Note: This is likely the last review written by anyone on Barolo, because the restaurant closed its doors forever the day after my visit (I was not responsible for that). It's a shame, because I'd have loved to come again to this magnificently seductive restaurant with Monica Bellucci.
In the afore-mentioned month, visions arose in me of a lushly opulent blood-red room of satin, tucked away in the heart of an palace. I was thinking of Barolo at the Langham. My imagination had no resemblance to the actual reality of its ambience as I later realized, but additional visuals of "Il Conformista" and an intensifying desire to experience anything that was voluptuously elegantly Italian, helped to speedily fructify my plans of a visit. Proximity - it was a short walk away - also helped matters.
After being seated in the marquee restaurant of this 5 star hotel, Letti -my hostess with a charming Piedmontese accent -ably guided me through the wine menu. She was at pains to counsel and ensure that my wine matched well with the dishes,and I also was earnest in telling her that I only wished to taste a glass of Barolo ('Wine of Kings") and that I'd personally see to it that the taste of my selected dishes was protected from the Barolo's strong tannins. (I didn't tell her though that I'd use water as my palate cleanser) After being generous enough to let me taste a lighter Nebbiolo, she brought an Arte 2007 Dominico Clerico which was eventually accepted - it was complex, sharp and satisfying.
Eschewing antipasti options like eggplant terrine or Birolo sausages,I opted for Lumache al Barolo.The taste of the snails was as subtle as my understanding of quantum mechanics. They carried a hint of earthiness, a suggestion of kinship to mushrooms and were judicously annointed with just a touch of the Barolo sauce.The accompaniments- a leek flan, wavy slices of lardo and a vanilla-apple sauce- did not hold more character. Complimentary focaccia- soft and delicately herbed- was presented with a compelling sauce of butter garlic and anchovies.
The ambience is consummately aristocratic. There's a luxurious sense of space -by turns dark and glowing - in the restaurant. Upholstered tones of black,brown and green elegantly cohabit with white tablecloths and pools of discreet light. Suspended illumination is formed by bronze blossoms while a large wood-'n'-crystal chandelier adorns the room centre. Wall-side large mirrors deepen and expand the ambience, while voluptuous drapes further cushion a spatial sense of comfort. At the center,the kitchen is hemmed by a tableau of glowing amber screens that ostensibly symbolize a fireplace that lends gentle blaze to this Piedmontese space.
A week before consuming the Primi Patti here, I had re-watched Anthony Bourdain's Venice episode in which he top-lines a gold-standard risotto made in Da Romano. My imagination was not disappointed by the second course - a clam and lemon version whose creamy and citrus notes harmonized beautifully. Beneath those smooth layers, the plump individual grains of expertly cooked risotto could be discerned. The clams,served in decent quantity, were more al dente than desired, and their shells held a basil sauce that better suited the clams than the delicate balance of the risotto.
Service ,while not a knock-out, was competent. The staff are not knowledgeable about dish ingredients,but I was well-looked after and was asked 4 times whether things were to my satisfaction.But there were ephemeral spells when I could see no wait-staff in the room.
For mains,there are hearty options like Lamb loin, Confit of Venison and Hay smoked chicken breast but desiring a meat that would hopefully be silkier than all of these, I chose a slow-cooked pork belly.While it didn't make me jump with euphoria, it made for enjoyably smooth mouthfuls. The vegetable stock-based brown sauce, I never thought I'd say this, could have done with a touch of sweetness to round off its flavours, while the balsalmico radicchio was so bitter that it was like karmic atonement for eating meat. Cutting into the crispy corn pudding -another accoutrement in the dish -sent squirts of sweet yellow sauce all over the plate. NY's Picholine safeguards its patrons against such an eventuality by instructing its servers to go in first with a silver lance and carefully pierce a chicken breast that contains liquid foie gras.. Barolo's NZ-Italians are apparently less protectionist and I did them an absent-minded injustice by repeating my mistake with the second and only specimen, instead of popping it into my mouth and expecting a delightful but fully contained explosion.
Wanting to test the kitchen's ability with the featured contorni, the easy temptation of truffled potato mash was foresworn in favour of green beans braised in white wine and garlic.About 20 of these stalks arrived in a heap -hardly fine-dining by presentation. Most of them were agreeably soft with flecks of flavour, and were awarded pass marks.
Diligent Letti presumably called it a day before my main course arrived, but I wish she'd bid farewell before retiring. Shouldn't your hostess let you know that there will be a hand-over of care? Another young lady - her nebulously pleasant countenance would have made her a good fit for Antonioni films- then took over with cool smiles and unhurried concern. Abjuring sudden rush-offs from the table-side, she had an interesting way of staying on for a few seconds after the conversation, like a European counterpart of an Ozu shot that lingers for a couple of moments on the frame after the characters have left it.
The Tiramisu anyway will not stay in my memory for long - it was served with Piedmont cherries and their rich compote which had an intensity that the serviceable main player lacked. The tariff inclusive of tax and drink, was a reasonable NZ$138. After paying the bill, the send-off was stilted and puzzlingly blase when delivering the final note of graciousness. I was left with a full stomach and eyes again sated by the beautiful ambience - it is the latter attribute that may bring me back here.
Barolo with foccacia bread, sauce of butter garlic and anchovies
Snail - Lumache al barolo, leek flan, lardo and vanilla-apple sauce
Slow-cooked pork belly, crispy corn pudding, balsamic radicchio
Tiramisu,Piedmont cherry compote
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