Monday, July 4, 2011

A taste of Sardinia, Italy: Pilu at Freshwater

A little under the (alcohol-induced) weather, nothing sounded better than a hour car trip to feast by the sea – except maybe a sleep-in. Or hot French fries. Or not drinking so much the night before.

Inside Pilu at Freshwater, Moore Road, Freshwater
We were heading over the bridge to (not quite Sardinia, but may as well have been given my state) lunch at the two-hatted Pilu at Freshwater right on the beach.

As a large island in the Mediterranean Sea, west of the main ‘boot’ of Italy, the autonomous region of Sardinia is known for seafood, rustic roast meats and the impossibly thin crisp bread carta di musica.

Bread and carta di musica
Here, the ‘sheet music’ is scented with rosemary, olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. It is simply delicious although almost like eating nothing but gorgeous flavours.

It’s a tantalising a la carte menu, but we’re sold on the Taste of Sardinia degustation menu that promises roasted suckling pig as one of the dishes, although sadly I was in no state for the matching Sardinian wines.

Arancini of golden beetroot and provolone
To start, we each receive a small arancini ball of creamy yellow rice, provolone cheese and golden beetroot – the latter which I couldn’t see nor taste. It was a surprisingly rich starter given the ubiquitousness of tomato teas/consommés and other soupy amuse bouches.

Scampi con burro alla polpa di ricci – grilled scampi with sea urchin butter
The first dish of the degustation was scampi – another key selling point of the tasting menu for me. Three halves of the crustacean appear on each plate with a healthy drizzle of sea urchin butter, which is creamy and sweet in that fresh seafood way.

Grilled scampi with sea urchin butter
The precious small amounts of white flesh come from the shell easily, and are a tad mushy although this doesn’t detract from the sweet flavour of scampi at all. I use bits of bread to dab within the shells, just to get every last bit of scampi and butter from the shell and head.

Culurzones con burro, salvia e salsa di tartufo – ravioli of potato, mint and pecorino
with burnt butter, sage and black truffle
I hadn’t expected to really like the Sardinian potato ‘ravioli’ given the carbs-on-carbs idea, but this turned out to be the dish of the day.

Looking more like gorgeous pasties standing tall than your regular flat parcel ravioli, the culurzones of delicately-pleated thin egg pasta contained a smooth blend of potato, pecorino and just a touch of mint, served with crispy sage leaves and more freshly grated pecorino on top.

These parcels were probably light on their own but divinely rich with the sauce of burnt butter, sage and black truffle shavings. Each mouthful was a moan-inducing moment of pure bliss, making this the dish that was on my mind all night.

Fregola risottata – fregola with tomato and cured meat ragu
Fregola is a Sardinian pasta of thick, small rounds; almost like large, circular pills. This particular dish is cooked in the style of risotto, with a ragu of tomato and mixed cured meats.

The pasta is rather cute and retains a nice chewiness, while the acidity of the tomato has its work cut out with the strong flavours from the diced cured meats, as well as the liberal amounts of butter from the prior two dishes.

Alternative fregola risottata with wild boar ragu
An alternative fregola dish was also provided for one diner in the way of a wild boar ragu; a savoury stew-like sauce of tender, meaty pieces.

I actually preferred the lighter tomato ragu and eventually managed to get every single piece of pasta, difficult as it was in the end with a fork.

Sorbetto di arance e olive disidratate – orange sorbet with dehydrated olive
The palate cleanser signalled the end of the entrée-like dishes with dramatic efficiency. Designer silver spoons on a rectangular slate plate held the most perfect quenelle scoop of orange sorbet – a subtle, none-to-sweet one – with a sprinkle of dehydrated black olive crumbs.

Very cool dehydrated olive bits
The saltiness from the olives was actually the highlight, refreshing the mind as well as the palate with its creativeness.

With service on the slower side of things, albeit professional, it had already been a couple of hours – and those of us who’d skipped breakfast were willing the dishes to come out faster.

Filetto di snapper alla Vernaccia di Oristano e olive Verdi – snapper fillet
with Vernaccia and green olives
The first impression as the golden browned snapper fillets landed on the table was that I totally scored on the olive front, while some across from me languished with only two pieces of the vividly green olive cheeks.

The olives were a surprisingly good match with the crisp skinned fish; the slightly tart and salty punch just the thing with the mild snapper. The light sauce of Vernaccia di Oristano, a Sardinian sherry-like wine, tied it all together, making this a definite contender for second favourite dish of the day.

Porcetto arrosto – oven-roasted suckling pig, served on the bone with condiments
I could smell the oven-roasted suckling pig a good 10 minutes before it came to our table, probably just after chef and owner Giovanni Pilu came around the dining room for a chat.

For seven of us, the pork on the bone arrived on two quirky, rocking cork platters – one served to our individual plates featuring condiments of candied orange peel, stewed apple slices and a minty pesto.

Oven roasted suckling pig, served on the bone with condiments
The crackling was great – a salty mouthful of crunchy pork skin; all that it should be. I found the huge, meaty hunks of pork a little on the dry side that would have been helped along with a sauce.

I’m not sure what part of the pig we received, but it was certainly a lean section, with some two-toned parts of flesh leading me to think that it was the shoulder.

Sadly though, I think my palate for roast pork will forever be spoilt by the gorgeous, juicy, shiny-skinned suckling pig at Porteño, which I doubt will ever find a match to its perfection.

Rosemary roasted potatoes
The potatoes, though, were fabulous: crunchy-skinned with a natural sweetness and fragrance of rosemary, brought out with the help of lots of sea salt.

After the long, unhurried service of the previous four dishes, most of us found it difficult to head back for seconds of the pork when 4pm was nearing. And, of course, wanting to leave some room for dessert and the evocatively-listed ‘optional extra’ cheese course. Since when was cheese optional?

Zippulas – Sardinian saffron donuts filled with cherries,
served with ‘
fior di latte’ sheep’s milk gelato
Dessert was a couple of sugar-dusted donut balls, filled with a sweet cherry. The bright yellow saffron dough was unexpectedly chewy to manage with the fork and spoon, while the extra jam squiggles were appreciated for the extra sweetness.

The sheep’s milk gelato was not to everyone’s taste, though I loved the tart, yoghurt-like flavour and combination with the slightly warm, sweet donut.

Peretta Sarda con pan brioche e miele di millefiori – Roasted Peretta cheese
with ‘
millefiori’ honey and warm brioche
The majority of us went for the cheese course, and I was sure glad I did. The Sardinian Peretta cheese is, I believe, a cow’s milk cheese; here it seems, pan-roasted on both sides for the exquisite, tanned gold colour that only comes from toasted cheese.

Stringy, quite mild and just a tad creamy, I think I would have preferred crackers (or more carta di musica) over the buttery brioche. The dried grapes were the perfect sweet antidote, along with just a smidgen of honey with each bite.

Cafe latte
Coffees couldn't come sooner for some, although by this (evening) time, the hangover had subsided and a gluttonous laziness was setting in. A pillow and a doona would have been nice, but the latte and my macchiato were just as good.

Petit fours - (from left) lavender bread, white wine marshmallows,
and almond and pistachio torrone
The slate of petit fours had some scoffed for the sake of getting it all over with. It was a pretty big meal and I was sure glad I wasn't wearing skin tight jeans. The buttery circle of lavender bread was certainly floral, with a velvety shortbread texture.

The triangles of marshmallow were good fun; with quite the strong scent of (unidentified) white wine although little in the actual taste. My favourite was the torrone, a gooey block of nougat studded with crunchy almonds and pistachios. The slight contrasting salt of the latter was a wonderful flavour note to end on.

A painting I could not stop staring at in the restaurant
Nearing 5.30pm and gorged from lunch, it was all too pleasant an experience to be leaving, especially when the other option was returning out into the cold night and the Military Road traffic to get back home.

On the positive side, I had ravioli and roasted cheese to dream of, and an overall awesome (let’s face it) day at Pilu at Freshwater. Nothing quite like a four-hour taste of Sardinia lunch to deal with seediness. Hangover, what hangover?

Pilu at Freshwater on Urbanspoon


Dumpling Girl said...

Lovely shots, Tina. Been wanting to go to Pilu for ages, but now I am more motivated tham ever. You had me at the bread basket :)

chocolatesuze said...

hahaha damn right cheese is never optional! hot damn that brioche looks amazeballs!

joey@FoodiePop said...

Wow, a four hour lunch! I'm not sure I can stay awake that long! LOL. That suckling pig is making me drool ....

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I love four hour lunches! Why can't every one be like that?

Joseph- Up For A Feed said...

I love the look of those scampi!! I feel like some now :)

Adrian (Food Rehab) said...

Gosh, even the bread looks great. But the scampi tops the cake on this one!

Richard Elliot said...

I had the degustation menu at Pilu last year. The menu seems to have changed completely (apart from the suckling pig), which is good to see.

I enjoyed my afternoon there, but I was perhaps expecting a little bit more from a two hatted restaurant.

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

Seriously, this is the first time in a long time that I've been inspired by an entire menu!

PS I see someone has been enjoying the boozin'... ;)

Tina said...

Hi Dumpling Girl - Not at "hello"? :D

Hi suze - The cheese was completely awesome!

Hi joey - Oh you must do it! And that's what the macchiato at the end is for ;)

Hi Lorraine - Definitely, though not sure how productive we'd all be...

Hi Joseph - I could go some too...!

Hi Adrian - Yup. But honestly, the curlurzone even topped that!

hi Richard - Refreshed menu is good. I think I was really taken by the scenerry - and company too (hangover aside...)

Hi Corinne - Enjoying it a little too much, perhaps...

Gianna@TheEmptyFridge said...

Ohh that crackling wold be enough to get me out of bed whatever state I was in!

Absolutely love pilu - you definitely lose track of time in those elegant surrounds.

Tina said...

Hi Gianna - Pork crackling and the beach are surefirehangover cures..!

Ramen Raff said...

Wow! the roast suckling pig (one of my weaknesses) looks extra awesome!

Tina said...

Hi Raneb Raff - This pork had the looks but couldn't match it with taste, sadly.


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