjoyed. The service from Marita and her team, with the two younger waitresses dressed distinctively in tapered black jackets, was friendly, efficient and impressive.

L’Osteria del Vignaiolo on the outskirts of La Morra was one of the most reasonably priced restaurants we visited. Like so many with a cafe/bar at the entrance that doubles as a cash desk, it opens out into one long room that was practically empty when we walked in at 12.40 but was full and bustling when we left just after 2 pm.

This is the kind of place where, if you lived or worked locally, you would return time after time. The food is really top quality and the wine list offered up a 2014 Barolo Brunate from Oddero that was terrific (€140) and more than half my total bill of €260 for three of us.

We began with the sea, again. Antipasti of eel topped with a crunchy salad of carrots and sliced radish and onions and anchovies with a cream and salsa verde certainly whetted my appetite. This I followed by green ravioli in a black-truffle sauce (I didn’t let the colour of the truffle stand in my way!) followed by a dish of osso buco of which I struggled to finish more than a half. I had seen on their dessert menu marron glacé ice cream and was determined to try it so ordered a portion with espressos and dessert spoons for the three of us. The ice cream was creamy and rich, studded with pieces of chestnuts and served alongside the crunchiest, most delicious of biscuits.

Vignaiolo marron ice cream
Vignaiolo chef

Every dish was brought to our table in the most engaging style. The pleasure of bringing the finished plates to all the tables devolves here to a woman – the chef? – who in addition to her black uniform wore an orange bandana and, other than when my camera was ready, a most delightful smile. Why, I wonder, do not more restaurants follow this example as well as that of having a designated area where the customer goes to pay the bill? It might speed up the whole process, and provide those in the kitchen with a rewarding interface with those they cook for.

A restaurant very different in its makeup from all the others was Osteria Tre Case in Serralunga d’Alba. I assume from its name that it was three narrow houses that have been knocked together by chef Mario to create a modern kitchen and eating area. The bar and kitchen occupy the ground floor with the dining rooms on the first floor (see below) where there is also a terrace for warmer weather. The whole look is ultramodern with a great deal of exposed brickwork, thick wooden tables and clever lighting. The waitresses, who must be fit from all the running and carrying of plates, are dressed all in black and are extremely friendly and helpful.

Tre Case dining rooms

Our meal began with delicious grissini and a sandwich of truffle butter between two pieces of homemade, well salted focaccia. I then enjoyed a first course of gratinated tripe enlivened further with the addition of diced leeks from Cervere, a local speciality (€16) and followed this with a main course described simply as bone marrow (€15). It turned out to be two long pieces of the marrow bone that had been split down the middle, grilled on and aromatised by fresh rosemary. It was simple and delicious. As were two desserts: a fluffy tiramisu and a dish described as hazelnut ice cream with chocolate that came as thin strips of chocolate round yet more excellent ice cream.

Tre Case bone marrow

L’Aromatario in Neive was recommended by Luisa at Bruno Rocca and is located between two churches up a steep incline from the main village. A bed-and-breakfast as well as friendly, wine-minded restaurant, it takes its name from the fact that there was once a shop selling spices and aromatics on the site.

The entrance is, as so often in the region, through the bar. A passageway completely lined with bottles of wine takes you past several tables before opening out into a glass-enclosed area where we were seated at one of a half-dozen tables. Bob Dylan was playing when we arrived, Nina Simone when we left.

The wine list is heavy and opens with six pages of champagne and sparkling wines and follows these with three pages of Barbaresco, Barbera and Barolo from which we enjoyed a 2019 Barbaresco from Francesco Versio (€70 out of a bill of €230 for three).

Aromatorio tajarin

This was to be our last meal of the trip and provided the opportunity to enjoy two very local dishes: the thread-thin, egg-heavy tajarin pasta with a meat ragu once again (above), followed by a dish of fried eggs topped with white truffles (below, €30). I had seen this on several menus and, as a lover of fried eggs, I was intrigued. It was a delightful combination that did not last very long unfortunately.

Aromatorio fried eggs and truffle

Writing this a week after our return to London, I can still smell the heady aroma of the white truffles, still savour the slightly bitter aftertaste of Nebbiolo, and I can still believe that I am sitting looking out across the mosaic of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto vines glowing in the sunshine.

Trattoria della Posta Località S. Anna, 87, 12065 Monforte d’Alba, Italy; tel: +39 0173 78120

L’Osteria del Vignaiolo Frazione Santa Maria 12, 12064 La Morra, Italy; tel: +39 0173 50335

Osteria Tre Case Via Roma 36, 12060 Serralunga d’Alba, Italy; tel: +39 0173 613290

L’Aromatorio Piazza Negro, 4, 12052 Neive, Italy; tel: +39 0173 677206