Hale’s Italian newcomer hits the heights
When you open a new Italian restaurant in a village already very well endowed with Italian restaurants, there are really only two options: be different – always a bit of a risk in a neighbourhood venue outside a cosmopolitan city centre – or strive to be the best.
Hale’s nuovo arrivato, Dante Italian Kitchen, opened last summer – ironically in the space occupied by Danilo’s, one of the village’s original ristoranti – is pursuing the latter path and, as we discovered on a recent visit, with considerable aplomb.
The evident skills of Head Chef Lorenzo Milanesi and his all-Italian brigade, General Manager Luigi Lanzotte’s experience and charisma, and a range of superb ingredients (both sourced locally and imported from Italy) combine to lift a menu of familiar dishes to another level. The look of the dining areas on ground and first floors, the former boasting a chic bar and theatre kitchen, has also been thoroughly thought through; the complete makeover is not too fussy but by no means minimalist, with verdant ceilings and striking indigo decor.
The quality of the generous dishes was obvious from the off. My Bruschetta Funghi (£5.95) was simple fare, but the home-baked bread, the meaty pan-fried mixed mushrooms and the creamy, tangy goat’s cheese were all first class. Mrs K chose Carpaccio (£9.95), fabulous slivers of raw beef fillet, cured and and sliced in-house, with rocket, Parmesan and piquant mustard dressing; a classic superbly executed. As ever we shared… and complimented each other on our choices.
As this was lunchtime, we both chose fish main courses. My Merluzzo alla Griglia (£19.95) combined a thick fillet of perfectly grilled cod – white, deliciously moist and flaky – with a timbale of cavolo nero and a sauce sublimely spiced with Calabrian nduja sausage. A version of this dish appears on Dante’s current great value Early Bird menu – available daily from noon until 5.30pm, £14.95 for two courses, £17.95 for three.
Mrs K’s Branzino con Salsa Verde (£20.50) brought two just-so fillets of pan-fried seabass on tender spears of asparagus and mixed leaves and a sauce singing with the flavours of parsley, capers and lemon. Once again, the excellence of the ingredients and the finesse of the cooking shone through and the meticulous attention to detail also encompassed the side dish contorni. The Zucchini Fritte, a fabulous tangle of lightly battered courgette ‘spaghetti’, was a best ever and the sweet potatoes, baked then skinned and served with chilli-spiked yogurt, a revelation.
We drank a fresh, zingy, citrusy Verdicchio (£24.95) from the respected house of Umani Ronchi, perfect with the fish, and rounded off a cracker of a lunch by sharing a beautiful-to-behold mille foglie(£6.95), whose delightfully light and crisp puff pastry was layered with cream and custard and studded with fresh blackcurrants, raspberries and blackberries.