Authenticity of flavour, and creativity of design, unite at Veritas, where Amica Sicilia finds Italian tradition elevated to haute cuisine. If it’s luxury dining you want, you’ll be getting more than just a spoonful here…
With barely a dozen tables of low, deeply-padded velvet seats, Veritas at Al Messila Resort & Spa, the newly reopened and reimagined heartland of multi-Michelin-starred executive Chef Pino Lavarra – feels more like the reading room of an exclusive members’ club than a restaurant. Dark hardwood panelling lines the walls, framing traditional hand-painted blue ceramic tiles. Three grand arches are gently illuminated by curving chandeliers of blown blue glass. We half expect to see a brooding Burt Lancaster as The Leopard, lounging over an espresso in an alcove.
Under Chef Pino’s expert guidance, Chef de Cuisine Federico Bacciocchi and a small hand-picked team have reimagined the menu. Bravely, it doesn’t include a single pizza! Instead, often unglamorous icons of Italian cuisine like lasagna alla bolognese, ossobuco and panna cotta have been deconstructed and refined, ingredient by quality ingredient, to arrive at their essential elements, presented with creativity and flair.
Recognising fellow Italians far from home, Chef Federico urges us to let the food take us travelling in our memories, like Proust’spetites madeleines. First to the table is a breadboard bedecked with a trio of contrasting textures, straight from the oven. A palm-sized, nutty brown pane di campagna, or country loaf, breaks open to reveal pillow-soft crumb, into which herbed butter melts eagerly. We place glowing confit tomatoes onstreghe imolesi (roughly translated as witches’ crackers from Imola, in Emilia-Romagna), the thinnest, crispest crackers, dusted with parmesan and dried rosemary, and dip graceful grissini breadsticks into a cup of ricotta whipped to a fine foam.
On a rough-hewn slab of stone, tiny, fragile little arancini break open to reveal earthy truffle mushroom risotto within. Beside them, the essence of bruschetta: the bread smoky toasted, drenched in deep green basil oil, loaded with red and yellow tomatoes and a pearl of burrata. Having demolished these, we investigate what looks like an unassuming pot of raw baby vegetables. Their crisp freshness hides a dark secret below, a reservoir of the northern Italian saucebagna cauda, an umami explosion of garlic and anchovy.
So much for the warm-up, we move on to more serious matters. An insalata di gamberi on a blue glass plate presents a true king among prawns, so tender it almost melts. Tartare di fassona showcases the purity of flavour and imaginative presentation that typifies Veritas: the finest cut of the protected cattle of Piedmont is knife-minced raw, seasoned with truffle and shaped into banks around a perfectly circular pool of minted pea, complemented by crumbling tiny sweet-onion shortbreads.
Next comes a rare treat. Spaghetti alla chitarra is the dish for which Chef Pino won his first Michelin star. The unusual square form of the fresh pasta is bathed in a puttanesca sauce, its rich tomato spiked with black olives and tiny fried capers, and the whole swathed in a tuna carpaccio so tender it disintegrates to lace beneath our forks.
The climax comes with agnello scottadito, roast lamb popularly nicknamed ‘burned fingers’ – so good you can’t wait for it to cool down to take a taste. The blushing tender meat is crowned with an extraordinary buttery crust, perfumed with lavender. A cousin of rosemary, perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that lavender suits lamb so well.
As savoury addicts, it takes a lot to persuade us to leave much space for dessert. But we’re so glad we did. We are presented with two classics among Italian sweets. Served playfully on a garden trowel on a bed of frosted chocolate ‘winter soil’, the tiramisù delights even before we get to taste it. But it doesn’t disappoint. The mascarpone is whipped light as air, tinted golden by the freshness of the eggs. Real espresso coffee oozes from homemade savoiardi biscuits. Beside this dark beauty, its antithesis: a soffice souffle of Amalfi lemons. Soft as silk and topped with the fierce pink of raspberry sorbet, it tastes of potted sunlight.
In the gastronomic cornucopia that is Doha, it is very difficult to achieve the uniquely excellent. But Chef Pino has succeeded in creating a truly elevated and authentically Italian fine-dining experience that, while creatively ambitious, remains true to its heritage, though far from home. Veritas is nothing less than a culinary symphony.