L'Albereta, Fabio Abbattista and Marchesi’s great legacy

Leone Felice, the gourmet restaurant inside the relais in Franciacorta: excellent food and the unforgotten lesson given by the Maestro

11-01-2018

Gualtiero Marchesi and Fabio Abbattista meet at Identità Expo, in 2015

Photogallery

Our dinner at Leone Felice portrayed by Tanio Liotta. We start with the appetizers, already of the highest standards. Here is Polenta chips with octopus and its mayonnaise. Sommelier Valerio Cappiello, from Anacapri, at Albereta for 11 years now, pairs this with Bellavista Brut Edizione La Scala 2012
Chickpea farinata, mortadella and truffle mayonnaise is a perfect amuse bouche, in terms of texture and play with temperatures
Cheese, pepper and lime croquettes
Cucumber in osmosis of chartreuse and mandarin

Returning to L’Albereta, now that Gualtiero Marchesi is no longer with us, is a trip down memory lane: looking for that room where I first tasted Riso oro e zafferano, or the sitting room where the Maestro of Italian cuisine made himself available for a chat. It’s hard to grasp, but everything has changed since December 31st 2013, when Marchesi last signed the menu at the relais in Franciacorta when they decided to change style, after little over 20 years spent together with Gualtiero, a partnership that started when they first opened, on the 23rd September 1993. Marchesi then decided to leave Milan and join Vittorio Moretti’s project; here he confirmed his extraordinary talent for many years, so that if two restaurants can be linked to his figure, one is surely in Milan, in Via Bonvesin della Riva 9, the other is in Erbusco, in Via Vittorio Emanuele 23.

Abbattista posing with the pages dedicated to him in 100 chef x 10 anni (Mondadori)

Abbattista posing with the pages dedicated to him in 100 chef x 10 anni (Mondadori)

Everything changed, as we said. A strategic choice: when Marchesi left and they handed the kitchen to young Fabio Abbattista, they needed a sign of change, they needed to stress clearly that there was a before and after. «The hard part was understanding the impact this would have on clients. Hence the restaurant closed for 6 months so as to change its appearance. When we opened again, it was something different». The culinary offer also changed, «there was no point in trying to imitate the past. I am a different person, and I immediately took on the challenge». It was a difficult game, the shadow of Marchesi accompanied Abbattista for a long time – it’s now five years precisely, he started to work here in January 2014 – even though this calm guy from Molfetta, born in 1977, realised already in the second season that he had managed to get rid of the heavy legacy: «I perceived it clearly. We had managed to impose a new identity».

Leone Felice

Leone Felice

Returning to L’Albereta, now Gualtiero Marchesi is no longer with us, also means you realise what has changed, and what hasn’t. Memories, first of all, «back in April 2011, on a Sunday – recalls Abbattista – I wanted to dine at Marchesi’s, I came here to Erbusco, sat at that table. What a magnificent experience!». It wasn’t the first time the Maestro’s grandeur appeared in the life of the young chef from Apulia: «In 1998 I worked as commis at the restaurant of The Halkin in London (see: Dining in London, but Elena Arzak’s)», where Marchesi had offered his consultancy until recently, since 1991, getting a Michelin star in 1995. One of his pupils Stefano Cavallini was then directing the kitchen (he left in 2011), «I remember the pride I took in being part of that team. It was the first great Italian restaurant abroad, and we had to thank the genius of the Maestro, for what he had built; Cavallini was there, as well as Mauro Governato as maître [he’s now the executive manager at the Four Seasons in Milan] and Federico Graziani as sommelier [see: Un sommelier sull'Etna). What a team!».

The team at Leone Felice

The team at Leone Felice

It’s as if destiny wanted the lives of Abbattista and Marchesi to meet on multiple occasions, without a real professional meeting ever taking place: not in London, not at Albereta for sure, «to think that at the very beginning of my career I sent a cv to Erbusco asking to be part of Gualtiero’s brigade. They said they had no open positions at the time, so my career took a different direction». That was before leading him to the relais in Franciacorta, this time as chef, and little under a decade later.

Yet, even though Abbattista never worked with Marchesi – in fact he had to exorcise his figure, when he took over – he has to acknowledge what the latter taught, and he has to continue his legacy. The chef says: «My cooking style owes a lot to him, and I’d say this applies to all the greatest Italian chefs». Marchesi still lives, so to speak, at L’Albereta, «and strongly so, in his basic idea, of making Italian cuisine noble, elegant, simple and neat. This remains: the simple genius intuition of how important it was to take our huge culinary heritage, start from there, and then add influences from new products, but never forsaking the Italian character through raw materials, techniques, flavours».

Fabio Abbattista, lesson "A healthy Italian flavour" at Identità Milano 2015

Fabio Abbattista, lesson "A healthy Italian flavour" at Identità Milano 2015

This is what Abbattista is doing today too. At Leone Felice, the gourmet restaurant inside L’Albereta («The name? There was a guardian here, called Leone, to whom they initially dedicated a vineyard, from which we make a Chardonnay, Vigna Leone. That’s where we got the inspiration from»), the chef portrays Italy, the different facets he’s discovered over the years: «I come from Apulia, I worked in Rome for many years, at Hilton when Beck had just arrived, and at Altro Mastai with Fabio Baldassarre, then in Milan with Baldassarre when he opened Unico. So basically this “journey across the peninsula” is part of my story». He also shows a personal sensitive touch that leads him to create a very intelligently structured menu.

Another picture from Identità Expo, with Gualtiero Marchesi, Fabio Abbattista, Francesco Apreda and Ezio Santin

Another picture from Identità Expo, with Gualtiero Marchesi, Fabio Abbattista, Francesco Apreda and Ezio Santin

Abbattista’s dishes are full, with neat flavours and elegant too; they’re tasty, but flavours are always balanced, harmonious. Nothing is done for the sake of it. Sometimes he presents the Mediterranean Sea (Squid mousse and Mediterranean sauce), the local territory (Chargrilled eel from Lake Iseo, cucumber, green apple and chervil) or he dares with perfect, delicious crossovers as in Snails, artichoke royale and teriyaki. The chef recuperates classical elements too, in an intelligent way: Hazelnut soufflé, variegato ice cream with brittle, a great dessert. And at the end of a high standard meal (illustrated with photos by Tanio Liotta and captions in the photo gallery), one dish stands out above all: Pigeon in ashes, rhubarb and Timut pepper. It’s perhaps the best pigeon I’ve ever tasted.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


Sections

Carlo Mangio

An outdoor trip or a journey to the other side of the planet?
One thing is for sure: the destination is delicious, by Carlo Passera


Photogallery

Our dinner at Leone Felice portrayed by Tanio Liotta. We start with the appetizers, already of the highest standards. Here is Polenta chips with octopus and its mayonnaise. Sommelier Valerio Cappiello, from Anacapri, at Albereta for 11 years now, pairs this with Bellavista Brut Edizione La Scala 2012
Chickpea farinata, mortadella and truffle mayonnaise is a perfect amuse bouche, in terms of texture and play with temperatures
Cheese, pepper and lime croquettes
Cucumber in osmosis of chartreuse and mandarin
Mousse of squid and Mediterranean sauce: a veil of tomato extract, its crazy intense, with the squid hiding the courgette caviar. Paired with Vigna Leone 2016 from the Albereta vineyards
Snails, artichoke royale and teriyaki, another convincing dish, with a nice play of textures and the smoky note of the crispy artichoke
Chargrilled eel from Lake Iseo, cucumber, green apple and chervil: lovely. Fisherman Nando Soardi, who also supplies the whitefish, caught the eel
Risotto with hunchbacked cardoon, smoked chestnuts and black cardamom. Paired with Convento Ss. Annunciata 2013 Bellavista
Whitefish “alla mugnaia”, cauliflower toffee and calamondino meringue
A fantastic Pigeon in ashes, rhubarb and Timut pepper. The filet is a treat, the leg is wrapped in quinoa, the breast is memorable in texture, juiciness and taste, «I cook the pigeon – from Moncucco – in a piece, for 23 minutes at 190°C. I put it in a soapstone pot on top of oak ashes, after covering it in lard and aromatic herbs. The stone absorbs the smoke and gently releases it inside». Paired with: Solesine Rosso Bellavista 2006, a Bordeaux blend no longer produced
Bravo to pastry chef Stefano Quaroni too [15 people in the brigade, including Chilean sous chef Jorge Ramirez who arrived a few months ago, after working with Rodolfo Guzman]. Here Hazelnut soufflé, variegato ice cream with brittle, but the final touch is given by the passion fruit sauce for the soufflé
Mont Blanc, vanilla and mandarin, without excessive sweetness. Desserts were paired with two house wines: Nectar Franciacorta Demi-Sec by Bellavista and Pinodisé Contadi Castaldi