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Al Bacio serves up big Italian flavours made with care

Jo Milligan tucks in and takes notes

Published on January 14th 2014.


Al Bacio serves up big Italian flavours made with care

AL BACIO, the kiss. The name of the restaurant really sums up Domenico’s passion for his kitchen. This native Italian chef is bursting with love for the cuisine of his country. And he certainly knows a thing or two about it.

Born in the region of Basilicata, nestled between Puglia and Calabria, Domenico grew up with happy memories of his mum’s cooking – bubbling dishes of pasta al forno, rich, wholesome and served straight from the oven. Not a packet of dried spaghetti or a box of cannelloni tubes in sight because everything was made from scratch.

However, it’s not easy to become an expert in Italian cookery because each region has its own specialities and its own distinct character. It may not be easy, but Domenico seems to have managed it.

After spending his early childhood soaking up the flavours of southern Italy, he moved to Livigno, high up in the mountains near the Swiss border where heartier mountain fare prevails. Think delicious game stews, tangy cheeses and wild mushrooms.

As if that’s not enough, Domenico then travelled around the country working from season to season, learning his craft and gathering a mental repertoire of recipes to put The Silver Spoon to shame.

Luckily for us, we don’t have to go all the way to Italy to experience Domenico’s dedication to his craft. Heading over to Al Bacio on South King Street, I was able to see the master craftsman at work in his kitchen. Actually, that’s because you can’t get him out of his kitchen. He works seven days a week in there and I wouldn’t be surprised if he cooked through the night as well. Domenico really loves what he does.

It’s evident in the time and care he lavishes on his ingredients, many of which are imported directly from Italy to make sure that everything is just right. I let the fine grains of the semolina flour run through my hands as Domenico enthused about the importance of the food he uses. “Quality speaks for itself,” he explained.

Everything in this kitchen is made from scratch with a love of food that shines through.  From the vibrant sauces singing of the Italian countryside, to the finely spun sugar atop a decadent tiramisu, Al Bacio serves food that, on a grey lunchtime, makes you feel sunnier inside.

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Watching him at work was a real lesson in Italian cuisine. The pizzas were made from fresh dough and although there was no Generation Game-style twirling above the head action, there was a real deftness and lightness of touch.  Baked in a pizza oven at 500°c, the dough was scorched to a crisp, blistered perfection in minutes. No soggy bottoms here.

The pasta too was a masterclass. I took notes, put it that way. Made in front of me, the separate ingredients became delicious yielding tagliatelle and plump parcels of ravioli. The Tagliatelle Finanziera, with chicken liver, pancetta, spices and red wine disappeared in an instant; it was so good I could have licked the bowl clean.

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And for those fussy eaters who steer clear of pasta for fear of feeling bloated, Domenico insists that packets of dried pasta, with a shelf life of from now until the end of time are the real culprits. “All those preservatives, it’s just not natural. Real pasta, made properly, made freshly, that’s different.”

The Risotto Prima Donna was also a warming, unctuous delight. It was like an Italian hug - creamy tomato with chicken, mushrooms and roasted peppers – that left you feeling happy and comforted. A perfect dish for winter.

But as Domenico says, “To make a great pasta dish or a risotto, you need to be a good chef. To make a good Chateaubriand, you only need a good butcher.”

It’s clear from watching Domenico at work, that he is a great chef, but with his exacting standards, it’s also clear that all his suppliers, whether butcher, baker or candlestick maker, are the very best as well.

Taste Domenico’s regional cooking with 50% off at Al Bacio during January.

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