It is a gloomy, rainy Saturday, set to become a lazy day at home on the sofa in front of the TV. Then inspiration strikes: why not make the most of it and take a gastronomic trip out of town? After all Novara, where Cannavacciuolo’s Bistrot opened a few months ago, is only an hour’s drive from Milan. A dinner at Villa Crespi has been on my wish list for some time and, while I’m waiting, a lunch at the Bistrot seems like a good introduction to this amazing Neapolitan chef’s cooking!
No sooner said than done, here we are at the Teatro Coccia (yes, the Cannavacciuolo Café & Bistro is located within the historic Novara theatre). We go in and we are immediately intoxicated by the scents of sfogliatelle pastries and rum baba, because the ground floor is a café & pastry shop. Or, more accurately, it is a space with a thousand souls, offering coffee and pastries, but also salads, sandwiches, smoothies and alcoholic drinks, where you can go at any time of day, from breakfast to afternoon tea, from aperitifs to post-theatre drinks.
We climb the stairs to get to the bistrot area, which occupies the two upper floors. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, tastefully but simply furnished in a slightly 1950s-1960s vintage style. One eye-catching element is the chairs, which are all different from each other. The menu is a reminder that we are in a theatre: the categories are the classic appetizer, starter, main course and dessert, but renamed with titles taken from the world of theatre: overtures, musicals, opera and ballet.
I scan the menu and immediately think we are going to have to come back: too many intriguing dishes, it would be impossible to try them all in one lunch! Among the offerings the traditional Neapolitan flavours stand out, from Neapolitan ragu, to burrata cheese with fried anchovies, but there is no shortage of references to Northern Italian cuisine: risotto with saffron and beef marrow, gorgonzola, plin pasta and Fassona beef tartare (after all, we are in Piedmont!). It is not an easy choice, but in the end I opt for seared octopus with Luciana sauce and mixed pasta with mussels and smoked provola cheese. Both are delicious, with intense and satisfying flavours.
Cannavacciuolo’s hand can be seen in every dish. And I don’t just mean his influence, but literally his hand! Antonino’s big hand, usually seen giving vigorous and affectionate pats on the back to MasterChef and Hell’s Kitchen competitors, has become his distinctive signature, drawn on all the dishes. A special mention goes to the sfogliatella that comes with coffee after the meal: definitely the most delicious I’ve ever tasted! In short, a lunch that I would absolutely recommend and, after my first taste of Cannavacciuolo’s cuisine, I hope to soon be writing about my experience at Villa Crespi!