Al Bric just off of Campo dei Fiori in Rome is an enoteca I have walked past for four years of my life longing to go in, lured perhaps by the fantabulous selection of ultra-mature oozy French cheeses, crumbly Italian “stagionati”, the dusty collection of prize vintage wines vying for position in the window from Pétrus and Mouton Rothschild to some Amarone that would knock your socks and feet off… I had never actually set foot in the place though until this week when I finally convinced Francesco that spending €15 for a glass of wine was just plain intelligent. Well. Al Bric obviously neither produces the cheeses on offer, nor the wines. And had they stuck at just those two things, we’d have been on to a winner as I guzzled my way through a “bel piccolo Bordeaux che ho apena aperto” (a nice little Bordeaux I just opened… which turned out to be a simply divine Chateau Cos D’Estournel from 2005 that wallopped me with its rich tanniny core and cherries and blackcurrants by the ton…
But no, this place is also a restaurant. Let’s say, Al Bric is the food equivalent of Martin Scorcese. Excellent, except they don’t know the point at which they really should stop. With Scorcese it was about 2004. With Al Bric, it was after the cheese and wine.
I began with an Apple filled with Foie Gras (and a lovely, fruity Gewurtztraminer from SudTirol). Foie Gras is possibly one of my most favourite things in the universe and yes, I am absolutely purist unless you can guarantee me that smoking it, glazing it, molecularly cooking it is going to enhance it in so many ways I might start to cry. Instead I was presented with a bland, undercooked apple stuffed with what appeared to be frazzled and melted Foie Gras of a rather cheap variety, sweating oil and disintegrating in front of my eyes. The apple did little to improve the taste of this horrific waste of good paté.
Francesco fared worse though – a man who worships potatoes with the fervour of a shaman – ordered “millefolgie” of potatoes with lardo di Norcia. Essentially, greasy crisps fried in an oven and transluscent with oil topped with one tiny curl of deep fried bacon streak.
Things didn’t get much better with mains… except for my lovely claret… I ordered a Tartare. Which the menu stated would be “slightly cooked” thus totally nullifying anything Tartare-like about it. I asked for it raw in the traditional way and thought I was “all that” until I got it on my plate and realised there was nothing tartare-like about it even raw. No capers, no egg, no shallots or onions, no delicate seasoning. Nope. Just a raw hamburger of compacted, rather tasteless and very recently thawed mince.
Francesco had something so immemorable I fail to remember what it is. BY this point I was of course on my third glass of wine which is probably why memory fails me. Who cares. The only thing worth mentioning here are the cheeses, the experience of which you can replicate yourself at home by heading to a favourite cheesemonger and assembling the following: A ripe-as-all-hell époisses au marc de bourgogne. A fine camembert. A high quality Saint Néctaire and a stupendously stinky Langres. And a wee glass of Muscat or a hearty, spicy red wine.
Al bric. Bit of a bric-a-brac.