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La Subida review

La Subida review

by Tom Riby 25 January 2016

Tom Riby heads to the Italian-Slovenian border and dines at Alessandro Gavagna's La Subida, a shrine to the area's unique blend of cultures and cuisines.

From the moment I left the motorway to complete the final leg of the journey into the heart of Friuli I realised I was entering another country. Not just any country; wine country – it’s like the unspoiled Garden of Eden, full of vineyards, lush greenery and sights of historic buildings twinkling in the vista. We were driving to the Michelin-starred La Subida, a beautiful little hotel in the rolling vineyards of Collio Goriziano, home to the famous Sirk family and chef Alessandro Gavagna, who has been cooking for over twenty-five years.

We drove through Cormòns, a region situated near the border of Slovenia. Some say it is one of Italy’s hidden treasures of wine, full of small boutique producers making excellent vintages, and I tend to agree. There is a rich tradition of artisanal food here, including delicacies such as D’Orsvalso ham, Fossa cheese that’s kept in a hole in the ground and restaurant owner Josko Sirk’s own prized vinegar that cannot be missed. We had plenty to look forward to.

As we entered the town, I asked, ‘Is it normal for the Carabinieri to be drinking at noon?’, gesturing towards five members of the Italian military police swirling and sipping glasses of white wine. ‘No,’ said the photographer Stefano, with a chuckle. ‘But it is Friulano,’ referring to the local varietal, ‘so it’s OK.’ A sly smile widened beneath his grey moustache.

Friuli wine
La Subida is in the heart of Friuli's winemaking region
Wine list
The wine list is very important to the restaurant owners

We eventually arrived at La Subida where Alessandro greeted us. The location is picturesque; the building itself is a charming, post-war country house with an open courtyard, filled with sunlight and greenery to welcome guests. There is a rustic feel throughout, with exposed wooden beams and tiled flooring in the dining room. It was welcoming from the start; you can sense the happy memories throughout the place.

A recreational cacciatore (hunter) himself, owner Josko takes great pride in the land and has built a small complex of apartments adjacent to his restaurant, complete with tennis courts, a children’s playground, horse stables and swimming pool. To the Sirk family as a whole, La Subida is not just a restaurant – it is their home, filled with special belongings, mementos and memories. After a while, dining there is like dining with family. Alessandro Gavagna captures the flavours and moments he shares with his family, and they are reflected beautifully in his menu. It’s traditional cooking with a delicate nuance of innovation.

The Sirks want Alessandro’s menu to represent a slice of their life; a part of their culture and heritage. The dishes lean toward the local Triestine cuisine – jota and gnocchi di susine, for example – but there’s also a variety of Friulian dishes on offer, including frico, frittata, and orzotto. The kitchen specialises in the Slovenian pastas mlinci and zlikrofi, as well as wild game, which is roasted or grilled to perfection. The stinco di vitello, carved at the table, simply melts in the mouth. While the food remains authentic, each dish is refined to an exquisite level through added touches such as fried sage leaves, elderberry flower syrup and herb-infused sorbets.

If we had time we would’ve loved to have hired a moped for the day to tour the vineyards as part of the Collio in Vespa program, in which about seventy Vespas, all painted a sunny hue, are available to tourists who want to zip between tours and tastings. But the meal itself was a perfect example of the amazing ingredients, flavours and culture found on the Italian-Slovenian border; a truly unique, underrated region that deserves to be in the spotlight.

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