Casa Perbellini: The Food of Love

SLIDESHOW: “I take inspiration from the tastes of typical Italian dishes of my upbringing. I come from a multi-generational family of cooks and pastry chefs,” says chef Giancarlo Perbellini. (Photo credit: Giorgio Marchiori)

Dining at Casa Perbellini is much like going to the theatre — watch an Italian culinary love story play out from your table.

Historic Verona is perhaps best known as the setting for one of the most famous love stories: Romeo and Juliet. The romantic side of this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage City does not stop there. Verona has a romantic charm that affects even the solo traveller, but it is not known for haute cuisine. Yet this is exactly what is waiting to be discovered at Casa Perbellini. A dining experience so memorable that at the end of the culinary journey, at this largely unknown two-starred Michelin restaurant, you will want to tell everyone and no one at the same time.

The restaurant is situated in the historic Piazza San Zeno, also home to a Romanesque minor basilica that is famous for being the church in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The entrance is discreet, with a simple door and understated sign. Once inside, you are struck by the bold state-of-the-art kitchen, offset by natural white timber beams and simple table settings (although tables are not set until the diner arrives). The overall effect is two-fold — its simplicity adds to the sense of home and it brings attention to the food.

The chef behind the 24-seater restaurant is Giancarlo Perbellini. Talented, urbane and engaging, he’s an artisan who expresses his love for his craft on every plate.

Dinner at Casa Perbellini is no ordinary haute cuisine experience. Here, there are no barriers, physical or otherwise, between diners and the kitchen. It is not meant to feel like a restaurant, it is meant to feel like being a guest in Perbellini’s home.

The ambience is one of relaxation, comfort and ease. There is an informality in the ambience but not service. Perbellini is also the perfect host, constantly engaging with his guests, guiding them on this gastronomic adventure of modern Italian cuisine (as well as running the kitchen, cooking and plating).

“One of my reasons for the concept was to break down the wall of knowledge between kitchen and guests. I wanted to give diners a real understanding of what is required to produce dishes at the haute level. To create these dishes is a complex process, with many hands working on plates and dishes simultaneously.” He likens this to his grandmother cooking a meal for the family, toiling behind the scenes. “To prepare good food takes time.”

What makes dining here fascinating is the emotional story he tells through food. “I take inspiration from the tastes of typical Italian dishes of my upbringing. I come from a multi-generational family of cooks and pastry chefs, so we ate very well. I take these memories and create elevated interpretations using modern techniques and creativity, but still, for me, the food is a taste of my home.”

Take the classic dish, spaghetti with clams. “We do this in a totally new and different way, with the spaghetti made using an emulsion of clam juice and oil, with clam tartare on top. It has a very creamy taste.”

Another new dish was inspired by the steamed buns he ate in Hong Kong, while visiting his only restaurant outside of Italy, La Locanda. Like most of his creations it features only a few ingredients that brilliantly combine to become greater than the sum of its parts. In this dish — steamed bread, pistachio, cauliflower and anchovy (the latter three a typical Sicilian combo). “The creamy pistachio comes first on the palate, then gives way to the cauliflower and finally saltiness from the anchovy. It is my play on bread and butter.” Menus change completely every 50 days, with constant small changes depending on produce.

While he cooks, Perbellini is definitely on stage under a spotlight, and diners are welcome to engage with the performance. They can chat with the chef, try ingredients, and watch a dish come together from scratch.

Dining here is much like watching an exceptional play — it is a culinary love story and a sublime homage to Italian cuisine. For which Perbellini and his team deserve a standing ovation.

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SLIDESHOW: “I take inspiration from the tastes of typical Italian dishes of my upbringing. I come from a multi-generational family of cooks and pastry chefs,” says chef Giancarlo Perbellini. (Photo credit: Giorgio Marchiori)