Cortina d’Ampezzo is not your typical ski resort. Whilst the skiing is good and plentiful, this small town in the centre of the Dolomites is famed for its reputation as a culinary hotspot – where the skis are left behind in favour of wining and dining.
Tivoli, the only michelin-starred restaurant in town, is prized for its creative take on classic mountain dishes. The quaint and intimate dining room, adorned with wood and chintzy charm is a short 10 minute drive from the centre of town – just next to Socrepes. Visiting off-season meant a table was easy to secure and the dining room was only half-full – I am assured this is not the case during the height of season.
Service was good – a meet and greet from the chef and well-informed and personable front of house. The acting Sommelier was great and carried the waiting staff when the language barrier raised issues. Praise must be given for the choice of red wine glasses – their fluted tops and bulging middles were glorious!
Too much mountain eating meant the six course tasting menu was off the cards – four courses from the extensive à la carte proved more than sufficient.
A selection of foie gras to start would easily have fed all four of us. A light foie gras mousse with raspberry gel was perfectly balanced – sharp and sweet and was delicious spread across the accompanying sweet bread which had the faintest whiff of pickled onion. This alone would have made a great dish. Foie Gras terrine with bitter mandarin was good as were the accompanying berry compotes. The hot liver on toast was a little uninspiring although perfectly cooked and the sliced, cold liver seemed superfluous. Although well executed and tasty, the dish was too indulgent even for me (a foie gras fiend with an overly-healthy appetite).
Deep fried egg with spinach, dried tomatoes and cream sauce was good. Perhaps a little too much spinach and not enough sauce, the perfectly cooked egg was the predominant flavour.
Risotto of morel mushrooms, truffles and black pepper was very light. Despite a plentiful topping of morels and truffle sauce, the risotto tasted incredibly light and was well cooked although failed to pack enough of a mushroom and truffle punch.
Homemade spaghettini with crab was good. The crab fresh and the pasta bound with a rich shellfish stock – perfectly seasoned. Although a few stray pieces of shell did put me off a little.
Lobster with rice was the least favourite dish of the evening. The rice was a little undercooked and the lobster a little over and under-seasoned. The lobster jus was good but there was too little on the plate. The rice failed to deliver flavour and was not befitting of the mighty crustacean.
Mountain Deer was the finest piece of venison we had ever eaten. Cooked sous vide – the fillet was perfectly rare and incredibly tender. The accompanying celeriac purée was very well made but overpowered the venison, as did the mustard sauce which proved too pungent. The quality of venison could have made for a magnificent dish had it been allowed to shine through.
Veal Loin was served with cured and slow-cooked cheek and shin. The loin very tender and flavoursome, the cheek and shin could have done with more cooking and less curing. Veal jus was light and flavoursome and the Robuchon-esque mashed potato delightful.
Pork belly with beetroot was very simple. The pork was well-cooked but the skin would have benefitted from extra crisping. With only a little beetroot, light jus and two roast potatoes to accompany the dish was too simple and unexciting.
Dinner at Tivoli was a rewarding experience and made a pleasing change to numerous dinners of hearty mountain cuisine. Whilst some dishes failed to inspire, others outshone dishes served at other top restaurants in the area. The origin of the restaurant’s dishes are most definitely in the mountain and you will see similar dishes at other restaurants. However, few others execute these dishes with the lightness of touch that is achieved at Tivoli. Whether visiting Cortina for ski or après-ski be sure to visit.
Restaurant Tivoli, Cortina d’Ampezzo
Food (For Four): €350
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Reservations: Recommended, Essential during Peak Season