The menu created by Restaurant Associates' Omero Gallucci offers an authentic Italian dining experience within a few miles of Gatwick Airport. Diane Lane reports
Crawley might not be the obvious destination for those in search of authentic Italian cuisine, but dine at Gallucci restaurant in the town's Arora hotel and you may just think you're on a whirlwind tour of Italy.
Omero Gallucci, with his 50 years of Italian heritage, is the inspiration behind the new incarnation of the hotel's ground-floor restaurant run by Restaurant Associates' hotel division. The idea was originally proposed by Chris Cooper, operations director of Compass UK & Ireland's fine-dining division, who, along with Gallucci and the hotel's head chef, Daniel Lawrence, has striven to bring a genuine taste of Italy to the West Sussex town.
"We decided on proper Italian food instead of just pizza and pasta," says Gallucci, whose family hails from southern Italy. "We originally looked at a broader Mediterranean style, but that would have meant taking in too many influences, and we wanted a menu that wouldn't inhibit people - just simple food, so they can see what's in a dish. So we went for very wholesome Italian food, nicely presented, for people to relax and enjoy."
Classically arranged into sections such as antipasti, pasta e risotto, carne e pesce and dolci e formaggi, the resulting menu encompasses dishes from the tip to the toe of Italy, many of which the young Gallucci used to watch his mother prepare in the family kitchen in north London.
A starter of panzanella di casa Gallucci rustica (£5.95) is one such dish, consisting of Italian vegetables marinated in a lightly emulsified dressing of olive oil and soft herbs and layered between crispy focaccia crostini. The recipe for the marinade is a Galluci house special. Other oils used for marinating include garlic, rosemary and thyme, and lemon. Breads are all sourdough, with varieties including sweet garlic, rosemary, and pecan and raisin. For dipping, it is accompanied by more oils and 12-year-old balsamic vinegar from Modena.
Gallucci's uncle owned a restaurant with a bakery underneath, and the young chef-in-the-making would work there in the summer holidays, so rustic bread is a particular feature and accompanies a number of starters.
Examples include pan-fried chicken livers, deglazed with balsamic syrup, drizzled with veal jus and served on grilled country bread (£5.95), and two styles of salmon paté - one made with hot smoked salmon and the other with cold smoked salmon and topped with either capers or cucumber butter - which come in little jars with more grilled artisan bread (£8.95).
For a touch of theatre, freshly cooked fine spaghetti is brought to the table on a trolley, tipped into a hollowed-out Parmesan wheel and finished in front of diners with Parmesan, olive oil and flat-leaf parsley (£8.95), an idea borrowed from the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, which Galluci describes as "the Ritz of Italy". From the Piedmont area in the north-west comes a bowl of half-sized gnocchi sautéd in sage butter with freshwater crayfish (£11.25); and the Milanese influence makes an appearance in the form of osso bucco: shin of veal slow-braised in tomato sauce and Frascati wine, flavoured with orange zest and served with saffron risotto (£12.95). From the south, there's the traditional favourite of spaghetti con le vongole (£11.25).
As you'd expect, the menu has its fair share of pomodori, not just in pasta sauces but also as side orders, such as the salad of plum tomatoes, red onions and basil oil (£2.50).
Desserts (all £4.95) are suitably Italian, too, kicking off with a panna cotta from the north - cooked double cream with fresh Madagascan vanilla seeds, caramelised apple on top and sweet melba toast on the side. A taste of Veneto comes from warm polenta cake served with a forest fruit compote and natural yogurt, and then there's pan dolce, an Italian version of bread and butter pudding, made with panettone and finished with an orange glaze.
Gallucci himself has been particularly pleased at how the 10-strong brigade, which remained from the restaurant's previous incarnation, has embraced his recipes, the Italian ingredients and the fact that they have to make 2-3kg of fresh pasta every morning. "They're really superb," he says.
What's on the menu
- Carpaccio di manzo con rucola, Parmigiano Reggiano e capperi (thin slices of beef fillet brushed with olive oil, served with rocket salad, Parmesan, capers and cracked black pepper), £8.95
- Tortellini di zucca al pesto genovese (pumpkin pasta parcels lightly poached and tossed in pesto topped with Parmesan cheese), £9.95
- Salsicce piccante con lenticchie (grilled spicy neapolitan sausages with braised green lentils and smoked pancetta), £10.95
- Triglie con torta di patate e basilico al olio zafferano (pan-fried red mullet set on a crushed potato cake flavoured with basil and dressed with a black olive and tomato saffron oil), £11.75
- Cotolette di agnello alla ripiene di prosciutto ed erbe (lamb cutlets stuffed with fresh sage, rosemary and basil wrapped in pancetta with Parmesan and grilled), £16.95
- Torta di nonna (a rich, light almond pastry filled with nut sponge glazed with apricot and served warm with sweet ricotta), £4.95
- Fichi nero arrosto con mascarpone (roasted black figs topped with mascarpone cheese, served with Italian biscotti), £4.95
- Torta al chocolato (crisp pastry tart filled with rich chocolate ganache, served with raspberries and mascarpone), £4.95
Gallucci, Arora International Hotel, Southgate Avenue, Southgate, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 6LW
Tel: 01293 515111. Website: www.gallucci-cucina.com