Inevitably Umbria gets compared to its neighbor Tuscany, but that’s not even necessary because Umbria has a life and a spirit all its own. We recently visited Umbria and had one of the best meals ever.
The restaurant is called Refectorium and is located on the Il Convento in Campagna estate in Mantignana. A former 10th century convent, this property has always been one of our favorites. It was our first home-away from home on our debut visit to Umbria with our children in 1995. We stayed in La Torre, the original tower, and were quite taken with the frescoed altar in our bedroom.
So we were only too happy to revisit Il Convento in Campagna with Roberta, our Umbria partner. She enthusiastically explained to us that Refectorium had recently opened in the former cellar and that she would like to invite us to dine there with her and some of our Umbrian friends. We learned that the chef, Luca, is from Umbria and, after having worked in many restaurants in Italy and abroad, wanted to come back home to Umbria to practice his craft. Guests of Il Convento are very lucky that Luca made this decision because Refectorium is a first-rate dining experience.
We arrived early and had a glass of wine with Luca and his wife. It was early October and there was a fresh crispness to the autumn air. Upon entering the brick arched room, we felt an immediate warmth. There was a blazing fire in the large stone fireplace that was bright and welcoming. Also welcoming and warm was how the space was decorated with its original cotto floors and white clothed tables. Roberta and friends soon arrived and we all sat down to start our evening of fun and amazing dining.
Here is the menu that Roberta selected for us:
Sauce made with fresh tomatoes flavored with a variety of herbs and eaten with pieces of grilled bread called abbrustolito. Scarpetta means “little shoe” in Italian. Italian tradition calls for dipping the bread into the sauce and using it like a small shoe for scooping up the sauce.
Mixed meat/cheese platter with prosciutto, salami, capocollo (salami made with pork neck (an Umbrian specialty), goose liver and fresh local sheep’s cheese; bruschetta with tomatoes, garlic and basil; sweet onion jam and peach jam.
Pici with goose meat sauce or Pici with truffles.
Pici pasta is an Umbrian specialty and are very thick, long, hand rolled noodles.
Mixed platter of grilled meats including veal, sausage, and pork
Brochette of chicken breast cooked with mixed herbs
Fire roasted potatoes
Grilled mixed vegetable with herbs
Sacher Torte – a unique chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam and a chocolate glaze. The Sacher torte is named for Austrian Franz Sacher who invented this famous cake in 1832
Caffè and liqueur (amaro)
Umbrian red wine
Needless to say, it was a fulfilling evening, in many ways, complete with good food and good friends. We said our good-byes to Luca and his staff and stepped out into the clear Umbrian night. The lights subtly illuminating the stone structure of Il Convento in Campagna were simply magical, reminding us of how lucky we are to have Umbria in our life.
PS: Our stay this time was in Il Fienile 1. Check it out!