Chefs have a choice. Run with the new, the unknown and the experimental, or fill their menus with dishes that cemented their early reputation. Yes, the favourites remain on the list – why would you want to disappoint long term fans of the dish seeking out signature dishes – think Riccardo Camanini at Lido 84 serving his Cacio e Pepe in Vescica on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy; or Eric Ripert in New York cooking up his steamed Dungeness crab, or why wouldn’t you order grilled turbot at the Arregui family’s Elkano restaurant Spanish Basque coast? But other innovators shake up their menus and ideas, respectful of seasons, tradition, change and creating dishes people want to eat.
Some walls are constructed to keep people contained; others built to keep ‘others’ out. Many result in excluding ideas, several chefs are challenging culinary preconceptions. Lucca’s fortified walls were built for defence, keeping people out. But culinary ideas have breached these ramparts with restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Giglio, and Punto leading the way. These words are of Punto.
For it’s in Punto’s kitchen that chef Damiano Donati is defying conventions that hold traditional Italian cooking together. His creativity allows him to manipulate the norms and liberate fresh, seasonal ingredients – without falling into the trap of a cliché.
.The revolution works. Avant-garde art on the walls, often hand drawn by local artists, combine with industrial interior decorations of wire, steel and distressed wood.
Ingredients that Punto reshape, reinterpret include .The Raw Meat with Pioppini Mushrooms (uncooked, sliced thinly); cannellini bean soup with fish stock, and .The Cornmeal Mush, the Sausage, the Stracchino Cheese and the Fennel Salad.
.The introduces each dish, putting the full stop at the front of the sentence, upending traditional grammar conventions. It’s a motivation reflected in Damiano’s approach to ingredients, combinations, temperatures and through to textures. Upending tradition.
Familiar Tuscan dishes are changed with innovative flourishes that enhance the fundamental ingredients making up the ink on Punto’s menu cards. Yes, the dishes are recognisably what you would find in a restaurant, but with the all important twist that, as their 11-point manifesto points out, it “is necessary that the innkeeper and the cook devote themselves with passion, splendour and generosity to increase the enthusiastic fervour of the primeval elements”.
If chef Damiano wanted to put those words onto a plate, then he has succeeded with his Primi dish written as .The Spaghetto, the Black Cabbage Juice and the Bagna Cauda Sauce. It’s deeply flavoured, crisp and even with jolts of refined blasts of the cabbage and bagna cauda notes of anchovy and garlic.
Just four dishes on offer for each of the various courses, but that doesn’t make the waiter’s wait any shorter for indecisive minds, pencil poised. My choices include fried guinea fowl marinated in yeast producing moist, bready crisp skin and deeply flavoured meat. Sharing side dishes worked for our table with sautéed chard and anchovy, complementing .The Butter and Lemon Carrots.
Finally, before a bitter cup of espresso coffee, sweetness came boldly in the form of .The Carrot Cake, the Fennel, the Chamomile and the Cream.
The walls have come tumbling down in Punto, and new innovative Italian cuisine have emerged from the imagination of Damiano and the Putno team.
Via dell’Anfiteatro, 37
55100 Lucca, Italy