The cave of Raselli is run by a Spanish British chef Franco Spadaccini and his Italian wife. They have a reputation for pushing the barriers of the cuisine of Abruzzo by contemporizing regional recipes yet maintaining a strong base in tradition. The chef commits to sourcing quality ingredients locally and works with local artisans, farmers and foragers to source the best of the best. (Which really is not that hard to do considering Abruzzo and its vast biodiversity has a reputation for some of the highest quality ingredients in the country.)
Our waiter, Daniele, guides us to the “cave” at the back. Booking a table ahead we were able to secure what we consider the best seat in the house. The restaurant backs into a natural cave so the tail end of the setting is literally inside the opening. There’s just enough room for four tables for two (these can also be pushed together to make a four) and its lined with wine bottles from the surrounding vineyards.
Abruzzo Wine at La Grotta dei Raselli
Wine is our first order and Castello di Semivicoli Rosso Terre Aquilane 2015 is our wine of choice. Its versatility takes us through the meal from start to finish: its fruity full body and spicy ending go well with the diversity of our orders. The blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and Montepulciano comes from the province of L’Aquila in Ofena. This place is called the “oven of Abruzzo” because of the vast differences in temperature – very warm during the day and very cool in the evening, which stresses the grape just enough to bring out the best.
As we settle and discuss the wine region, chilled gazpacho rich in tomato, roughly blended and finished off with fresh basil is presented as an amuse bouche. Its rusticity lends well to the setting.
La Grotta dei Raselli Starters
The special of the day (EUR 12), raw mushroom salad, appeals to my taste buds. It features thickly shredded local wild mushrooms and local pecorino cheese. The mushrooms arrived this afternoon freshly foraged from the mountains; lucky for me it’s the season. Arugula is lightly woven throughout and there’s a simple drizzle of tangy lemon and olive oil on top allowing the flavours of the fresh produce to be the stars.
Tartar of codfish (EUR 12) is also irresistible with the essence of yuzu along with orange and lemon peel grated finely adding zing to the fish and fried fennel seeds, coffee oil and dried coriander providing layers of complexity. Rocket and quartered cherry tomatoes bed the dish with vibrancy. Chef Kasper from Denmark, reveals some of the secret in the preparation of the crispy codfish skin gifting texture to the top, “it’s cleaned and dried for 24 hours and then it’s fried,” – quite a bit of an investment in time for something that disappears so quickly – so quickly that we ask for another bowl 😉
Stuffed anchovies (EUR 12), I learn, are a huge trouble to make. The chefs get them fresh then behead and despine them before stuffing them with parsley and house-made bread, and then coat them with a crispy crumb of quinoa. Cream of fermented black garlic with squid ink and red pepper of Altino is dried and made into the sauce that is dotted around the plate furnishing both moisture and additional relish. The fruit and spice in our red blend wine go well with the seafood.
Gnocchi (EUR 10) with olives and Amatriciana sauce is, of course, made in-house. The gnocchi is flavourful enough to eat on their own with black olive pieces mixed through. But, then, the pancetta in the Amatriciana sauce adds another layer of savoury. Lastly, plump tiny shrimp and bottarga (dried fish egg paste) thicken the sauce and give a taste of the sea. It’s rustic and again the fruit and spice in the wine match nicely with this rich seafood dish.
Mains Menu La Grotta dei Raselli
Barbecued lamb from Maeiella (EUR 15) is predictably hubby’s choice. It’s seasoned with Montepulciano salt and charred succulently from the grill. Eight chops are lined up on a black slate plate, a very generous portion – we are in Abruzzo! Roasted potatoes with herbs and mountain greens (of the like I’ve never come across before but indeed am happy to make their acquaintance) side the dish. The spicy finish in the Rosso Terre Aquilane cuts through the richness of the lamb and this is where the wine really shows its character.
Seppia squid (EUR 15) from the Adriatic Sea sits as the centrepiece of the plate in our final main. It’s filled with grated mushrooms, handsomely covered with local truffles (that literally arrived at the restaurant three hours before dinner) and moated with a cream of Parmesan. The squid is tender and moist showcasing the skill of the chefs in preparing a dish that can otherwise quickly turn rubbery.
Dessert at La Grotta dei Raselli
Fantasia di Dolci (EUR 6) allows us to try four small portions of dessert on one plate. Cheesecake with berries; vanilla and amaretto mousse; tiramisu; and mango and cream. It’s the spring passion (EUR 6) though, that is our most-loved. Gelato made from goats’ milk and yoghurt has a delicious tang to it while a crumble of cacao and strawberry slices enhance both the flavours and contrast the textures.
A tray of small bites completes our meal: caramelized ginger; almond biscotti; butter biscuits; chocolate brownie; and a spiced soft almond biscuit coated in chocolate. Of course, they’re all hand-made in-house and all good, but if I had to choose one (I don’t know why anyone would but I can play the game), I’d go for the caramelized ginger. It’s thinly sliced and caramelized until crunchy, with the sweetness balancing out the sharp spice of the root.
Our digestive, also homemade, but this time by chef’s dad, Saverio, is limoncello (made with the skin of lemons) and genziana (made from the root of a mountain herb). The former see-saws between sweet and sour and the latter is fiercely bitter and earthy.
Reasons to visit: a contemporary take on traditional recipes from Abruzzo; the best of local ingredients delivered daily; excellent wine selection – must-tries are the selection from Masciarelli; great setting – the best seats are in the “cave” at the back.
Ristorante La Grotta dei Raselli
Loc.ta Camino – Via Raselli
66016 Guardiagrele (Ch)
0871 808 292
Ristorante La Grotta dei Raselli Opening Hours:
Thursday – Monday: lunch and dinner
Tuesday: lunch only