L'Angolo di Paradiso translates as The Corner of Paradise. I admit with a twang of guilt that on hearing this the first time, my initial word associations were not Adam and Eve or sugar and spice.
L'Angolo is in the tiny village of Albaretto della Torre, about 30 minute's drive from Alba. It's a long way from central London. A long way from red lights and vice.
What I knew about L'Angolo and its famous chef, Giacomo Cesare, I'd gleaned from a quick Google of Piemonte restaurants. The reviews of the food were positive. The verdict on the wine list was more so-so. What roused my curiosity were descriptions of this restaurant as "a one off" and "a must for every Lange visitor".
After one failed attempt to book in my very bad Italian, I asked an Italian friend if she would try to book for me. My friend telephoned me back shortly after her call. "I spoke to Cesare, to the big man himself" she claimed, sounding rather pleased with herself. "He's very nice, I've booked for two, but I need to pass on that it will cost you 75 euros per person, he only accepts cash and you eat whatever he cooks on the day - no choice, no substitutions allowed."
On the day of our booking, a Piemonte local, by chance a huge fan of Cesare and his cooking, wished us luck when we told her where we were going for dinner.
"Luck, why do we need luck?", I asked with a touch of trepidation.
"He's completely crazy. If he's had a few drinks or not feeling up to it then you may not eat", she said, her hands wild in he air. "And the restaurant is not really a restaurant any more. He's moved out of the old place and he's now cooking in his house, surrounded by his own artwork, with just one other guy helping him."
I was in a fix. A quandry. Straddling the excitement of witnessing this mad-hatter at work and the distinct possibility that dinner, a dinner I'd been looking forward to for weeks, might not happen if the local football team won. Hmn.. Arhh.. Oh well, as I learned visiting the chateaux of Bordeaux, greatness is only achieved by taking risks....
On arrival at L'Angolo we were politely ushered through the kitchen where Cesare and his assistant were at work. Cesare stopped for a moment to greet us, to cheerily plant his billowing mustache and well hidden lips against my V's rosy cheeks and to toss me a curt nodd. Slightly familiar, but at least he was there.
We were whisked away by a friendly waiter to one of three very white and too brightly rooms - unless you're fond of sitting among Scarlett Johansson's teeth. Rabbits and pumpkins gazed at us from the oil paintings adorning the walls. The art reminded me of sitting in partner's offices in a city law firms, except that at L'Angolo there were no photos of the budding artists, forevermore to be dissuaded from their artistic pursuits.
Over the course of the next few hours six dishes were brought to us from Cesare's kitchen:
1. courgettes, egg-plant and egg with white truffles - the egg coated vegetables were a superb base for the pungent white truffle shaved at out table;
2. a salad of thinly sliced ovoli mushrooms, wild chestnuts, orange, pomegranate and hare - the gentle earthiness of the ovoli mushrooms and the texture of the wild chestnuts were highlights;
3. a salad of warmed porcini mushrooms with peaches - a combination that worked surprisingly well and was one of the highlights of the night;
4. agnolotti with fonitina cheese and white truffle - rich, gooey and moderately pungent cheese which did not compete with the aromatic fireworks of the white truffle, also shaved at our table;
5. capretto, baby goat roasted on a spit for about 5 hours - crisp and smokey skin, moist meat which is quite similar in taste to veal; and
6. zabaione with moscato - very rich, very sweet and poured at the table with dramatic effect by Cesare.
These dishes added up to a lot of food, especially following a solid lunch. Collectively they were excellent and well worth the asking price. Thoughtful, creative, nothing over-worked or over-complicated, interesting locally sourced ingredients.
We tried two wines. The first was a bottle of 2000 Sabanda Chardonnay from Piemonte. V and I found a bit disappointing: excessively oaky and rich and unpleasantly tropical. Like old-school Australian chardonnay on steroids. Next was a bottle of 1999 Roagna Page Barbaresco. This was much more impressive: ripe red fruits, tarry, hint of menthol and some licorice, but probably needs more time and at least a decanter to open it up.
More generally, the main wine list is quite short - about 15/20 mostly local bottles but not many big local names. There is also a special wine list which has old vintages of another 15 or so wines, heavy in Gaja. The prices on this list are mostly out of reach unless you're a Premiership footballer or a hedge-fund manager. Compared to the wine list at Enoclub, Cesare's combined wine list is a little slender and over-priced.
Apart from the wine list, the only other nits were the far too bright lighting and that Cesare was so very polite, charming and normal.