ONE of many astonishing aspects to Il Stanzie is the seeming lack of international gastro tourists. Even my almost local Italian friends had not heard about it. It is if you like the perfectly formed restaurant untouched by social media or foodism, still operating in the same vein as it has for decades supported by local Salentians, the prices still tuned to the region. We ate and drank for £15 or so, a meal and a restaurant that should by rights feature in the World’s 50 Best. I won’t say Michelin three stars because it is essentially at its core not a Michelin restaurant, not French at all but an Italian counterpoint.
Everything on the menu – there is no menu – is grown within a few hectares of the old masseria. The flower beds are full of fennel, cabbages, salad leaves, carrots, of beans, only the vines are a few kilometres away in Supersano. The walls are festooned with flowers. At heart it is about the produce in a way matched only by the very best restaurants in Japan.
The celery is pungent, virile, firm enough to play ping pong with, the fennel is sweet and fragrant enough to be served as it is by way of desert. The apricots literally blush.
But this is no backroom trattoria but a grand scale manorial building, a network of stone and brick rooms that you could set a movie in about the crusaders.
For me it is a political statement, a living example of how the countryside can be revived and operated through the good auspices of a central restaurant kitchen. It is not a chef restaurant in the modern sense but a system that has been fostered in parallel to make the best use of the produce from the garden. The staff share a sense of the kind of hospitality that comes as second nature around here. You are not as such even eating a meal as sharing an evening or a lunch (in the walled garden would be magnificent). Food and drink are equal parties to the sense of space and time and horticulture. You will, or we did, struggle with the quantities but that is the generosity of the project, which sets out to display before you the very best examples of the regional gastronomica.
You are greeted not with a tray of cocktail party style white wine fizz, but a man tending his amphore pot in which is settling a black bean stew. Behind him the giant grate is ablaze with logs. He serves you just a little hand sized bowl and a spoon. You are are reminded (or I am) that this is what people ate, what they survived on, what a passing traveller might have been given if they had happened upon the building by chance and begged for shelter. Be informed.
Then you go to a table laid with a cloth, a Christmas style basket of dried flowers and candle, knife and fork, two clean plates, two clean glasses. Water comes in a jug, white wine comes in a jug, rose comes in a jug, red wine comes in a jug, all left on the table to serve yourself.
The format as you might expect is anti-pasta, pasta, meat, dolce. The first things to arrive are a whole celery and a basket of sourdough corn bread wrapped in a patterned tea towel. And then the procession begins: three pieces of fresh white cheese with rocket, slices of undressed baked beetroot, a salad of cannellini beans, a bowl of fava bean pureee with three toasted fingers of bread to dip, a plate of wilted chicory with oil, these last two being the emblem of the local cooking, the perfect foil for each other, another bowl of their own ricotta, a bowl of caponata.
There is a short pause before the fried things arrive, a bowl of fifteen or so deep fried dough balls seasoned with dried herbs, a fritto misto of vegetables, two kinds of fried focaccia, one tomato oriented the other herb and potato. I may have missed something but you get the picture, the table is covered.
Everything is taken away for the pasta course which is preceded by a bowl of freshly grated aged ricotta, which like the vegetables is the supremest example of its kind. Today there are two pastas, the long thin cavatelli which was traditionally served with a horsemeat ragu but here just with a tomato sauce, and a variation on orecchiette, this with aubergines and herbs. If you have not been working in the fields since 5am you may want to ease off…
Meat is the main course grilled cooked on that huge bonfire you saw on the way in, served in the greenest and crispest of salads leaves.
Finally there are two more plates. The first is of apricots, fennel, cucumber, melon and a courgette flower. The second is little squares of pastry, one with marmalade, one with chocolate.
You might think I am fantasising this ( I have a witness) but no. I am not particularly anxious that you treat this review as an invitation to get on a plane to Brindisi. I would worry you might spoil it. I just want you to know that such places do exist. That if you might want to change the world, the countryside, the over-inflated culture of food, halt the fast food globalisation, then this is how it can be done. And this what you get. And is worth the effort.
The web site has a beautiful video to boot…not that it will help you to find the place. It is not in Supersano at all but down the strada provincial which has very few road signs…turn left, up the hill…the Sombrero next door has rooms, including a magnificent first floor wedding room with balcony.
Le Stanzie, strada provinciale 362, cutrofiano – supersano, puglia
Tel. +39 0833.632438 firstname.lastname@example.org