2019/07/28

Where to eat as a fine food lover in Turin/North Italy

Location

Culinary delights - fine dining & ice cream - in Italy's fourth largest city

Turin, the destination of a short trip to the nearby northern Italy, undertaken with my husband a short time ago, surprised me extremely positively. Not only is this baroque city an absolute jewel from an urban planning point of view but also a foodie heaven, both for dining obsessives and for ice cream (here of course called gelato) afficionados.

While I will go into three high-end fine dining venues and three of the best ice cream shops in Turin in this post, my next one will be about what to do on a three-night stay in the capital city of the Piedmont region.

Gourmet dining scene in Turin

Out of the seven Michelin one-star restaurants in or near the city center (Cannavacciuolo Bistrot, Carignano, Casa Vicina-Eataly Lingotto, Del Cambio, Magorabin, Spazio7, Vintage 1997) I put the ones that get a 4.5/5 score with TripAdvisor on a shortlist. This resulted in the following dining-spots: Cannavacciuolo Bistrot, Carignano and Spazio7. These are – by chance – all the newcomers awarded a Michelin star in 2019. After checking out other culinary hotspots with TripAdvisor (fine dining establishments with few but excellent – 5/5 score – reviews), I came across a brand-new restaurant – Opera ingegno e creatività –, which made a good impression. So, my husband and I decided to try out this new place along with two of the three Michelin one-star restaurants from the mentioned list (we dropped Carignano because it is at a hotel where we did not stay).

3 top gourmet restaurants


I will start with the absolute favorite of our Turin stay and will go on in descending order.

As mentioned, I got aware of this place because of I liked what I saw about it on TripAdvisor. This restaurant was newly opened (April 2019) in the Crocetta neighborhood not far from the center and the Porta Nuovo railway station. The chef, Stefano Sforza, is not unknown in the local culinary scene.
After having worked for three years as executive chef of Les Petites Madeleines at Turin Palace Hotel, he was appointed to oversee a project of the Cometto family, the opening of a dining-spot with a focus on ingenuity and creativity.

Opera is tucked away in a quiet corner in a pleasant residential area. The first thing that comes to your attention is the kitchen that is open not to the dining room but to the outside world! You can watch the action in the kitchen even as passers-by who most likely may not be very frequent (at this location).

When entering the premises, it is hard not to be impressed by the beauty around you. The dining room is stunning, wide arches, high vaulted ceilings and exposed bricks are eye-catchers. From what I read the venue was formerly a bakery and before that it used to house the guest quarters of a sanctuary.
We were cordially welcomed by the staff whose performance was impeccable from the first to the last minute and were ushered to a corner table where we were served a glass of local sparkling wine on the house along with an amuse bouche that anticipated how the evening will go on. From then on, we knew that we were in for a treat!
We opted for the tasting menu and were delighted by every single course, starting from red shrimp, horseradish, Orsino garlic extract,
tomato,
scallop, larch extract, chili, cumin,
pork shoulder parcel, oyster, apple flavored with gin,
spaghetto, mint, eel, pine nuts,
sweetbread, radish, calamansi,
pigeon, fermented apricot, curry,
to Opera, the signature dessert.
The latter is the chef’s version of a tiramisu, layers of biscuit, coffee, cardamom, mascarpone and cocoa cookie, heavenly!  And the whole accompanied by a dessert wine, as the aperitif on the house again.

Opera ingegno e creatività (ingenuity and creativity) lives up to its name indeed, every dish we had was a total hit! On top of being innovative, Stefano Sforza does not neglect his Piedmont’s roots. And if you now assume that this menu is a wallet breaker, then you are wrong. All this is available for 80 EUR. We really had a lucky shot that we had found this gem of a restaurant!

Next on the list is another finding, although not such a well-kept secret as the one I was just writing about.

2. Spazio7 (one-star Michelin)

More people know about this restaurant’s qualities because it was awarded a Michelin star in 2019. However, I would not call this place a typical spot for foodie pilgrims as it is a little off-grid. First of all, it is located in a neighborhood not known for too many top gourmet restaurants, the non-touristy Borgo San Paolo quarter. Second, Spazio7 is part of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, an organization dedicated to contemporary art, and this shows.

Art is omnipresent in the dining room, be it as a three-color wall-painting, a large number of multicolored silicone vases distributed throughout the room or tablecloths with a colored imprint. While there are no actual windows where you can look out, there is day light flowing in through openings with textured glass. I personally liked the artsy ambiance here, but I can vividly imagine that it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
The menu is also a bit extraordinary. There are three sections, called “contrast – contemporary perception”, “balance – controlled creativity” and “classics – comfort food”, with six dishes each. The first two are cold starters, the following two hot starters and the last two main courses. In addition, there are three different tasting menus. Chef here is Alessandro Mecca, who grew up in the family restaurant Crocetta not far from where Spazio7 is located. He celebrates a modern Italian cuisine, which is innovative yet respecting Piedmont’s traditions.

My husband and I chose to eat a la carte here, which means in Italy to order a (cold) starter, then either pasta or risotto before a main dish served without starchy sides. But before this it was time for an amuse bouche which was most convincing.
The same is true for the starters – carrot and sage (classics) as well as octopus, chickpeas and beef cartilage (contrast) –,
the risotto with rhubarb and marjoram (secondi from the contrast section)
and the fish dishes we had for main course (monk fish, lettuce and sesame – Balance – as well as blue fish and peas – Classics).
Before moving on to the dessert, an array of petite-fours was put in front of us.
Together with the most delicious lemon tart for me and the real pudding for my husband
these sweet treats rounded up another perfect culinary experience. 

Again, there is nothing to criticize in term of service and pricing. Staff was gracious, unobtrusive and informative and when it came to the costs for this dinner, we spent 78 EUR for food only for one person, which seems very reasonable. The smaller tasting menu (5 courses) is even available for 70 EUR! 

Ranked No. 3 of my my dining tips is a “spin-off” of a well-known restaurant in northern Italy, which I can still recommend although some minor flaws.

3. Cannavacciuolo Bistrot (one-star Michelin)

This is one of two branches of one of Italy’s most well-known chefs, Antonio Cannavacciuolo, heading the two Michelin-starred restaurant Villa Crespi on the shores of Lake Orta in northern Italy. The celebrity chef – known thanks to his successful television career (cooking show, Italian version of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares) – calls Piedmont his adopted territory (he is a Neapolitan). After opening his first Cannavacciuolo Bistrot in Novara (between Turin and Milan) he added a second one a year later in Turin (spring 2017). Antonio Cannavacciuolo appointed Nicola Somma, stemming from Neapel as well and being a meritorious employee at Villa Crespi, to bring his concept of creative Mediterranean cuisine to the Turin people.

The dining-spot is located across the Po river at the foot of “La Collina”, the green hills of Turin, in the Borgo Po quarter, an affluent neighborhood. It is a modern place, elegant yet relaxed. The premises are long and narrow, divided into three parts. We were seated in the middle one
and felt a bit away from the scene. In addition, there is an outdoor area.

Only minutes after being seated, a series of amuse bouches
were set before us, which made us order a glass of local sparkling wine to accompany them. A server arrived with an almost empty bottle and poured two glasses, a little short of our judgement but we let it go. We could not do this again as the first sip showed that the sparkling wine had clearly gone bad. It was replaced without any further comment. This incident was typical for the whole evening. Staff was friendly enough, but the servers’ attitude seemed somewhat artificial, "not from the heart".

When it comes to the food, we liked what we got yet considered it as less memorable than at the other two restaurants we visited in Turin. The restaurant is not named without reason BISTRO Cannavacciuolo, and this shows, as the cuisine appeared a bit less sophisticated as at its competitors.

My husband and I went for an a la carte dinner and ordered foie gras, blueberries and myrtle as well as prawn, cherry and chervil for starters
followed by ravioli stuffed with prawns, burrata cheese and peach resp. linguine with Sorrento’s tomatoes, clams and basil for hot starters.
As main courses, we decided to have fish, turbot, green beans, spring onions and pine nuts as well as sole, scapece style, zucchini.
My personal highlight of the dinner was the dessert called hazelnut, hazelnut, hazelnut, as the name suggests “the nocciola del Piemonte”, considered as the best in the world, in three variations. My husband opted for apricots, almonds and chocolate and found it good although he was not raving about it.
The meal found its end with six petite-fours,
which were impressive to look at but simply too much after the meal we had. Never mind, they were tasty and reconciled us with the sparkling wine slip from the beginning.

With regard to pricing, it was our most expensive dining experience in Turin although not by far. Our four-course menu cost us 108 EUR per person, tasting menus are available for 85 or 95 EUR.

To round the whole thing off as to culinary highlights in Turin, I will come to the subject where you can find the best ice cream here.

Where to head for ice cream (gelato) in Turin

I am a big ice cream lover and Italy is known to be the place where one can find the best. And of course, I had to research in advance of our Turin city trip where you have to go get the best of the best.

It goes without saying that evaluating gelato is a highly subjective matter. From what I found out, the big boom when it comes to ice cream began in Turin in 2003 with Grom, the first manufacturer in town who advertised heavily that his product is made without dyes, artificial flavors and emulsifiers. Meanwhile, Grom further expanded to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London and other destinations and was sold 2015 to Unilever.

For my Turin gelato adventures, I had identified four establishments “worth to be tested out”, but only managed to try out three of them. Grom fell victim to it, sorry! Here is my personal ranking for the three ice cream shops I went to.

The winner here is Gelateria La Romana.
It is as Grom a franchise, there are 35 shops in Italy and 5 abroad (Austria, Germany and Spain). The gelato is very creamy, super tasty and the flavors are a bit off the beaten path, pesto di mandorla (almond) was sooo good!

In second rank is Piu’ di un Gelato (more than an ice cream),
a local gelato shop with two branches in town. As I heard, they change the assortment over the year due to season. Their cream flavors are a real treat, especially the hazelnut gelato, with a so-real nocciola taste.

In the third place of my small evaluation is Alberto Marchetti Gelaterie,
also a local ice cream manufacturer. There are three outlets in Turin and three in other parts of Northern Italy. According to Conde Nast Traveler, locals swear that this gelato is the freshest-tasting in town as they boast of serving the ice cream within 24 hours of it being made in-house. I only tasted their coffee gelato, but this was great, full of flavor and soft in texture.

Turin is a great destination if you are craving the cold sweet stuff as you are truly spoilt for choice about where to go for gelato. I am sure that there are lots of other recommended gelato shops. Which one did I miss?

My next post will be about what to do when staying in Turin for three nights. I will suggest two great walks covering the most important things to see when being in town for a short visit.

Date of visit: June 2019



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