How far will you go

How far will you go for a great lunch?

This was a question that was stalking me as I clambered back up a 60 degree slope that was covered in streams of powder and ice.

We’ve flown across the world for meals.

El Bulli. Fat Duck. Osteria Francescana. Per Se. We drove six hours into Baja for perfect fish tacos. I’ve had my kitchen streaked with duck fat for a week in the quest for cassoulet.

But I’ve never actually risked life and limb for food until we tried to ski into Italy for a pizza lunch.

There we were in Switzerland. We could have happily eaten at Chez Vrony. We could have paid an extortionate amount for rosti at mountainside buffets that have more in common with  trucking stations than restaurants.

It was the looming threat of bad weather later in the week combined with the bloated self confidence that comes from red wine at dinner made us think that our second day of skiing was  an appropriate time to try and ski over an international border for a meal.

Our lofty plans were writing cheques our bodies couldn’t cash.

In hindsight, we probably could have made it down the red run into Cervinia. It was steep, yes. But more than anything, we lost our nerve. As The Hungry One and I stood at the top peering and speculating how much steeper it could get, all I could think was; if he falls, there’s no way I can lift him.

In hindsight it would have been much easier to ski the run instead of hauling ourselves back to the top, skis and poles in our hands and expletives on our lips (not an activity I’d recommend).

When we finally made it down into Cervinia (two shame faced and silent downhill gondola rides later) we were in one piece. And hungry enough to do our lunch justice.

Past the ice skating rink and down the iced cobbled streets of Cervinia, a town 2000 metres up in the Aosta Valley in the the Italian Alps is Lino’s. It’s a bar. It’s a brasserie. It’s a pizzeria. 

Out the front is a pretty promising sign. It might be hubris, but we’re game enough to see if it’s true. 

Once we’ve climbed the stairs carved of ice and compacted snow to the terrace and bolstered ourselves with some lip puckeringly dry white wine and beers the size of champagne magnums, it’s time to contemplate food.

To start it’s a special that is just too promising. Fresh burrata mozzarella has been delivered to the restaurant. It finds its way to us as a relaxed and angelic ball, lolling over hunks of tomatoes dressed with basil oil. 

The outside of the cheese is elastic, while the inside oozes and wilts. A slow lactic lake of cream soon spreads across the plate. It’s so good that we ask for another to be packed up and taken back across the border with us for canapes that night. Needless to say, a much more proficient snow sportsman than either of us carried the precious cargo home.

I can’t say if Lino’s pizza is the best in the world, but it’s pretty darn close to the best I’ve tasted in a long time.

Cooked in wood ovens inside the brasserie it has the requisite charred bottom and molten centre for a mark of excellence in my book. The four cheeses chosen as topping may have transformed our lunch into a deluge of dairy, but a surplus of fat was deemed necessary to protect ourselves from the elements.  Who knows what we’d face on the way home?

My time is best spent huddling over a speciality of polenta with sausages and sugo that’s as comforting as some time with a lap rug and old episodes of The West Wing. The polenta is slippery and plain, the sugo slightly sloppy and sweet.

Polenta and sausage. 10 Euro.

Some sausages floating about provide protein and soon we’re feeling steeled to return to Switzerland again.

Cervinia has none of the picturesque posing of Zermatt. There are less twinkle lights. Less fur lined hoods. On the streets there are real cars instead of infuriating electric buggies buzzing about.

It sports friendly places with  rustic food that warms you from the inside out- and prices that don’t make your eyebrows freeze in elevated shock.

If life is about anecdote shopping, this lunch is a new one to add to the file.

It’s the day we tried to ski over an international border, climbed back to the top, ate what might be the best pizza in the world, just before I sustained my only injury at the snow.

And the fall? It wasn’t on the slopes. It wasn’t on the chairlift. It wasn’t even when I was wearing skis.

It was merely walking back from lunch on iced cobblestones, in plastic boots. Up and over I went. Flat on my back.

Sure it hurt. But I’ve learned that nothing good comes without a little pain.  And luckily for me there were two lovely strapping lads to help me to my feet.

If I had to do it all over again, I certainly would- if only for another taste of that mozzarella.

Lino’s Cervinia

What’s the furthest you’ve travelled for a meal…?

  1. This is one of my all time favourite posts! And no, not only because of the Top Gun and West Wing references 😉

    How far have I travelled for a meal? Well, I'm a comin' to London to visit my favourite foodies – does that count? x

  2. Loved every word – and felt the pain and strain of the climb. Sounds like a worthwhile meal and I wish I could say I had the option of "skiing into Italy for lunch". Ha!

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