Alajmo’s cooking is some of the most influential to have come out of Italy since Gualtiero Marchesi. He interprets the country’s cuisine with a sense of humour that no one else has managed to copy up until now. His decidedly singular approach to food, and the concept of the restaurant experience has attracted immense international attention, making him one of the superstars of modern gastronomy.
That things work differently at Le Calandre is evident from the moment you walk into the restaurant. It is a dark, very dark dining room. This is no place that tries to charm with bright, warm lights. There are very few restaurants in the world that leave such a strong impression on you. Difficult to describe, it is best-experienced sur place. The odd design of the room is not the only way in which the restaurant demarcates itself from the competition. Everything from the tables, to the glassware has been made especially for Massimiliano and his brother Raffaele. Thus, you drink out of fish bowl-like glasses that actually work remarkably well, and give a much more focused bouquet of the wine than you might initially expect.
The food at Le Calandre is best described as radical. At times based on classical Italian dishes, at others decidedly contemporary, it always packs a punch. One of the most famous Alajmo dishes is his Fassone beef tartar with light mayonnaise, and truffles. The battuta has a lovely texture that almost feels like almost as light as a cream. Paired with the egg-free mayonnaise, and the earthy truffle, this is a dish that is pure bliss. The flavours are bold, and yet light; the textures blend into each other without any forced feeling.
Even more impressive is a dish called ‘10g of pasta’. A copper pan is placed in front of you, filled with a sheet of green pasta that is topped with snails, octopus, vegetal ash, and a rich, thick emulsion. This is one of the dishes that redefine what can be done with pasta, as it truly exceptional. The combination of the octopus, and snails with the thick emulsion almost gives the impression of eating a dish that has been laced with a cheese sauce. Very rich, the contrasts between the individual components come out, whilst never feeling out of balance. The pasta merely acts as a backdrop, rather than the main protagonist.
Despite such remarkable dishes, even someone such as Alajmo is not infallible. A main course of suckling pig is served with coffee, mustard, and greens. The slowly cooked meat, is flaked, before being topped with the crackling that is prepared according to an extremely complex method. The combination with the coffee powder, and mustard foam works remarkably well with the richness of the meat, but the texture of the latter is unpleasant. A little dry and stringy, this is a far cry from the juicy suckling pig meat that one could hope for in a restaurant of this calibre. Also, the crackling’s texture is very odd. Not really crunchy, and dry, it is a bit hard, and not all that pleasant to eat.
Alajmo is a master, and clearly one of (if not the) Italy’s most gifted chefs. His food has plenty of character, its very own style, and hard to compare to that of other chefs. This unique culinary language is combined with a no less singular dining room. The combination of these two make a meal here important for anyone wishing to experience an Italian 3* that truly deserves its rating.