Sunday, 25 February 2018

JUST JULIA TRIES: Da Vinci: Review (Aberdeen)

We're extremely lucky in Aberdeen to have such a thriving array of independent Italian restaurants, so if you're new to the scene, then it's advised you arrive with your A-game.

Bringing influences from the region of Tuscany, the owners of Da Vinci  Ristorante Italiano are keen to offer up something different to customers to bring another taste of Italy to the city.

So when one of the owners, Elena invited me along to try out their menu a few weeks ago I couldn't resist. I hadn't been in the restaurant which is located on Alford lane close to my house, and having formally been Cue BBQ/The Courtyard, I was excited to see what they had done with the place.

On entering, the restaurant hadn't undertaken the grand re-design I had envisioned but had however added some homely touches to the place, putting up new pictures and adding ornaments around the dining room. Bringing my other half with me, we were greeted by the lovely Elena and shown to our seats. 

The restaurant had a cosy feel to it, and there were quite a few diners in enjoying the food which is always a good sign, especially in January. Not opting for wine, we ordered some soft drinks and water and turned our attention to the menu.

Having recommended the penne Da Vinci's I was between that and the tagliatelle ai funghi porcini e tartufo pasta for mains. Both sounded delicious.

Calum was eyeing up the Selezione di salumi e formaggi Italiani (Italian meats and cheese board) for his starter and was interested in trying out the lamb chops. Having not had them in ages, I had to agree - more so I could get a taste too.
The cold cut Italian meats and cheese board boasted an abundance of different meats and a good selection of cheeses. Elena had brought us bread for the table, so Calum used this to create small mini open sandwiches with the warm, homemade bread.

There were six types of meats with three different kinds of cheese on the board. We could identify prosciutto, chorizo, salami, serrano, but the other two escaped me. The prosciutto was delicious with a slight saltiness to it, and the tangy chorizo was thinly sliced and packed with bold flavours. The cheeses were much more pungent and hard, and all three boasted real nutty flavours to them. Although the cheeses were harder, they were beautifully creamy and melted in your mouth. As well as marrying them up with the meats, Calum also dipped his constructed mini open sandwiches into the homemade olive oil which was incredible. 

Made with Tuscan olives, the homemade olive oil was strong on the nose and had a stunning colour to it. The oil had just been made fresh that day and you could definitely taste that it was homemade. I must admit it was probably one of the best additions to the meal and I'd highly recommend trying it out when you visit.

I had decided to try out the Crostini Toscani - canapès garnished with homemade chicken liver patè served with caramelised onion and balsamic vinegar. I really enjoy dishes like this to start and with five small, light canapes instead of something a little heavier, I knew I'd have plenty of space for the filling pasta. The patè itself was nice and rich, and there was plenty of it on the crispy bread. The caramelised onion was scrumptious and added a beautiful sweet taste to the dish. Not to mention it complimented the savoury tastes of the patè.

I hadn't had pate in a while and I always love ordering dishes like this at Italian restaurants. The one thing about this dish that intrigued me was the amount of balsamic vinegar used. But to be honest it was great the way it came. I really enjoyed this starter and I feel it was a good choice for me.
Looking forward to mains the most, we were both very happy with our choices, and we felt it showcased both sides of the menu - both the pasta and the meat offering.

On arrival, I was delighted with the dish that was placed in front of me. The pasta looked incredible and the big bowl was full of it. It wasn't until I looked at Calum's plate that I figured I'd probably have to share...

Calum had ordered the Carrè d'agnello fritto in crosta di pistachio servito con patate arrosto, insalata e salsa allo yogurt e menta. For those of you who don't speak Italian, that's the fried lamb chops with pistachio crust, served with roast potatoes, green salad and a yoghurt and mint sauce. 

It sounded absolutely fantastic and it looked great when placed in front of him, but it wasn't until Calum started devouring the lamb chops that he realised how little meat was on them. And for a guy who enjoys his meat, that wasn't what he was expecting for a dish that was priced at £18. The pistachio crust seemed a little over-cooked but tasted really nice and went well with the creamy yoghurt and mint sauce. The lack of meat on the bone had disheartened Calum, and it was clear to me I wasn't getting a look in. The meat was tender, but it was gone in minutes. The roast potatoes were cooked very well and he enjoyed them a lot, but he didn't really enjoy the salad leaves which were very dry.
I, in the end, had decided to go with Elena's recommendation of the penne Da Vinci's. The penne pasta was served in a tasty tomato sauce made with capers and garlic, and was seasoned with salted ricotta and topped with fresh chopped basil. 

The pasta sauce was fabulous and beautifully rich. There was a nice balance of tomato and garlic, and I very much enjoyed the slightly salty ricotta cheese which had been grated over the pasta. I don't ever tend to really eat my pasta too al dente, but for my liking, it was a little undercooked and was still quite hard. Hungry as I was, I didn't want to make a fuss so tucked in. The dish was massive and I couldn't finish it off. If anything I maybe would have liked to have seen a few cherry tomatoes throughout the dish to give it a different texture to it, but the sauce the pasta was cooked in was sublime and I can see why it's one of their best sellers.
Turning to dessert, I needed no convincing, although Calum was a little hesitant. After a wee while contemplating, I finally managed to get him on board and we ordered our desserts.

I'd seen a few flying out of the kitchen whilst we were eating, and I knew exactly which one I was going to order. A short wait later (and a prime time for me to take a few pictures of Calum without him knowing), our desserts arrived.
Calum ordered the Pan di Spagna con crema di mascarpone e fragole - a sponge cake with mascarpone cheese topped with fresh strawberries. The cake was incredibly soft and was exactly what Calum needed to perk him up again. Full of creamy mascarpone, it was lovely and light and suited his palette perfectly. The strawberries were nice and sweet and brought a nice boost of fruitiness to the dish. All components of the cake blended beautifully together and I could see by the smile on Calum's face that he was a happy man.

For me, I was looking for something really sweet and indulgent and having spied a chocolate dessert, I was sold. I tried out the Mousse di cioccolato e lampone - a very rich, and very delicious chocolate mousse with raspberry jam. The chocolate mousse was absolutely phenomenal and probably my favourite dish of the night. It was rich, light, creamy, and everything you would want out of a chocolate dessert. I savoured every minute of it and ate the whole thing. The raspberry jam on top of it was a nice addition, but to be honest, the chocolate mousse itself was the highlight and main focus of this dish. 

As our dining experience came to an end, I reflected on our time at Da Vinci's. The restaurant very much plays homage to Tuscany and Italy and the menu boasts a real differentiation of Italian dishes with something for everyone on it. The food, in general, was good, and I'm not going to let one or two wee mishaps stop me from returning to the restaurant.

The service was great and Da Vinci's had a great atmosphere about it that night so I can imagine it would be even better when it's full on the weekends. I'm very much looking forward to returning for that tagliatelle ai funghi porcini e tartufo.

  For Now...

Just Julia

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