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Top European Restaurants by Martins Ritins

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Connoisseur's Guide · Europe · italy · Spoleto · Top European Restaurants by Martins Ritins


Author: Mārtiņš Rītiņš0 COMMENTS


This is a restaurant worth paying a visit mostly for its unique ambience: people, not food, are what matters here most. Apollinare is located in one of the most beautiful parts of the Umbria region, the historical centre of Spoleto, practically at the foot of the Apennines. Gianna Gradassi, the owner of Apollinare, has chosen the Hotel Aurora as the home of her restaurant but Piazza della Libertà is only a stone's throw away.
Practically everything is in keeping with the best Italian traditions at Apollinare: classical tablecloths, a terrace packed with guests and a personal style of service. The 'hello, how are you' you are greeted with by the staff sounds genuine and friendly; there is nothing affected or pretentious about it. The head chef or the owner joins the diners with a cake to render an occasional Happy Birthday; waiters can be seen taking a breather on a long bench just a few steps from the tables. Things happen in a very simple and human manner here. Apollinare is frequented by a motley set of restaurant-goers: a few Rolex types, a few tourists and always, always the local crowd.
Rolando, the sixtyish waiter who has stayed loyal to Apollinare for more then 10 years now and served tables for most of his conscious life, must be the most charming character around here. Always sporting a smile under his twirled moustache, Rolando is ready to talk about anything at all, including his favourite pastime - walking -, his seven dogs and truffle-hunting. The waiter jokes that his for-legged hunters sometimes get tired long before he does. What Rolando really can't understand are all those angling people who spend hours idly sitting around with their fishing rods; it just doesn't make sense to him. He throws in a tasteful anecdote or two, and you realise that waiting tables is not a job to him; it is more of a hobby.
The personal style of service is complimented by an excellent meal. Unlike the owner's general stand on all things restaurant, the head chef of Apollinare seems to have itchy fingers for a little bit of culinary innovation. Apart from perhaps the pearl barley, lentil, salt cod and some other traditional stuff, there is a touch of novelty to practically every dish. Ravioli without the dough casings, melon balls wrapped in prosciutto (Parma ham is more commonly served on top of a melon slice) or fruit salad with Szechuan pepper and mango salsa are just a few examples of the chef's penchant for improvisation. Keeping up with the best achievements of molecular gastronomy, including the surprises served up at El Bulli, the chef has created a fabulous dish of polenta with gorgonzola cheese and two slices of wild boar sausage, hailed as the best even by the most seasoned gourmets. It just slides down your throat like baby food. Excellent!
The luckiest gourmets get their helping of potato ravioli with a light lentil sauce with a "side dish" of a great story. Rolando tells of a seemingly hopeless truffle hunt that almost ended with nothing: the dogs had crisscrossed the forest and found nothing; their owner was already prepared to get into the car as he noticed one of his four-legged companions sniffing and digging in the roadside ground. It turned out to be a 350 g truffle for which the hunter was rewarded with three dog biscuit instead of one.
The gastronomic orgy can be continued with variations of lamb: a mincemeat patty between two Indian poppadoms, lamb rack and lamb fillet with mousse. The roast pigeon served on olive bread is as good as they come: lightly seared but still pink and rare inside.
The coffee served at Apollinare is one of the strongest around. As for bread - Italians like to break off pieces and eat with their food, that's why, as often as not, it is on the dry and tasteless side, to enhance the flavour of the main dish.
If you would like to dine on the terrace (seats approximately 40), do book a table in advance. There will probably be a vacant table or two in the dining hall.
A meal for three: EUR 160 on average.

Via Sant'Agata, 14 - 06049 Spoleto (PG)
Phone: +39 0743.22.32.56
Fax: +39 0743.22.18.85

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