La Dispensa di Aquatio
We aren’t long back from our honeymoon. For this trip, we decided that instead of going to one place, we would rent a car and have a little Southern Italian adventure. We started in Naples airport, making our way across to Trani in Puglia, staying in a trullo in Alberobello and spending a few days in Lecce. Week one finished with a drive to the ancient city of Matera in the Basilicata region.
I was looking forward to visiting Matera but nothing could have prepared me for what awaited – the most magnificent city I have ever seen. In the “Sassi” area, people are still living in the same cave houses that their ancestors lived in 9000 years ago. Although the houses have since been kitted out to modern standards, there is something mesmerising about walking through the narrow streets that have existed here for thousands of years.
As well as visiting some utterly beautiful places, we also ate some wonderful food. We were very lucky and managed to go the entire trip without a bad meal until the very last day in Pompeii. La Dispensa di Aquatio however was a cut above the rest providing magnificent food in the most beautiful setting – inside an old cave in the Sassi area.
Everything Happens For A Reason
Although not our first choice to eat in on the night in question, we weren’t actually planning on a fancy meal that night – everything happens for a reason. We arrived via the scenic route after trying to find the restaurant by following an unnamed maps app which doesn’t always work when the streets are as close together as they are here! We are greeted by a smiling gentleman at the door and despite not having a booking, he shows us to a little table towards the back of the restaurant. The menus are explained to us in near perfect English and we decide to treat ourselves to the six course tasting menu – I take the matching wines option while Ali sticks to the Prosecco!
First out is the bread basket, a small but perfectly formed selection of homemade Pane di Matera, Focaccia and delicious breadsticks. This is quickly followed by the “Welcome Appetizer” – Crumbed Quail’s Egg and Matera Onion in Honey. A nice way to settle in before our first proper course – Warm Mackerel Sandwich, Crunchy Asparagus and Sea Urchin Sauce. Despite the name, there is no bread here and instead the mackerel sandwiches creamy, perfectly seasoned mashed potato. It’s like a little taste of Ireland in the deep south of Italy! The asparagus is beautifully cooked and the whole dish combines beautifully.
Primo and Secondo
After the starter, the primo is a striking dish – Squid Ink Pasta with Pea Puree, Prawn Tartare and Dried Courgette Flour. It’s a beautiful concoction – fresh and sweet from the peas and raw prawns. The dried courgette flower adds some texture and the whole dish, once again works beautifully. The secondo of Squid Stuffed with Creamed Cod, Pea and Chamomile Gels is another beautiful dish although the squid is just a little bit chewy. The flavours more than make up for this however with the chamomile gel being a surprisingly good pairing with the squid.
It may sound like we had an awful lot of food but the dishes are all exceptionally light and we find ourselves looking forward to dessert. It doesn’t disappoint with two little tarts being presented. The first is Pear with Vanilla Cream which is sweet, tart and utterly delicious while the second, a Soft Meringue Tart is sweet and luxurious. Before we have time to ask for the bill, another little plate of bites is put in front of us with the Pecorino and Coconut Truffle being the surprising highlight.
I receive four generous glasses of wine to match with the meal. The first is a light and sharp Fiano from Basilicata which pairs with the mackerel and mashed potato, cutting through the rich food perfectly. The second wine is another Fiano, this time from Puglia and, interestingly is an orange wine – made by allowing the grape juice to sit in the white grape skins and seeds for a time. It creates a fuller bodied, more robust wine with an orange hue which is wonderful with the pasta dish. With the secondo, I have a Rosato (Rosé) from the Primitivo grape – delicate and fruity, this is probably my favourite of the wines served and could really be served with anything. I am not generally a fan of dessert wines but the Aglianico based one here is a revelation – I may be a little drunk by this stage but I love it.
Being in the often overlooked region of Basilicata in Southern Italy, you may expect that communication might be difficult but that is not the case here. All of the staff have excellent English and are helpful, chatty and full of knowledge. The service was exceptional all evening with great care and attention being taken over every detail. The menu is a steal at €60pp for the 6 course “Sea” tasting menu (the “Earth” tasting menu is €55pp for 6 courses) while the 4 glasses of paired wines will set you back another €20pp representing excellent value.
We left, me somewhat tipsy from 4 glasses of vino and meandered our way back through the beautiful Sassi.
Very Highly Recommended
La Dispensa di Aquatio
Sasso Caveoso 75100
+39 0835 189 10 14