LE BUBBOLE Matera Italy Restaurant Review — Gourmet Fare Given Respectful Light Touch, a highly recommended stop in Southern Italy for global foodies
The way personable and engaging chef Nicola Stella tells it, the winning team that helps make Le bubbole a foodie’s top pick during a Matera, Basilicata Italy tour, came about in the culinary equivalent of love-at-first-sight…
Stella, who was born and raised in Matera but whose culinary career had taken him to award-winning restaurants in England, France and beyond, recounts, “Pierrot asked me to meet him to discuss a restaurant in a boutique hotel. I’m an empathic man, and within five minutes it was decided…”
The it was teaming up to create this winning restaurant, Le bubbole, an adjunct of boutique hotel Palazzo Gattini, that also happens to be a short hop from Matera, Italy’s Palazzo Viceconte, and a favorite dining spot of its proprietors Drs. Viceconte. Every day that Le bubbole is open, this team--Nicola, Pierrot (or more formally Pietro Francesco Antonio DeMuro) and Pierrot’s wife Maria (or more formally Maria Grazia Mavillonio) –work to create a memorable dining experience for their guests.
In truth they aren’t geared so much for you, the drive-by tourist, even though your numbers are growing rapidly in this now European Capital of Culture city. Rather, their menu, which is changed for every season, aims more to please the locals.
Le bubbole does not provide a typical tourist menu
Stella continues to explain their philosophy, “This is not a tourist menu. We follow the season, and change the menu every three months. There are no frozen ingredients in our food. We want the best ingredients… We don’t touch the ingredients too much, and usually only have three or four ingredients in each recipe…We hope everything is a clean dish. We want to respect the food..”
In this photographer/writer team’s view, this respect for the cuisine comes across loud and clear, in many ways allowing us to taste the Matera terrain in a sophisticated gastronomical experience.
The surroundings are simple but elegant, making it hard to fathom that this space was once a horse stable. Soft music plays in the background, Dave Brubeck’s classic Take Five album, among others. It’s easy to imagine this as a romantic date spot for upscale locals, especially when its terrace space is opened in warmer months.
Pierrot and his wife Maria—who struck this writer/photographer team as having the looks and grace that could land them parts in Italian cinema— came in and out of our space quickly and quietly so that our personal conversation felt the minimum of interruption. When pressed into chatting, Maria paused long enough to share that she too had studied Political Science in school, as did Stella— more accurately Dr. Stella, as he had received his PhD in Political Science in 2000, always working his way through school in the culinary industry and eventually returning to it, his enduring love. Do they talk about Berlusconi and politics much, we asked. “No, we talk about food,” Maria answered with a slight eye twinkle.
As we sampled the chef’s menu selected for us, Stella’s account of giving the food “respect” seemed especially apt. Spend but a day in Matera and you learn to appreciate its unique salt-free bread; go to Le bubbole and appreciate it all the more in Stella’s slight touch toasting with olive oil and thyme. Similarly, the toasted red peppers (pepperoni crusco) that you can get everywhere—in restaurants, groceries, gift shops—somehow seems to catapult into the category of rare delicacy in Le bubbole’s treatment. When we pressed Stella to share his secret sauce, so to speak, he smiled, and said there was nothing unusual, just a sauté pan toasting for “..one to five seconds..” as he moved his hands in the gesture of stirring peppers around in a pan.
This gave us a window on the careful light touch that we were tasting throughout the meal. There were potato skins that weren’t salty but had the memory of salt. An ancient Matera poached egg recipe seemed the stuff of what Thais would call “palace food”, but also with the sating quality of its likely Matera peasant food origin.
Chef Stella also helped de-code what was perhaps our favorite dish, the pizzicato, a ravioli stuffed with codfish and with a flavorful sauce made of olives, capers, tomatoes with accents made with the skin of codfish and basil. He smiled and held his hand up making a pinching gesture saying, “You pinch it like a cheek. That’s what the name means.”
Light touches, careful touches—it puts Le bubbole on the culinary map not just of Matera or the Basilicata region of Southern Italy- but on the global foodie map.
For more information on Le bubbole or to make reservations visit the Le bubbole website.