Dining in Garda Trentino:
There are certain cuisines which seem so tied into to tradition that the idea of a contemporary version seems counter-intuitive. Italian food as a whole falls into that category, with those perfect pasta dishes, rich slow-cooked ragus and recipes that are handed down through the generations. But, a love of carefully prepared and cooked food, a respect for tradition and an understanding of terroir doesn’t preclude innovation. In the right hands, the result is spectacular. The wealth of restaurants in Garda Trentino offers visitors a choice – between traditional dining or places where there might be some element of fusion, of new cooking techniques and where what you’ll enjoy is clearly still Italian, but with a twist. It’s an area that is particularly well known for outdoor pursuits, but the same micro climate which makes the lake perfect for sailing and the mountains great for climbing, results in a wealth of local produce.
I’ve already written about my experience in Casina, where we learnt how to strangle priests and ate some fantastic traditional regional food. Antica Croce, opposite the castle in Tenno and just down the hill from Canale di Tenno, makes and serves its own high-quality carne salada which I’ve written about before. Of course, we had to try it, a perfect aperitif before a dinner of pike, from the lake, served with seasonal grilled vegetables and almonds. The food here, just as in Casina, was utterly delicious and, I imagine, very much what nonna would have served fifty years before. Very much of the ‘if it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing’ mentality. The hotel has been in the same family since 1909 and there’s a timeless feel to live here.
But, it’s possible to just update things a little bit – to stick to the basic, local ingredients and dishes but add a contemporary touch. Perhaps the most striking of our traditional meals and a good example of doing just that was at Al Forte Alto – a converted Austro-Hungarian fort that was built in 1860.
The Chef Patron Marcello Franceschi, focussed on using local ingredients and suppliers to support the local economy. So, in the atmospheric setting of the fortress, looking out over Lake Garda, we started our meal with a glass of Trento sparkling wine DOC before sitting down to eat
A stuffed courgette flower was fried and served with a sauce made from fish from the lake and garnished with trout caviar.
Then, slow cooked ham, with apples and apple vinegar was served on a puree of local broccoli from Torbole. Presented in a billy can, we were reminded that the fortress remained in use through the first world war, though I suspect what we were eating was a lot better than the soldiers would have enjoyed.
Next, cannelloni stuffed with lake fish and served with cherry tomatoes and a black olive crumble, followed by a white onion soup garnished with tiny pastry parcels filled with lard and potatoes
Then, a palate cleanser of sorbet with bergamot and ginger before our meat course.
The roulade of beef was served with asparagus and a potato gratin. A classic dish but one made here with local ingredients that tasted perfectly fresh and full of flavour.
The meal was finished with a selection of local cakes and pastries, though by that stage I’d eaten quite enough. This for me was a traditional dinner of local food, but refined and brought up to date by clever presentation and inventive use of local specialities.
A little further along the ‘contemporary’ line, Aqua, in Torbole, claims to ‘retrace tradition on the rails of modernity’.
Set in a fabulous location right on the waterfront at Torbole, Aqua is a contemporary styled restaurant with plenty of light and space. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch with more of a focus on lake fish. I started with lake fish tempura with cream of peppers and ramsons (wild garlic). A pretty plateful of fish with a crisp and light tempura batter made an excellent way both to start the meal and to enjoy some of the special fish that are found in Lake Garda.
My second course was that kind of simple, classic dish that is lifted by careful cooking and perfect sourcing. Aqua’s truffles are from Monte Baldo and are supplied by Ettore, a friend of the Chef. This local truffle is found between Monte Baldo and the eastern side of Lake garda and has been treasured since the Middle Ages. Only a few hundred collectors are allowed to search for the Monte Baldo truffle. Served as a topping on a plateful of deliciously al dente ravioli with cheese from Cavalese, an alpine ski resort in Trentino, this was a fragrant, light and yet comforting dish.
Further still on the ‘contemporary’ scale was Ristorante il Ritratto, in Arco. Aldo Tiboni, the chef, who owns and runs the restaurant with his brother, served my companion a whole range of dishes, a ‘degustation of antipasti’ which she loved.
Meanwhile, I tried my best to eat a healthy lunch with a plateful of grilled fish served with extra virgin olive oil. Delicious food and great service yet again, the food served here wouldn’t have been out of place in London. Unlike many of the places we ate, Aldo complements an extensive use of local ingredients with more exotic produce brought in from overseas or elsewhere in Italy. The result is what I’d call contemporary European cuisine, though based on some of the fine produce of the region.
Of course, I’ve just picked out a few of the restaurants we tried. The area is full of places to eat, artisan produce and great wines. Next I’ll be exploring a couple of the artisan producers we visited – balsamic vinegar (from Garda Trentino) and an ancient mill which produces some of the typical polenta of the region. Garda Trentino is best known for its outdoor activities. But, there’s more – you can eat exceptionally well too, as I hope I’m demonstrating
I was a guest of Garda Trentino Tourist Board for this trip
I flew to Verona with British Airways. There are direct flights to Verona from London with British Airways and Easy Jet. A transfer to Garda Trentino will take around an hour by car.
I stayed at Hotel Luise in Riva del Garda.