Francesco and Luca Bracali have created something extraordinary in their restaurant just outside Massa Marittima. Theirs is the last property in a very, very ordinary row of houses in Ghirlanda. The garden outside with its stylish planting hints that this is somewhere special but the real magic is inside. In the kitchen of Francesco and the service of Luca, in the elegant rooms they have created and in the complete attention to detail and hospitality.
We have been coming to Massa Marittima for ten years and have enjoyed the many restaurants and trattorie in the town itself. We have never felt the need to push the boat out and try this restaurant with a reputation across Tuscany and beyond. But this year we did and it was worth the wait. The pictures tell some of the story.
What strikes me about the whole evening was its consistency. Usually when you go out one or two dishes will stand out and be memorable. Here everything was of a consistently high standard, a creative play with flavours and perhaps especially textures. In my starter the slight bite of the raw fish is set against the serious crunch of the nut coating and the dense, stickiness of the squid ink. And so these subtle combinations continue throughout the meal.
If Francesco stars in the kitchen, Luca shows equal perspicuity in choosing wines. Although physically large the wine list is chiefly remarkable for the quality of its choices – this is a small restaurant and can’t carry huge stocks. But Luca will make really good suggestions and serve a range of wines of very high quality by the glass. We drank:
Cabochon, Monte Rossa, Brut, Franciacorta DOCG, 2011 – 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Nero, fermented in barriques, 40 months on the lees during second fermentation: a fabulous, rich, sparkling wine where the depth of fruit is well integrated with toasty and vanilla notes from its passage from barrique to bottle. Well balanced acidity, superb.
Ariento, Vermentino, Massa Vecchia, IGT Maremma Toscana, 2013 – Vermentino fermented on its skins from the very talented – and extremely local, about 1 kilometre away – Massa Vecchia. We are already Massa Vecchia’s biggest fans but this is an outstanding wine for its exuberance – orange blossom, lemon, ripe yellow peach – with sufficient structure from skin contact to make this a very versatile food wine. Luca thinks this is Massa Vecchia’s best wine yet and a testimony to Francesca Sfrondini’s growing stature since she took over the winery from the previous generation.
Chianti Classico Reserva, Badia a Coltibuona, 2011 – this wine made a great contrast with the one that follows. This was as subtle and elegant as its neighbour, also Sangiovese, was rich and textured. A blend of Sangiovese with local blending varieties: Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo and Colorino; aged for two years in a mix of French and Austrian casks. All the refinement of sour cherry fruit, tobacco and herbal notes that one could wish for.
Pian del Conte, Brunello Riserva, Talenti, 2010 – from the great recent vintage, this 100% Sangiovese was stunning for its rich fruit, for the density of its satiny texture and, given its extreme youth, the resolved nature of the tannins. 20-25 days of maceration on the skins at around 25ºC, aged for three years, 50% in French oak tonneau and 50% in Slavonian large casks.
Many congratulations to Bracali for pushing the boundaries and turning this unpromising suburb of Massa Marittima into a real gastronomic and vinous destination, worthy of its two Michelin stars.
Antipasti and first courses: €40; mains €65; desserts €25; astonishing petit fours with coffee. August 2016