Well-done Fanella, now sweet and savoury

A great start for OpÚra in San Miniato. In her new restaurant the pastry chef now deals with the other side of the menu too

16-01-2017

Loretta Fanella by the pass at her new restaurant Opéra, at Relais Sassa al Sole in San Miniato (Pisa). The famous pastry chef signs both the savoury and sweet sides of the menu only since the 1st of December, but already shows all her talent (photo by Tanio Liotta)

Photogallery

Our dinner at Opéra in the photo gallery by Tanio Liotta. We start with Panino with saffron, cream cheese, mango purée and iced blackberry
Raw and cooked prawn, fiordilatte, raspberry and mango, that is to say how to add originality to an omnipresent crustacean
Pork liver with friarielli, celeriac and courgettes, elegance in the least expected place
Pumpkin and mussels: a soup of pumpkin and mussels, tomato confit, dried bread croutons with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

«It all happened very quickly. They first contacted me three months ago. I accepted the challenge, although I had a lot to lose, but I certainly didn’t back down». This is what Loretta Fanella, a historic bullinian (we recently wrote about it here), is like: gentle on the outside, sweet in her features just like in the craveable dimension that has always belonged to her, and delicate and gracious; yet strong, determined and ambitious on the inside. When they offered her to confront herself with the other half of the sky, in her case savoury cooking, being a great pastry chef above all, she didn’t hesitate. A few weeks ago she dived into this new adventure, that has her working as an all-round chef at restaurant Opéra del Relais Sassa al Sole, in San Miniato, Tuscany.

The relais was born last June. It aims to be a sort of luxury agritourism: the idea came to the Bertinis, a family of entrepreneurs specialised in the disposal of hazardous waste, who had the ambition of creating a unique place. So after taking over a farm surrounded by 20 hectares of land – there’s a vineyard and an olive grove too – they renovated it and then called a stage designer to decorate it in a Belle Époque style. It has 12 rooms and a beauty centre and spa: the result is original to say the least. However, the first choices made in terms of food were not successful. Hence they looked for a star in the kitchen, but even in this case, their choice was original: a pastry chef, Fanella that is, who’s been signing the menu since December. She says: «I don’t know of any other female pastry chef asked to lead a kitchen. Or at least none comes to my mind». Same here.

Relais Sassa al Sole

Relais Sassa al Sole

Hasty choice? We visited Opéra a few nights ago. And little over one month after she started, not only did we find a perfectly structured menu, but it was also extraordinarily harmonious. There’s more: it was absolutely linear, original and yet capable of letting the personality of Fanella emerge: there’s often a sweet touch, an unavoidable fil rouge in the tasting journey as well as in the career of the chef; yet it’s never unnatural or incoherent, nor is it authoritative or pretentious.

One could have thought that she wouldn’t be capable of elaborating and presenting a style of her own even in terms of savoury dishes, in such a short time; that her enchanted hands, when creating desserts, would need to perfect the necessary automatisms so as to reach an equal elegance in the first part of the menu; that, to put it short, the sweet side would overcome the savoury one. Doubts proven wrong: every single dish shows ideas and soul. As they say: a chef might not necessarily be a pastry chef, but a pastry chef is also a chef.

The kitchen staff at Opéra: new intern Giada Pellacini, Jessica Della Ratta, Guglielmo Regina, Loretta Fanella, Gabrio Dei

The kitchen staff at Opéra: new intern Giada Pellacini, Jessica Della Ratta, Guglielmo Regina, Loretta Fanella, Gabrio Dei

As Loretta says, this is also thanks to her team – there’s a total of five people in the kitchen – starting from Florentine sous chef Gabrio Dei, born in 1986, who attended catering school in Montecatini, then had a crucial training experience at Francesco Bracali’s, then directed the Casaslurp! and Slurp! brands in Torino. He participated in the finals of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016, «we work in symbiosis, we regard cooking and pastry making in the same way, we share the same delicate touch», says a satisfied Fanella.

Well now, even the response of the clients in this initial phase was positive. Of course there’s still much to do: eliminate some naiveties in the service, avoid using the same ingredients in multiple courses, have a better management of the 40 available places in the gourmet restaurant, to which one must add the adjacent bistro, offering a more traditional cuisine. Then, with the warmer months, the poolside cocktail bar will also open, and so on.

In the meantime, the premises are excellent, and the chef is satisfied: «I love Tuscany, I’ve got everything here. Firstly, a postcard view [the relais is on top of a hill overlooking the surrounding ones; the restaurant has a large panoramic window and a terrace from which you can enjoy breath-taking sunsets in the summer]. Then, extraordinary raw materials: from vegetables to meat, from fish to truffle and wine». Vegetables and fruits come from nearby Fattoria di Corazzano.

At Opéra there’s also a nice children’s menu. Fanella is an attentive mother and her dishes show it

At Opéra there’s also a nice children’s menu. Fanella is an attentive mother and her dishes show it

Lorella, yet how would you define your cooking, here at Opéra? «Light and lively, both in terms of colours and aesthetics. And tasty». And how would we define it? Harmonious, for sure (La nostra catalana “a crudo”: that is to say red prawn with oil and balsamic vinegar, scampi, prawn and squilla mantis carpaccio with pomegranate, raspberry, blueberry, radish, yellow tomato and orange. Delicious), feminine in the best way (Open ravioli with braised beetroot, light lavender béchamel, carrots with “selezione Croco & Smilace” saffron were delicious and very delicate), yet very brave (presenting Pork liver with friarielli, celeriac and courgettes is no easy task. And giving harmony to such a meaty dish is not banal) and inventive (how many prawns in fine dining! Yet there are few ideas as brilliant as those showing through Cooked and raw prawn, fiordilatte, raspberry and mango). But most of all, very, very intelligent: because adding salt to a dish in not enough if you don’t have common sense. Ah: the homemade bread basket (lavender bread rolls, bread with five cereals, croissants, grissini, but most of all addictive ethereal crackers) was perfect. All the photos in the gallery are from Tanio Liotta.

Ristorante Opéra del Relais Sassa al Sole
Via Zara 186, località Genovini
56028 – San Miniato (Pisa)
tel. +39.0571.460494
sassaalsole.com
Prices: starters for 18 euros, first courses 16 euros, main courses 23 euros. A tasting menu is available at lunchtime with 3 courses for 35 euros


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Photogallery

Our dinner at Opéra in the photo gallery by Tanio Liotta. We start with Panino with saffron, cream cheese, mango purée and iced blackberry
Raw and cooked prawn, fiordilatte, raspberry and mango, that is to say how to add originality to an omnipresent crustacean
Pork liver with friarielli, celeriac and courgettes, elegance in the least expected place
Pumpkin and mussels: a soup of pumpkin and mussels, tomato confit, dried bread croutons with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Risotto finished with sea urchins, toasted sesame seeds and fiordilatte
Open ravioli with stewed beetroot, light lavender béchamel, carrots and saffron “selezione Croco & Smilace”
Pappardelle in a sauce of boar with vin santo, cocoa and pecorino: a touch of elegance to traditional Tuscan comfort food
Lard, edible flowers and roses with yogurt: beautiful
Our “raw” catalana: red prawn with oil and balsamic vinegar, langoustine, prawns, squilla mantis carpaccio with pomegranate, raspberry, blueberries, radish, yellow tomato and orange
Beef sirloin aromatised with anise, mango and powdered black trumpets
Tonka bean cream, panna cotta with coffee, passion fruit gel, chocolate biscuit, flakes of gold aromatised with truffle
Winter (a compote of raspberries at the bottom, white chocolate on top, coconut mousse, milk and white chocolate gel, soft biscuit, yogurt brittle, the snow man is made with a mint meringue, then a hazelnut covered in coconut ganache, white chocolate and powdered coconut, «our Raffaello»)