- Food & Drink
The restaurant pictured above is not L’Osteria dell’Acquasanta. For many years Leonard and her family believed it was. True, it didn’t look anything like the picture on the website and if you put the address into Google the arrow pointed to the other end of town, but Acquasanta isn’t a big place. It’s a little huddle of houses in the hills of Genova, blessed with a pool of sulphourous waters and a shrine to Mother Mary. If there was another restaurant in the town, it ought to have been easy to spot.
We arrived in the empty main square at 1.30pm, having had the sense rattled out of us by the winding bus journey. Flicking the grubby curtain out of the way, we strolled into the dim little trattoria and announced we had a table booked for 7 people.
“No you don’t,” said the proprietor. “You want the L’Osteria dell’Acquasanta, across the road.”
We reeled back out into the light. Silence and trees greeted us. Another restaurant? Across the road? Surely that was just a track into the woods?
But with the trattoria proprietor firmly insisting we weren’t eating in his restaurant, we plunged along the winding pathway breathlessly reassuring each other that it’d all be fine. A few minutes later a clearing appeared with a neat, red chalet at the centre. This was the restaurant from the website. This was the real Osteria dell’Acquasanta.
The Other Restaurant is a darkly lit cubbyhole run by an elderly man who brings you what the kitchen has made and brooks no debate. The actual Osteria is an entirely different pan of pasta. The front door is brightly decorated with stickers from various food and travel guides and the interior is white, fresh and adorned with the usual bad art that haunts most dining rooms.
Over a bottle of Dolcetto D’Alba, we perused the menu. Ravenous, we tried to skip the antipasti but Leonard’s dad snuck in an order for pumpkin tart (flan di zucca con fonduta al raschera), a fluffy slice of pumpkin and creamy cheese that arrived alongside our pasta.
I ordered ravioli alla genovese to start. Thin little cases of mildly meaty pasta topped with more rosemary-scented meat sauce. I’d guess the meat was veal – texture rather than depth of flavour was what the dead animal bought to the plate. It was a soothing start and sated my immediate hunger.
Before the main courses arrived I made sure to stick my fork into my fellow diners’s starters. The Enigmatic Mr S had ordered mutton and artichoke pasta (chitarra all’uovo con ragù di castrato e cariofi). The slithers of egg pasta were slickly coated with a hefty mutton ragù, wedges of artichoke poking up out of the tangle. It was slightly inexplicable, like a roast dinner sandwich. Satisfying to eat but you can’t help thinking the ingredients were meant to form another, more substantial dish.
The best starter was Nojo’s lasagnette al pesto. If there are bedsheets in heaven, they’re made from this pasta. Wafer thin slices of floury air, it was delicate and seductive with pools of grassy-green pesto di Pra adding a glossy, fragrant finish.
I eat as much dead baby cattle as I can when I’m in Italy, so veal and artichokes (reale di vitello al forno con carciofi) was an easy choice. A flakingly tender piece of meat arrived, thoroughly topped with artichokes and seasoned into submission by the chef.
It wasn’t over seasoned, but it was seasoned to a show-off extent; a demonstration by the chef of how utterly skillful he is at heightening flavour. It strained to impress and was exhausting to eat, like chewing on a hyperactive toddler.
Other main courses, including a very tender stewed wild boar (cinghiale in umido) and sprightly Ligurian rabbit (coniglio alla ligure), suffered from a similar excess of cheffiness. They were all enjoyable, but the one-note seasoning meant that nothing lingered. All the flavours arrived in a rush and then collapsed before the final chew and swallow.
A pear tart (crostata di mele) was a brave attempt to prove my belief that Italian desserts are no good wrong. A pastry base so short it was practically a biscuit was topped with sweet slices of pear that could’ve done with being a little softer. A spoonful of cream wouldn’t have gone amiss either.
Having seen off 5 bottles of Dolcetto, we ordered coffee and grappa. Tiny, inky black cups of espresso arrived alongside a bottle of grappa and a bottle of Amaro. No charge and we could help ourselves. Utterly civilised and a huge mistake – I polished off a huge glass of grappa and declared it to be the best I’ve ever tasted. Once you’re describing grappa as delicious, you know you’ve drunk too much.
In spite of our best efforts, we still didn’t manage to drag the bill much above €30 each. Starters were all €8, main courses €10 and desserts €4. It was a slightly uneven meal, suffering from an excessive desire to please, but the lasagnette al pesto earns L’Osteria dell’Acquasanta a place in restaurant paradise and makes the rackety bus journey worthwhile.