The Roof Garden Altavilla restaurant on top of the Risorgimento Resort Hotel offers very fine Italian food with memorable views of Lecce’s skyline, including the exquisite 210 foot Duomo tower. I recently had a friend visit who wanted to test out Italy’s fine-dining. He, my girlfriend, and I began a search for just the right restaurant. It only took one glance at the dinner menu for the Roof Garden Altavilla, which featured many local dishes done with, what appeared to be, a creative flare. So, we made reservations.
The hotel and the restaurant’s staff immediately made a first-class impression. We were taken to the roof in an elevator by a bellhop, then greeted by our waiters who lead us to our well placed table. The rooftop has a compelling atmosphere that whispers relax, sit back, and enjoy the view. The garden aspect of the roof was merely a few shrubs, but serene nonetheless. The tables were elegantly set with candles and small cacti, and the open kitchen sported two immaculately dressed chefs who cooked our meals within a few feet of our table.
Our waiter spoke English well. I did, however, find a few discrepancies between the English and Italian versions of the menu. Our waiter was very friendly and anticipated many of our needs, as did his assistant who also made us feel at home.
Along with the service and the atmosphere, the wine list was impressive, featuring international selections as well as many local wines. The local wines were offered at very reasonable prices—prices that would likely shock diners familiar with the usual fine-dining wine lists in San Francisco or New York City. I even saw one wine listed for the same price that I saw it selling for in a wine store earlier that day.
The chefs started us off with an Amuse-bouche of Grouper and Spinach, coated in crushed almonds with pesto, beet sauces and shaved fennel. Its artful presentation set an aesthetic precedence that would continue throughout the meal. Next we were served three antipasti, of which the Red Prawn Carpaccio with sea urchin sauce was the definite winner. The dish was a playful take on the raw prawn dish that is popular among Puglia’s coastal towns, adding the delicious, light sauce and bayonets of celery.
The least stunning antipasto was the Pulped Tomato with a Crunchy Basket of Burrata Mozzarella Cheese. Burrata is a creamy soft raw cheese that Puglia is known for. It reminds me at times of buffalo mozzarella. I liked that the dish was pure, a simple combination of tomato, bread, and burrata, but the burrata lacked flavor. The cheese is offered in every salumeria in Lecce and usually has more flavor than the one I tried at Roof Garden Altavilla.
The primi were my favorite part of the meal, of which the Durum Wheat and Red Beet Gnocchi, creamed with scampi, orange cream, mint oil, and spinach leaves, was my favorite. The flavors were truly unique—flavors I’d never experienced before—especially the shrimp which tasted as though they were infused with orange. The least impressive dish was the Pan-seared Pasta and Cannellini Beans on a stew of bilberries and cuttlefish. The pasta was dried out, reminiscent of leftover macaroni.
Perhaps we ordered incorrectly, but the secondi were underwhelming. The Roasted Piedmont Beef and Roasted Potatoes with a primitivo sauce was quite good, with an immaculate presentation. It looked like a Tokyo-inspired tower, but the tower stood alone. The Grouper Emincé with a Pizziaolo sauce clearly reflected local tastes – it was impregnated with salt from anchovies, Kalamata olives, and capers. This overly seafoody dish was my least favorite of the meal. The Tuna Steak with Almonds served with Cream of Endive and “Acquaviva” Onion stewed in Negroamaro Wine and Acacia Honey—especially with such an elaborate name—should have had more flavor. Tuna steak is typically inherent with flavor, yet this dish somehow hid it. The “Acquavia” Onion, however, were some of the best onions I’ve ever eaten.
When we declined dessert, the chefs sent over a tray of small desserts, composed of fruit, nuts, and honey – on the house. It was thoughtful and the desserts delicious. All in all, my experience at Roof Garden Altavilla was positive. The service, décor, view, and wine list are the main attractions, though the Shrimp Carpaccio and Durum Wheat and Red Beet Gnocchi were truly exceptional. The food seemed to succeed 50% of the time. Next time I will stick to the antipasti and the primi.
The prices of antipasti ranged from 10 to 23 euro, the primi from 10 to 13 euro, and the secondi from 15 to 18 euro.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com