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Image 1: Chef Enrico has established a sophisticated cuisine at the Piazza Duomo (meaning "cathedral square") of Alba. The restaurant stands in the most important town on my culinary map, as this is where white truffles could be found in abundance during autumn. Alba is also home to the largest white truffle festival.
Image 2: This old town was a little maze dominated by small streets and alleys. Since I couldn’t find an entrance to the restaurant from the front, I entered through an archway next to the pink building.
Image 4: The sharp colour immediately brought my attention to the entrance of the most innovative cuisine in the country. Great colour ensuring guests wouldn't miss the entrance!
Image 5: The door was locked but I quickly realised I had to buzz through the intercom. They unlocked the door after confirming my booking name and time.
Image 6: A flight of stairs got you directly above Chef Enrico's bistro to a pink dining room where every day only a few tables of diners can experience his modern transformation of classic Italian cuisine. As expected from a small dining room, the service was personal where I had engaging conversations with the team.
Image 7: Soon after a chat with the manager to request for a surprise menu, my table was filled with a series of amuse bouche. First up was miso royale, a creamy miso custard with a clear miso broth.
Image 8: On the stone was Amaretto with nori seaweed and umeboshi (Japanese salt plum).
Image 9: Fried spaghetti dipped in carbonara and broccoli sauce.
Image 10: Parmesan wafer with goat cheese and shiso
Image 12: And to finish the first round of amuse bouche, yes only the first round, a Saraceno buckwheat cracker.
Image 13: Now the second round. Resting on the right was a puffy taco with avocado and sesame, and on the left was meringue ball topped with cocoa and parmesan.
Image 14: Anchovy roll with tarragon
Image 15: A unique looking soup crisp dusted with seaweed powder underneath
Image 16: Buffalo ricotta ball coated in green olive gel and topped with black olive
Image 17: Very simple, but I have never had such an intense bok choi flavour in my mouth before! The raw bok choi was picked that morning from his five hectare garden in the prized Barolo before dipping in soy milk and wasabi mayo with shiso. I was really looking forward to sampling more of his garden vegetables after this course.
Image 18: And last but not least, a small lolly of Jerusalem artichoke coated in Piedmonte hazelnut. The fourteen amuse bouches did an outstanding job of providing an overview of Chef Enrico's cuisine - reinventing Italian classics while showcasing his garden and reflecting the knowledge that he acquired from his training at Bras in France, El Bulli in Spain, and three years of Marchesi in Osaka and Kobe.
Image 19: Finally, more than an hour into the meal, the first course arrived. A simple combination of porcini in an onion broth and olive oil. Loved the meaty texture of the mushroom and the mild onion flavour!
Image 20: A pair of cute braised baby cabbage topped with mussel sauce. I enjoyed the fact that the sauce wasn't too powerful to distract me away from the focus - the cabbage.
Image 21: Yes, it was my lucky day. Not only did I have a chance to visit the kitchen to meet Chef Enrico, he was actually working on my next course! He said Piedmont is the best region in Italy - the land is able to grow all kinds of herbs and vegetables; the mountain area has high quality meat; the area has a huge variety of cheese and nuts; and needless to say, the soil and climate is extraordinary for vineyard and white truffles!
Image 22: He also showed me the local vegetable for my next course, rapa, a round fat purple top turnip. Yes, more vegetables from his garden was exactly what I wanted!
Image 23: Slices of rapa salted in miso, then simply served with drops of olive oil and lemon juice. Saltiness from miso, acidity from lemon, with a hint of cheese from parmesan and a touch of spiciness from black pepper, a very well-balanced course indeed!
Image 24: The meal progressed with something richer. A foie gras cream sitting on a layer of salt and mace, blanketed by a foam of Gingerino, a local soft drink. Airy sweet-bitterness followed by a rich silky cream and ended with a bit of spice at the bottom. A very original course!
Image 25: There were actually a few more courses in the starter section before getting into the main section. Beautifully presented here was Chef Enrico's version of "Piedmonte omelette", a green sponge cake made of chard with tuna pâté on top. Delightful dish but I was sure it would have more meaning to a local diner.
Image 26: Another eye-pleasing course was his take on a typical Rome artichoke dish where he sous-vide the artichoke and deep fried the skin…
Image 27: … and the interesting component revealed itself after I destroyed the neatly stacked structure. It was the bone marrow of rabbit! My first time having rabbit bone marrows and the manager explained it wasn't an easy task to extract marrow from those tiny rabbit bones!
Image 28: Yes, the signature dish of the restaurant, Salad 21, 31, 41, 51… where the number of ingredients in this salad depends on the season.
Image 29: A huge bouquet containing 41 vegetables, herbs, and flowers all from his garden, to be eaten with a pair of tweezers. It took me a very long time to finish this course since I tried to taste each item one by one. Definitely reminded me of my all-time favourite Gargouillou at Bras.
Image 30: After removing the salad bowl, there was a vegetable dashi underneath giving my palate a further boost of flavours from his garden. Sensational!
Image 31: No kidding, after fourteen amuse bouches and seven starters, the manager came back with a selection of bread and said the menu is about to begin!
Image 32: So again, back to the first course! On top of a colourful painting was a pair of raw scallops. Contrary to what appeared a strong sauce, the cheese was very mild, balanced well with the fruitiness from the umeboshi and without overshadowing the freshness of the scallop! The best part was the toasted sesame, dried seaweed, and a touch of wasabi hidden on the other side of the scallop. Clever!
Image 33: Each plate coming out from this kitchen was a work of art! This white and purple creation was his interpretation of Piedmonte sausage.
Image 34: Covered below each slice of turnip was a ball of veal tartare with a minuscule cube of foie gras! Pure flavours from the meat, slight sharpness from the pickled turnip, and the richness from the foie, very decent course but it was just a shame that I didn't have the same connection to his food as a local did.
Image 35: Wow, cod and almond combination sounded odd, and it was odd! The gently poached cod had a unique texture in that it was flaky on the outside but fibrous, slightly rough, in the centre; and coating it with an almond sauce with capers… rather unusual. Not my type of food.
Image 36: Well, it was time to celebrate what Alba is known for, white truffle served on a local vegetable from his garden. Garnished with hazelnut, this local vegetable was kind of in between artichoke and celery. Needless to say, I had to close my eyes and took a big sniff to absorb the truffle fragrance as much as I could.
Image 37: Another signature dish of Chef Enrico serving in a Venetian glassware that was made just for this course to resemble a potato. Creamy potato velouté with egg crowded and topped by a very generous amount of white truffle! Great idea to encapsulate the soup as the truffle aroma got fully released with the heat from the soup. The egg was preserved to intensify the taste, and together with potato and truffle, this classic combination never fails.
Image 38: Surely I couldn't leave here without a simple pasta dish. A popular local pasta plin!
Image 39: Perfectly homemade pasta won't be complete without shavings of white diamond, especially while they were in season! Very satisfied from being pampered by doses of seductive fragrance of white truffle!
Image 40: Another reinvention of local dish, spherified in these lentil balls were minced meat with flavour mimicking a local sausage garnished with black truffle and finished in beef consommé. Again, I didn't have the same appreciation the locals did, but I found it very interesting that these little balls really tasted like sausage.
Image 41: A course of spinach! Ricotta cannelloni with spinach leaves, spinach dressing, and even the pasta was made with spinach!
Image 42: Alright, the nineth course was finally the main. Roasted lamb with fennel, lamb jus, and a creamy lamb milk sauce at the bottom. Not my favourite course as both the meat and the milk had way too strong a smell of lamb. In addition the lamb was also very fatty.
Image 43: Last course, a very innovative dessert using Fruits and Vegetables of the season! A mixture of gems from his garden including chestnut, quince, radish, dried fruit, leaves and flowers. Sounded weird to incorporate vegetables but it worked exceptionally well with a great mix of textures while offering a hint of freshness and chestnut sweetness. This was a light but very satisfying dish to end a long meal.
Image 44: At that point, I expected no less from Chef Enrico. Mirroring the elaborate introduction section of the menu, he delivered an elaborate array of petits fours!
Image 45: On the left was a small glass layered with chocolate foam, lemon peel, panna cotta, coconut ice cream, and lime cream at the bottom. On the right was a mini cup of milk custard scented with barley.
Image 46: A lolly of raspberry matcha parfait coated in quinoa and a white chocolate bonbon.
Image 47: A long cookie curl with cocoa dusted hazelnut
Image 48: Passion fruit jello and salted peanut
Image 49: So finally, in just a bit over three hours, after fourteen amuse bouches and seventeen courses, a cute bottle of sweet milk to finish! Not every course was my cup of tea which shouldn't be a surprise for a menu of 30+ dishes. However, I once again managed to finish every item served and carried on to have dinner that night!
Image 50: A very adventurous meal where Chef Enrico fully engraved his culinary journey into his cuisine - Bras' philosophy of respecting the nature, El Bulli's techniques of cutting edge cooking, Marchesi's cuisine of classic Italian, and an Asian influence from his Japanese experience.