This Michelin starred restaurant is probably my favorite of all time if not for the stunning back drop and the pretty little Italian town it overlooks from a quiet hill. I have visited Malcesine on Lake Garda in Italy twice now and cannot wait to go back! The sheer beauty of its surroundings along with the hussle and bussle of this market town just drew me in.
Vecchia Malcesine sits a significant number of steps up from the back of the town in a perfect location; somewhere quiet and beautiful where I feel you enjoy the food even more for the peace. Once you have walked down the winding pebble path through the typically Italian garden, you step onto a covered veranda looking out onto the mountain lake of Garda. The furniture has a sort of kindergarten feel about it with its bright plastic and rigid shape. However paired with matching, artistic wine coolers on each table, beautifully clean, white linen and interesting decoration this only adds to the feel of the place.
So, the menu: the first time I visited we were given the option of choosing courses a la carte or to choose a selection of dishes that reflected an area of our beautiful environment; earth, lake or mountain. I opted for the earth menu which started me off with a wild garlic and snail risotto. Strikingly green in colour I was a little apprehensive at first but the dish did what it said on the tin; it was earthy and rich and all of the ingredients shone through with the snail adding an interesting texture. As this particular trip was a good 4 years ago now, I am having trouble remembering the other dishes we tried on this visit apart from a simple Italian style fondue with crudite like chicory and endive to dip in instead of the Savoie tradition of bread or potatoes. This was a novel and clever idea seeing as we had 6 courses to get through over the course of our relaxed, 3 hour lunch.
On my second trip to Vecchia Malcesine one particular dish stuck out for all 7 of us and this was a marinated prawn dish with samphire. The prawns were done in a sort of ceviche so were actually raw (which put off my granddad but didn’t stop us from finishing his plate for him.) They were served with a gin and tonic in the middle of the “wow-factor” dish the prawns were on. The idea was to eat the prawns and wash each mouthful down with the gin to experience all the flavors of the dish. It worked; the botanicals in the gin blended perfectly with the marinade on the prawns. I found it interesting that before that day I had never eaten or heard of samphire, also known as sea or water asparagus. Nowadays it is on almost every menu and you can just pick it up in Sainbury’s, great in a risotto. Other dishes at Vecchia include a “fish salami”, braised pork cheek with polenta and gnocchi with truffle.
The food is always presented perfectly and the portions, considering you have a fair few dishes to get through are just right.
The service was also fantastic. The waiters spoke good English and could chat to you freely about the dishes and wine. What I liked about the service here was that it was polite and chatty but mostly understated. For me, any good restaurant should be able to do things like top up your glasses with wine or water without you even noticing. For me the sign of a good meal is when you are so engrossed in food and conversation you do not notice simple things going on around you.
In summary, the menu was worthy (in my eyes) of its Michelin status; it had interesting and innovative dishes paired with more simple ones that wow on the tongue more than on the eye or the mind. The best thing about choosing the selected menu is the “2 local wines” they couple your meal with. Chosen to compliment certain dishes or the menu as a whole, this takes the complication out of having to select a wine that will go with what everyone is eating. It may also encourage you to try wines you might not have chosen yourself like a chilled red wine from Scandinavia like on my first visit there. The only thing left to sort out is the English translation of the menu, if you head over to the website using the link I have included at the bottom you will see what I mean. However, whenever my family and I are abroad we quite enjoy trying to work out what a menu is actually trying to say, some translations can be quite amusing.
To anyone in or looking to be in the area; a must. I recommend the only way to eat at this restaurant is with the chef’s selection of dishes or the set menus, especially in terms of price.
I have included a couple of photos of the view. Although I do enjoy the food and the atmosphere at this restaurant, it wouldn’t be half as good for me without its backdrop.
http://www.vecchiamalcesine.com/menu_GB.htm a link to the menu from Vecchia Malcesine with English translation.