Sarah Douglas rings in the changes at Settimo Cielo, where rustic refined Italian cuisine still rules the roost. Images: Lucky 8.
Nonna would freak! The youthful, earnest Northern Italian Chef, Alberto Panciera, has taken an Italian classic and made some serious changes, putting his creative license to the test. The traditional proscuiotto melone is pushing the boundaries, the orange melon has been replaced with finely sliced pears, grilled for maximum flavour, and the delightfully salty crunch was never in the original.
Luckily, this enthusiastic chef is far from his village and his family need never know. Diners who lust after great tasting food and don’t give a stuff for tradition will love it, and I suspect quite a few Italians will too. But don’t tell Grandma!
Settimo Cielo is a very sexy little restaurant. The interiors are a mix of soft and shiny. Black and silver waver under the shock of pink and soft cream.
The hanging lamps soften the scene and the lights are low.
Lunch at Settimo Cielo is a popular hangout for locals and the grazing menu, all you can eat for less than Rp250,000, often sees diners lingering through to sunset. Evenings are made for lovers, and lovers of good food. It’s perfect for hiding out in a romantic corner or putting some tables together and settling in with friends.
Yet it is the food that keeps us coming back. ‘Rustic yet refined’, reads the menu and the classics are all here. From ragu to slow cooked lamb shanks; homemade pasta in all its familiar guises; risotto to seafood, meat dishes and a menu of starters that are guaranteed to seduce.
Chef Alberto, or Pancio as he known around his hood, joined Settimo Cielo last year. He follows on from founding chef, Nicholas Lazzaroni, and has a lot of respect for the way things have been set up. He is equally determined to put his own stamp on the menu. The Italian owners are hesitant about change. Yet the thoroughly modern and very beautiful villa complex behind the restaurant, The Layar, has given Alberto all the inspiration he needs to introduce some modern takes on the classics.
We sat down to a comprehensive and very Italian menu. Chef informs us that there will be some of his own personal favourites included for dinner. In other words, ‘don’t over-order’. It’s a challenge as there is no shortage of dishes that appeal.
We decide on a series of starters to be followed by pasta. A main may have to be sacrificed for dessert. Maybe.
I spotted the grilled pear and prosciutto immediately and it was every bit as good as it promised. The crisp proscuitto played off the cured ham and the grilled pear beautifully and the addition of stracciatella, a creamy curd-like cheese, was perfect. I also fancied the scallops, served with pea puree and almond cream. This is another of Pancio’s dishes; modern, subtle and delicious, the scallops perfectly grilled.
My friend chose stuffed zucchini blossoms, full of flavour, oozing with a creamy combination of cheeses and offset with battered slices of pumpkin. It was crisp, light and tangy. We were urged to try one of his most popular entrées, a calamari stuffed with ricotta on a bed of purple sweet potato purée. It was delicious, yet the prosciutto with pear was my favourite, the scallops a close second.
There is a dish from the original menu that I always order and although I detect a slight frown from the chef, I have it anyway. This is one of the dishes he would like to replace but regulars diners, like myself, are also tough to accept change. It is a hand-made ravioli stuffed with ricotta spinach and egg yolk. The yolk runs yellow and mingles with the crisp pancetta to create the sauce. I know it’s probably run its race but I’ll miss it.
We also ordered the mushroom risotto, and it’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular dishes. Redolent with the pungent flavor of porcini and topped with finely sliced raw mushrooms and parmesan crisps.
Chef Alberto came to Bali from Shanghai, where he worked for the popular E-Willy group, started by a famously eccentric chef from Barcelona. His career has seen him work in London, Australia, across Italy, in China and currently Indonesia. His last posting was at the Nihi Sumba resort, which attracts a very discerning surf clientele.
“I love the classics, I’m Italian. The menu at Settimo Cielo is based on rustic food, which I love, but I also want to refine it, modernize a little. When I first arrived there was a lot of cream and butter on the menu, now there is very little. Tastes change and this restaurant is already excellent, I think I can make it even better,” he tells us at the start of our dinner.
Albert is at heart a technician. His dishes are exacting yet remain soulful. His home in the small town of Trissino, in northeast Italy, inspires his choices while his time travelling the world has given him a wider perspective. Settimo Cielo is a more polished restaurant experience since he arrived, the service is perfect, the dishes arrive beautifully plated and the wine list is full of good choices at excellent prices.
As Pancio promised, a main arrives to surprise us. The slow cooked lamb with lentils and the pork belly are two of his personal favourites and just as we begin to relax to the promise of dessert, a final dish arrived.
“The lamb is ready in moments as we prepare it in advance,” he tells us, the hint of a smile on his face.
Indeed this is a dish that should not be overlooked. Cooked for 12 to 15 hours in a sous-vide bath, it is still slightly pink in the centre and cuts like butter. The lentils with bacon are a perfect accompaniment and the carrots, pickled and then charred, are heavenly. A hint of balsamic finishes the dish. Between us we just managed to finish it, every mouthful was a delightful challenge.
The soft Valpolicella I chose was perfect with this meal. The air-conditioning had us believing that we could actually pull off a substantial meal like this. The dining room was humming by now with late arrivals and we could easily have reached for another glass. Settimo Cielo has that effect on you.
The dessert Pancio served was very much in keeping with his personal style. The plate reminded me of his time at Chachara, the E-Willy tapas restaurant that brought him to Bali. A raspberry spattered plate was dotted with chocolate ravioli; bite-sized pastry parcels stuffed with molten chocolate. A touch of marscapone dressed the pretty plate. It was a nice finish and surprisingly light. It was a delightful finish to our delicious evening.
The chef joined us for a glass of wine, talking of his vision for Settimo Cielo. He knows that change will have to come slowly, his regular diners and the Italian owners will insist. However it is already clear where he is headed and it promises a lighter, more modern take on Italian classics that are loved the world over.
Sweet dreams are made of these and heavenly thoughts of glistening ravoli and little chocolate parcels send us floating home. Content, well fed, sparkling from good wine, great service and a restaurant experience that never disappoints. Put Settimo Cielo on your map, there’s a lot to love.