Restaurant Review - La Lanterna

La Lanterna is not your typical Italian restaurant... but don't take our word for it. It has received critical acclaim from restaurant critics.

Matthew Norman - The Telegraph

La Lanterna is a deeply splendid restaurant on several fronts, one of which is its seductive time-warp aura. With the brown carpet, hanging brass lanterns and trolley for the table-side flaming of steaks, it offers a Tardis ride back to the mid-Seventies. It opened in that era, although its present owner Giorgio Alessio did not take the reins until 1997; and there in spirit it resolutely remains.

Another attraction is a location rendered surreally incongruous by the seriousness of food and service (the waiting staff wear gleaming white jackets, as at the Cipriani in Venice). In a seaside town of long-decayed grandeur, La Lanterna stands in a back street, set among Victorian terrace houses, bang opposite a lively pub. The double glazing is so flawless that, until I went to the car to fetch my wallet, there was no aural hint that three spirited drunks were deafeningly engaged in a football chant-off outside the Black Swan, a scant 10 yards from our table.

But the truly magnetic draw, from however great a distance, is Giorgio Alessio’s cooking. As hinted by its lavish array of truffle dishes (sadly unavailable at this time of year), the menu is proudly regional. “It’s very Piedmontese,” observed my cousin Nick with the authority of one who lived in Turin for almost a decade. “My husband is from Piedmont,” confirmed Rachael Alessio as she decanted a bottle of barolo, the luscious Piedmontese red. I asked if she had watched The Trip – To Italy with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. “Why would I?” Because it’s funny and charming, and, erm, partly set in Piedmont. “I’m married to the real thing,” she said dismissively, “so there’d be no point.” Italian passion and no-nonsense Yorkshire grit: could there be a more winning combination?

There could, as it happened, and it came in the form of risotto with porcini mushrooms. “Oh my giddy aunt,” I heard myself exclaim at the first taste, before the Meg Ryan oohing and aahing ensued. Such was the depth, clarity and intensity of flavour that within three mouthfuls I was calculating how much barolo would be needed for the Dutch courage to order it again as a pudding. Fear of the breathalyser trumped my greed, but it was a mighty close call. “That is unbelievably good,” said Nick of his spoonful. He started with agnolotti Montferrini, a Piedmontese pasta dish of little ravioli with beef, pork, Parmesan and spinach in a roasted beef sauce. “Excellent,” he said. “Ideal balance between savoury gameyness and delicacy.”

It was already plain that Alessio could have built himself a far more fêted career in a big city. He has stayed in Scarborough, where only the popularity of Alan Ayckbourn’s theatre keeps the business going, he later told us, because he must be able to buy his fish each dawn at market.

Long before that, Nick had been given a practical lesson on the matter by a sea bass, baked in sea salt and served whole as that emperor of the deep deserves. “Just wonderful, old boy. Bursting with just-off-the-boat freshness, crispy skin, and the rosemary stuffing really infuses it.” My veal scallopine came in four thin slices, slathered in a beautiful, creamy white wine sauce. A side order of mashed parsnip with pancetta – an Alessio invention – was superb.

The place was packed and buzzy, and since there was no measurable Whispering Quotient at all, we could have done without the lachrymose Wham! ballad Careless Whisper drifting from the speakers. Harsh spotlighting was the other minor irritant, though neither took much gloss off a meal that ended with a gooey chocolatey cream with an amaretto biscuit and a meringue creation with whipped and ice cream.

We were having coffee when the chef popped over, his moustache quivering with passion, to share his obsession with piscine freshness. He was especially enthused by the arrival of the season’s first sea trout, which he cooks in Scarborough with sage, rosemary and thyme. Fair enough, we felt, though the absence of parsley seemed a calculated insult to Simon and Garfunkel fans.

With that, Nick and I were homeward bound, and after a glance at the photographs of Yorkshire celebs discreetly tucked away by the bar (Ayckbourn, Dickie Bird, Michael Parkinson etc), we left agreeing to return in autumn for the truffles. The sheer brilliance of Giorgio Alessio’s cooking and his fanaticism about using only the finest ingredients make La Lanterna the unlikeliest destination restaurant in the land.

Tom Parker Bowles - Daily Mail

An awful lot of hype and hyperbole is lavished upon the tuber magnatum, a dirty, drab-hued and tumourous lump of fungus that reeks of fetid, whispered filth. Such is its narcotic effect on sybaritic scribblers that long, impassioned paeans are penned on the subject; honeyed, breathless prose invariably involving hushed, early morning hunts, intricately carved walking sticks; gnarled, ancient hands. And dogs. Mongrels, if possible. Far better than pigs. In Piedmont, northern Italy, it’s against the law to use porkers.

Here at La Lanterna, you’ll find a great cook in thrall to great ingredients. Not masking their beauty, or mucking about. It’s the soul of real Italian cookery. Those damned swine snuffle too lustily, breaking up all the roots to get to that buried, stinking booty. And then, once disinterred, try to gobble it down. That would never do.

I know all this because I, too, tremble under the white truffle’s thrall. It’s all about that smell of course, stinking and sexy, balancing on the thin line between rapture and rot, bliss and rampant degradation. Forget flavour. If you want flavour, go black. Nope, the white is all about intoxicating fumes, one of the great, and most primal, scents in the world. It’s like eating the fish for the first time, clean and pure and handsome. Then fillet of beef, with a little white wine and a thick carpet of still more truffles.

And it’s that scent that is caressing and abusing my every olfactory receptor neuron right now, emanating from a beige pile of shavings, heaped high upon the most beautiful pile of freshly made taglierini pasta. These slender, pert, beautifully cooked ribbons, known as Tajarin in Piedmont, are lavished with butter, and a dribble of cream, and a handful of fresh porcini. It’s as perfect, and as simple, a dish as you’ll find anywhere on earth. And I’m eating it at a small Italian restaurant called La Lanterna, deep in the heart of Scarborough. The walls are covered with photos of famous punters, far preferable to the usual bland wallpaper

Scarborough, I hear you gasp. That East Yorkshire coastal town with its air of faded gentility, and Alan Ayckbourn and great fishing fleets, long since gutted, and fairs with their parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? The very same. Hardly the place you’d expect to find some seriously skilled and inspired Piedmontese cooking. But it’s the truth.

Giorgio Alessio, with his tightly curled hair and deep Italian accent softened by a faint Yorkshire burr, is a man obsessed. With the truffles he has brought back from Piedmont, his homeland, smuggled in his suitcase. And the pasta, which he makes himself, every day, and the velvet crabs, which he buys from the fisherman, down on the front, early each morning. They used to laugh, and give these tiny crustaceans to him for free. They thought he was mad. What was he doing with by-catch? Even the cats wouldn’t touch them. But Alessio knew better, about all that sweet flesh that lurks inside those minuscule joints. Sure, he has to employ a lady, full time, just to pick the buggers. For every 40kg of crab, he tells us, they extract a mere 2 kg of meat.

But one taste of his pasta, the same taglierini used for the truffles, and it’s worth every last bead of sweat. The flesh is so sweet and delicate that it makes spider crab look base. And the delicately creamy sauce merely coats, rather than smothers, that splendid home-made pasta. The fishermen don’t laugh any more, he says. In fact, they go to him first, as he only buys the best. Like the seabass, the first wild of the season, grilled with thyme and rosemary, and finished with the merest splatter of good, peppery olive oil. It’s like eating the fish for the first time, clean and pure and handsome.

Then fillet of beef, with a little white wine and a thick carpet of still more truffles. The meat is gently strident, but is modest enough to let the tubers do their thing. At £4 per gram, you don’t want anyone else stealing the show.

A Gorgonzola Dolce is plonked on the table for pudding, vast and oozing, another treasure from his Piedmontese suitcase. Dear god, it must have stunk. At first, the cheese is creamy and elegant, with the most buttery of finishes. But then the mould kicks in, and you get that strangely seductive whiff of ammonia and decay. I’ve never eaten better.

A few slices of donkey salami (a Piedmont speciality), rich and sweet and fatty (nice one, Eeyore), then good coffee. I can’t think of a more beautiful dinner. The fruits of Piedmontese autumn meet the no-nonsense gold of those Yorkshire seas and fields. OK, so the breaded broccoli doesn’t exactly thrill.

‘It’s what Yorkshire people expect,’ says Chris, my friend, a Yorkshireman himself. ‘They demand veg and potatoes, wherever they are.’

The walls are covered with photos of famous punters, far preferable to the usual bland wallpaper, and the restaurant must be one of the few places where Jimmy Tarbuck sits comfortably next to Howard Hodgkin.

But here at La Lanterna, you’ll find a great cook in thrall to great ingredients. Not masking their beauty, or mucking about. It’s the soul of real Italian cookery. Made all the more delectable by being found in this small Yorkshire resort, a place that has, perhaps, seen better days. Still, La Lanterna is always full.

Of course it is. One dinner is never, ever enough.

La Lanterna Ristorante | 33 Queen Street, Scarborough, YO11 1HQ | 01723 363616

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