Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: Aio, Sardinian restaurant, Bath

I’ve been waiting to go to this Sardinian restaurant for months, since Nick promised me he’d take me there sometime in the summer, so as a late anniversary treat Nick finally managed to book us a table and get us here! The atmosphere is lovely, it is a very small restaurant, about 40 seats, but that gives the place a nice cosy feel. The staff informed us of the specials on the board, and other specials that they hadn’t put up there yet (I like the sound of their specials, although they seemed far pricier than what was on the rest of the menu). What I liked on the drinks menu is how dishes from the main menu have been suggested with the wines, so you can pair up the dishes you are going to order depending on your wine choice. Since we already knew that we were going to share an antipasti platter and we were both going to be ordering pasta, we chose the house red option “Arpeggio Rosso” which had said complimented these dishes, which I would say was a pleasant enough wine.

For starter we had the Antipasto terra, which was a selection of cured ham, bologna, salami (or something similar?), mozzarella, little peaks of pecorino, olives, salad in a balsamic dressing and Sardinian flat bread on a wooden board. The wooden board actually is the same one we use for tapas at work- I can’t ruddy escape that place lol!! It also came with two kilner jars, one filled with marinated aubergines and the other marinated peppers. I think that the portion size was more than adequate, but I would have much preferred some nice hunks of rustic bread instead of the Sardinian flat bread they served it with- which was very nothingy and really thin, kind of like an Italian poppadum or something!! Overall perhaps I felt the whole selection was a little…salty perhaps. The pecorino, cured ham, and marinated vegetables were all very strong flavours, and I think perhaps they need to work on making the combination of ingredients work together a little better. However, I did enjoy the starter, as you could tell that all the separate elements were fresh and of good quality.

For the main course I had the “Malloreddus all Campidanese”, which on the menu was described as shell shaped pasta with Sardinian sausage, tomato and saffron. Nick had the “Culurgiones All Agnelo” which was pea and potato ravioli topped with a lamb ragu. When my dish arrived my first reaction was how very basically it had been presented. Not meant to be an insult, but it looked like any sort of pasta-in-a-tomato-sauce-like dish that any student could prepare and spoon into a bowl. But my first mouthful indicated to me that it was so much more than this. The flavours were so rich, intense, concentrated and delicious- that I completely forgot about the very “basic looking” plate of food in front of me. This is what rustic Italian food should stand for- nothing to do with looks, EVERYTHING to do with flavour! I really liked the texture and unique flavour of the Sardinian sausage as well- they had obviously been skinned and cooked into a sauce, similar to mince, but you could get hints of fennel/lemony flavoured meat in there which was very pleasant. I’ve got to admit, the saffron was completely lost in the dish, and I couldn’t taste any of it, but really saffron has no place in a dish with such strong flavours dominating it, and there was no need of this spice in my opinion. Nick’s ravioli was very nice as well- the filling could have done with a little more seasoning, but the ragu was rich and delicious and the ravioli had been made and cooked very well.

The staff were very attentive, and seemed very friendly to customers- the manager there seemed to be having nice conversations about Italian food and culture with various customers who had visited Sardinia and was interested in finding out more about it. Dessert I have got to admit though was terribly disappointing. We were told that the panacotta was sold out, which was a shame, so Nick suggested we order chocolate fondant, to share. I told Nick at the time that I wondered if they made their desserts fresh here, since I used to work in an Italian chain restaurant, and knew that we made none of the desserts fresh (except the panacotta ) and that a lot of Italian restaurants have the same supplier of desserts and therefore serve the same dishes, perhaps slightly differently described. Kinda like how you get the same desserts in Indian restaurants too- because they all have the same stockists and they don’t make them.

Well the fondant arrived, and I did the “fondant test” on it- putting your spoon into the middle of the fondant and spreading it out- to reveal what should be an oozing liquid centre. In this case- no dice, completely solid. There were also little line marks on the top of the fondant which would suggest to me that they had come from a foil packet of some sort. If as I suspect, it had come from a packet, they had also microwaved it for too long- the chocolate tasted bitter and overcooked. A disappointing end to the meal, but I didn’t leave there feeling completely cheated. The main courses were so delicious, and the atmosphere was so pleasant, that I would definitely return to this restaurant again. It is a mid-high priced restaurant so it would only be for a special occasion, but it’s a very nice and romantic place to eat I think. Service I would give 9/10, whilst for the food I would have to give a 7/10, mainly because of the issues with puddings. As far as I’m concerned, the place is a rustic, romantic, Italian restaurant, that incorporates fresh ingredients into delicious dishes.

PS: I forgot to mention, what I thought was a cool thing that the restaurant does on sundays that if you call in advance and book it, they can prepare you and your group of friends roast suckling pig, with rosemary potatoes and chargrilled vegetables- how rather scrummy sounding! I might try this out some day xx

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