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My new kitchen: Trattoria San Marco

03 July 2008

When the Bragagnini family opened their fifth restaurant, TrattoriaSan Marco, the kitchen was designed around a bespoke island suite featuring an array of induction hobs made by Italian family business De Manincor. Diane Lane reports

The whole family, originally from Trento in northern Italy, takes part in the running of the family business. Both Ivan and his wife, Louise, are directors of the business, and Ivan is based at the Italian Orchard restaurant in Broughton, where he still runs the pass and where third son, Paolo, oversees front of house. Youngest son, Stefano, is expected to join the business on leaving school, where he is currently studying for his GCSEs.

Eldest sons, Carlo and Giulio, are the two family members driving the new opening, with Carlo running front of house and Giulio in charge of the kitchen. With its accessible location on the A59 in Much Hoole to the south-west of Preston, and ample parking, the 180-seat Trattoria San Marco attracts custom from Preston, Southport and Liverpool. "It's been really busy. We have done as many as 370 covers on a Saturday night," says Carlo, who previously ran the front-of-house operations at the family's two city centre restaurants, Angelo's and the French Bistro, while Giulio was chef at the Italian Orchard.

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Photograhs by Adrian Franklin (www.franklinphoto.co.uk/)

The building in which it is housed is a former pub, part of the Punch Taverns estate, which the Bragagninis have on lease for 20 years. The lease even includes a neighbouring bowling green, complete with clubhouse, which Giulio has earmarked as a site for marquees for weddings and such functions. A massive refurbishment of the site has increased the size of the building by at least a third.

The menu is a mix of traditional Italian fare and modern dishes, making the most of produce sourced direct from Italy, such as salamis, prosciutto, pasta, cheeses, plus some locally sourced goods such as Baby Gems and Goosenargh duck. The restaurant interior, however, has nothing remotely traditional about it. In fact, step into the dining room and you'd think you were in a contemporary London restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, brown and cream leather seats and banquettes and chic chandeliers. Then there's the kitchen - one any Michelin-starred chef would love to get their hands on - which alone cost €370,000 (£293,000).

The centrepiece is a 3.9m x 1.93m bespoke island suite by Italian company De Manincor, which Ivan discovered at a European trade exhibition some seven years ago and has used to fit out his last three restaurants. The design was originally based around open gas burners, but advice from the company's technical people convinced the Bragagninis that induction was the way forward, even though the decision to go all-electric meant it was necessary to upgrade the power by installing a new generator.

Initially, Giulio had concerns that cooking with induction would be too different from what he and his 10-strong brigade, headed up by head chef George Photiou, were used to - but his fears were soon dispelled. "If we hadn't gone for it, we'd be kicking ourselves now," he says. "It gives you so much more control over temperatures than gas, and you get an even heat in the pans, so sauces reduce so well."

There's a group of four hobs and a further pair of hobs on each side of the suite. The digital controls set to the side at shoulder height select a percentage of available power, giving a temperature range starting at 30°C and reaching 400°C. Typically, during service two of each group of four is set on 45%, with the remaining two on 65% and 35% respectively. Each side of the suite also has a bain-marie that splits up to accommodate several pans, useful for large quantities of different pasta sauces.

The side designated as the meat and fish section benefits from a large cast-iron grill featuring a 50% ribbed and 50% smooth surface with an oven underneath, while the other side, which takes care of pasta and hot starters, is furnished with pasta boilers with a capacity of 1kg in each of six baskets. At the pass end of the suite is a rise-and-fall salamander for tasks such as gratinating.

The pass itself is open, giving diners a view of the kitchen action. This wasn't part of the original plan but has been a huge success, with diners asking to be seated at what they refer to as the "chef's table" sited closest to the kitchen.

To three sides of the kitchen is sleek fabrication housing builtâ€'in refrigeration and providing prep areas close to the suite. Refrigeration is a mix of doors and drawers and has remote compressors so there is less noise in the kitchen. The stainless-steel worktops drop down at three points to accommodate three Rational combi-ovens. Cupboards sit above the worktops, and pullâ€'out pans are fitted to the base of some of them to provide convenient storage for seasonings such as salt, chilli and oregano.

The cold starters area is sited off to one side, incorporating more built-in refrigeration and a chilled saladette counter, and it's here that charcuterie items are prepared with the help of an Avery Berkel slicer. Here, too, is a twin-basket fryer for the likes of calamari.

Flanking the other side of the kitchen is a dedicated pizza area with an OEM deck oven for pizzas and garlic bread, granite worktops and its own section of pass. Pizza dough is made 25kg at a time in an OEM mixer.

There's no shortage of space to hold produce, with two coldrooms - one for veg and dairy, one for meat - and a walkâ€'in freezer. Giulio has plans to add more prep space opposite the coldrooms with stainless-steel prep tables, a blast chiller and an Avery Berkel carcass scale for items such as whole deer. Even the wash-up area is spacious, and it houses a Meiko dishwasher that is fitted with a heat-recovery pump to save energy.

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