Parlor, Via Cartoleria, 12a, 40124 Bologna BO, Italy
It may be roughly 1 million degrees at 9pm in Bologna, but I'd walk over coals for these plates
Through the uplit terracotta hues of Bologna’s many side streets, Andrea leads us with fervour to Parlor ,one of his favourite places in the city. Tall, stoic and with a giggle of a Teletubby, he’s not a man that does things by halves and by his own volition, has tasked himself with orchestrating something memorable.
With the wine list in one hand and a WhatsApp conversation with his sommelier friend in the other, Andrea is deliberating over the first bottle. After conferring with the equally impressed owner, they settle on one to which I’ve done a disservice in not remembering, as an amuse bouche of mortadella mousse in the shortest of pastry baskets arrives.
The sheer amount of butter causes the thing to dissolve only slightly behind the mortadella- creating an almost Buck Rogers in the 21st century take on ham and crackers. If I could make these, I would never leave the house. Textures of carbs come to us in a box, too; sliced bread, fennel-studded taralli and platted grissini which I just can’t seem to say no to.
Cantabrian anchovies are served in their tin, ensuring maximum oil retention as well as showing the KP some mercy. With a round of flaxen toast on the side, there’s a swirl of buffalo milk butter that resembles ceramic soft-serve; as creamy as whole milk but whipped to give the illusion that it’s not contributing so heavily to the overall calorie count. As if I cared to begin with.
The slow-cooked egg in yoghurty squacquerone cheese is adorned with beetroot three ways; carpaccio lurking in the depths, aerated and powdered. Enriched with the yolk, it’s reminiscent of Cilbir eggs but is instead almost a savoury dessert with the way it highlights the beetroot’s earthy sugars.
Whole cuttlefish, pearly and lithe, kissed with caramelisation. Draped in cream of pea sauce that’s G.I. Joe green with volcanic dehydrated ink that’s snapped over the plate, it’s of understated complexity. A range of textures that are just restrained enough to keep the focus on the cuttlefish, as it should be.
As a rite of passage, the first pasta dish is, of course, Bolognese. Taut, plumped ribbons of tagliatelle have the ragu clinging to it for all its sticky worth and it’s been so slowly cooked for so long, that the soffritto is almost indistinguishable from the pork and beef mince.
Nigella says there’s a pasta type for every mood- but there’s nothing quite like discovering a new type to archive for later designation. Made from breadcrumbs, egg and parmesan Passatelliare- knobbly like Nik-Naks but strict in size and uniformity. Coated in an emulsion of the chicken stock pasta water and pecorino, there’s enough of a cwtch to it to have it served as is, but this one is loaded to with- albeit unappealingly named- ‘crab pulp’. Every day we stray further from God’s intention of surf n’ turf and I’m here for it. Popping with tender broad beans and dressed with an oil made from the pods, the dish is so crabby, that it almost plays the role of algae.
Helix’s of courgette scapece litter the plate, the flower generously stuffed with sweet, chubby prawns that have been seasoned with bluefin tuna roe. Pockets of bergamot gel shine beneath offering bitter astringency that would usually be left up to a lemon- it’s a thoughtful side-stepping of usual expectations.
In a lucky mix-up, the ‘farmyard ragout’ comes to us. Smouldering with smoked fennel and freckled with bittersweet with burnt lemon ash; despite these being common extras to pork’s performance, the ragout is launched into another dimension altogether. The maccheroncini, like all the pasta here, is textbook al dente which reminds you of your first ecstasy experience with all those entry-level philosophical thoughts of ‘why can’t things always be like this?’ as you attempt to eat your own eyelids.
Peering into the kitchen, it’s absolute professionalism- no yelling, the slight clatter of a fresh pan hitting the stove all whilst that virtually silent choreography of cooks in service plays out. Each of them makes up a limb of a precise and intelligent creature headed by the chef at the pass who looks across his brigade like Sharpe to his Rifles- a steely eye that’s calm with the confidence in their abilities.
The desserts are tempting but the pull of gelato is too much- and Andrea knows just the place. A refuge from the heat for old-timers and a social event for anyone younger, ‘Gelato at La Sorbetteria Castiglione’ has what we need: pistachio that’s off-green, speckled with the nut and salted caramel that I just feel is one of the finest accompaniments. Andreas orders the same and I feel a smugness surge through my roasted body because it’s still around boiling-point here at midnight. The smugness that only an Englishman can feel when an Italian copies his culinary choices. My Editor opts for her favourite of Bacio- almost sombre in its darkness, save for the mirror-like sheen it boasts. Fuzzy with dutch courage and at the peak of a sugar rush, we mount electric bikes and undertake buses all the way back to the hotel.