Take a trip down Easter Road to number 139, only a short walk across from Leith Walk. Step inside this tiny wee Trattoria serving italian food of the highest quality.
A Gourmet Journey around Italy at Al Dente
Reviewed by Vivien Devlin
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 - 6:18pm
Edinburgh is stuffed full of friendly, fun, cheap and cheerful pizzerias and trattorias. Al Dente may be small and casual in style, but creates seriously sophisticated, regional dishes worthy of a more expensive, upmarket restaurant.
From a tasty selection of antipasti dishes, e.g. Baked figs with Parma ham, my dining companion selected Tortino, a smoked Apulia cheese and fennel pie, which was eaten in a flash. My Bruschetta was simple but so tasty with four different toppings: white bean, garlic mushroom, mozzarella and tomato.
The Pasta course here can be taken as a starter, an intermediate or a small main course. A speciality is Paccheri al Brazino, home-made pasta tubes stuffed with Seabass puree, smothered in mussels, prawns and seafood sauce. This was simply divine. Alternatively, try the Venetian dish, Risotto with squid ink, or classic Lasagna from Bologna. You really can dine around the cities of Italy here.
Main courses may include Lamb cooked in crusty bread with roast potatoes, a speciality from Rome. Also seasonal dishes and daily blackboard specials such as Patridge, Rabbit, Chicken with quail and asparagus and fresh Fish from the market.
For those with a sweet tooth you will be in heaven: Profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce, Lemoncello Gelati, Poached Pear in red wine.
Talking of wine, the list is very well priced. We enjoyed a glass of Prosecco to start as an aperitif and then slowly sipped a smooth cherryish Merlot with our superb dinner.
Every month or so a special Banquet evening features a selected Region – Puglia, Lombardy, Piedmont - to showcase a Tasting menu of fine Italian food with matched wine. These are very popular events so reserve a table in good time.
"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Federico Fellini
Visit Al Dente for perfect pasta, fish and meat - and a magical foodie experience.
Small but dedicated restaurant serving the finest in Italian food.
Reviewed by Euan Andrews
Saturday, February 5, 2011 - 9:03pm
It’s a few short days before Christmas and the snow lies thick on the ground.
Not exactly deep and crisp and even, more tightly compacted and potentially lethal. I find myself at the midway point of Easter Road, whereupon that boulevard disintegrates into a wasteland of dodgy boozers and boarded up shop fronts. We’re here tonight to visit some culinary highlights of Italy’s Lombardy region, courtesy of Al Dente.
Translated as “on the tooth”, al dente is now a familiar term to any food aficionado as the perfect firm texture of freshly cooked pasta. It suits this Italian restaurant well, as Al Dente specialises in pure, genuine Italian cuisine. Come here expecting the bog standard pasta sauces and pizza toppings that the average trattoria might serve up and you’ll be sorely and hopefully happily disappointed. No spag bol here!
Once a month, Al Dente hosts a tasting menu specialising in the food from a specific Italian region. It’s an event which has been running for two years now, and aims to introduce serious gastronauts to real Italian dishes as well as helping to develop future menu ideas for Al Dente. Our host for the evening is owner Graziano Spano, an effusively warm and welcoming presence. Graziano is clearly passionate about serving up a real Italian restaurant experience and he has obvious admirers tonight. Most of the tables in this small but snug restaurant are taken up by loyal customers who clearly make this night a regular monthly appointment.
We are ushered in with a glass of prosecco and canapés of blinis with salmon and cream cheese, while Graziano ensures everyone is present and correct, holding off serving the first course due to some late arrivals. It feels more like being in a private dining room than restaurant. Reading notes about the Lombardy region are handed out to each table, while Graziano introduces each course in detail along with the wine he has chosen to go with it.
First up is the busseca, a thick soup made up of slowly cooked tripe with ox tail and borlotti beans. It has a deep, intense flavour, perfect sustenance for the freezing temperatures outside, and is well complemented by the light rose wine served alongside. The second course is gnocchi ripieni al gorgonzola. This is potato gnocchi stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and cooked with cream and champignon. It’s the only dish tonight which doesn’t quite hit the mark, not through any fault of its own. Served up in its own right, this would make a fine and robust lunch but, in amongst everything else on offer tonight, a lighter pasta course may have been more appropriate. It’s still a rich creamy dish, although the gnocchi seem slightly too doughy and not enough burst open in the mouth to release the oozing cheese.
The third course is the grandstanding highlight of the evening, the Milanese speciality of ossobuco. Veal shanks have been braised in a vegetable and white wine broth before being served over a saffron and parmesan risotto. There is no word for it other than stunning. The risotto is of a perfect consistency and the mighty veal portion nestling atop is meltingly sweet. Graziano advises us all to be sure to winkle out the bone marrow, though little exhortation is needed to savour the meaty jelly.
Three courses down and, it must be said, my usually infallible appetite/greed is flagging somewhat. It is finally defeated by the superb dessert of panettone farcito. This Christmas cake from Milan is stuffed with cream, coated with chocolate and served on zabayon cream. Despite the rich flavours, it’s surprisingly light of texture and makes for a perfectly seasonal pudding. But I am finally defeated, and am unable to finish the huge portion lest my trouser buttons finally burst. My fellow diners enjoy no such qualms and eagerly clear their plates.
I feel fully sated, as well as having a renewed appreciation for the true principals of Italian food. No other global cuisine has been so reduced to staple filler items, whether through second rate pizza chains or supermarket ready meals. Graziano is to be congratulated in his determination to display the true culinary fare offered by his home country. £48.00 for one of his theme nights may not seem cheap, but remember it includes the various drinks as well as an excellent feast of food and educated introductions from the host. Put all that together and it starts to resemble a bargain. Possibly the best Italian restaurant in Edinburgh? If you know of any better, then please post your comments below.