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Al Dente
139 Easter Road,
[View Map]
0131 652 1932


Our country has a problem with Italian food. Too often we think a pizza or a plate of sloppy pasta is a decent representation of one of the most complex cuisines around.


It's criminal, as Italy is a country with a hugely diverse array of dishes, many of which don't utilise pasta or pizza. Al Dente is one man's line in the sand. Graziano Spano is from Puglia (that's the heel of the boot), and he's passionate about regionality, provenance and, importantly, taste. "The olives are from Apulia." Graziano tells us, "They're the best". I've heard THAT line before from many beautifully-shoed Italian men, but he's right. They are the best I've been able to get for months.


The menu of his small Easter Road restaurant is simple, short and interesting. Around ten dishes are offered per course, each hailing from one of the twenty districts.


Antipasti include Apulian baked figs with gorgonzola and Parma ham (£ 5.80), steamed mussels with orange aromatics and spinach (£ 5.50) and ricotta gnocchi (£ 5.10); the figs being a particular star, rich and unctuous with the sharpness  and sweetness of the cheese balanced by the salty ham.


First courses are a similarly interesting; a Venetian squid ink risotto (£ 10.90),  a Veronese lasagne-style dish of radicchio, mushrooms and  Parmesan (£8.60) and paccheri with sea bass and seafood (£ 10.80). All the pasta is served with thought, care and a light touch, no heavy cream sauces or smothering of Parmesan.


Reach second courses and you are treated to the real regional gems and powerhouse dishes that Graziano is currently focussing on; Rome is represented by an intensely flavoured lamb rack in a breaded herb crust (£ 16.90); whilst the Northern classic, beef stuffed with Parma ham and mozzarella (£18.50) is well judged in components and generously sized.


Dessert would defeat many folk, thankfully I had an expert on hand and the apple tart (£4.80) was all perfect pastry and balanced sweet, sharp filling with a pleasing dollop of home-made ice-cream. Comforting Italian desserts are all here, Tiramisu, poached pears and sweet ricotta pancakes.


The wine list is affordable and straight-forward with most regions represented but for real insight into Italy's gastronomic identities, contact Graziano about his Regional Gourmet Evenings where a four course menu is presented with paired wines. I'll be there, but I'll be leaving the Vienetta at home. (F. Bentley)


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