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Orso Restaurant Regional Dinner: Piemonte

April 1, 2015


It was Annie who heard about Orso beginning a series of regional dinners in their e-newsletter (which somehow I managed to miss but have now signed up for). ‘We intend to eat and drink our way through Italy’s many cuisines,’ they said, beginning in Piemonte, home to some of Italy’s finest food and wines. Fortunately Annie was quick off the mark and booked a table for us. The event sold out quickly and I saw on Twitter the other day that there were 20 people on the waiting list.

Orso has been a favourite haunt of mine for many years. This year it’s celebrating its 30th birthday. Housed in London’s Covent Garden, a little way down Wellington Street from the Royal Opera House, its basement location was once an orchid warehouse. Like its sister restaurant, Joe Allen, it’s undergone a makeover since the arrival of new owners Tim Healy and Lawrence Hartley nearly three years ago. Both restaurants remain essentially the same; loyal clientele won’t find their favourite haunts significantly changed on arrival. But it’s in the food and service, and an updating of decoration, that the new owners have made their mark and changed everything for the better.

It wasn’t a surprise to read about the regional dinners as Tim began a similar series at A Cena in Twickenham a couple of years ago which have enjoyed great success. I’ve been to many of them and always love this opportunity to not only enjoy great Italian food but gain a closer understanding of the varied regions of Italy; the characteristics that mark out each region as very different from another. Passions run high when discussing food with Italians and there is a strong loyalty to the food of their own region. As a non-Italian, all I can say is, how would you choose one region over another. All bring such wonderful specialities, yet Piemonte really does offer some of the best food in the world, let alone Italy. The region is home to Parma (from Parma ham to Parmesan – or, if we’re being very correct, Parmigiano-Reggiano), Modena with its balsamic vinegar, Bologna where I had a wonderful trip last year; there is the fertile Po Valley where rice for risotto and maize for polenta grow; there are prestigious wines, like Barolo and Barbaresco; and the region is home to some of the finest truffles you can find.


After a warm welcome at Orso last night, we were shown to our table and the stuzzichini – appetisers – were brought with a glass of prosecco. There were fresh stone baked grissini and crudités with bagna cauda – a warm anchovy, garlic and walnut dip. There were three more courses to follow with a choice of two things for each course. Each course came with a suggested wine. There was a tempting risotto cooked in Barolo, but Annie and I both chose Tagliatelle con Porcini al Burro e Olio al Tartufo – tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms and truffle oil – to begin. The suggested wine was a Gavi.


The tagliatelle was a gorgeous dish. The perfume of the truffle hitting the senses invitingly as the plate (always beautiful Italian plates in Orso!) was put before us. It was really memorable and I’m still thinking about how good it was! Annie and I chose different main courses. She had Coniglio in Umido – slow cooked rabbit with seasonal vegetables – which she said was excellent.


I chose Manzo Brasato al Barolo – Barolo braised beef, olive oil mash and winter greens, and I had a glass of Barolo with it.


The beef had a deep, rich flavour and the olive mash was a wonderfully light and smooth accompaniment.

We were asked if we wanted a break before our dessert was brought, which was a nice touch, and we did. We both chose the sweet dessert over cheese – even though the cheese, Taleggio, and served with truffle honey, is one of my very favourite cheeses.


The Panna Cotta al Gianduiotto – panna cotta with chocolate and hazelnut cream – was a delight. The panna cotta had a gorgeous light and creamy consistency and the gianduiotto topping was chocolate heaven. It came with a lovely, icy cold and sparkling Brachetto d’Acqui wine.

The coffee with the menu was a Caffe Coretto – coffee with grappa – but Annie and I opted for alcohol-free coffee. We’d already had quite a bit of wine! But what a great evening we’d had. The food was wonderful; the ambience great. And at £35 for 4 courses and accompanying wine, it was quite a bargain too. The portions are modest but you certainly get value for money and it’s a great experience for any Italian food lover to enjoy the food and wine of one particular region. I can’t wait to see which region Orso go to next and I certainly want to be there!

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