Home-made Pasta and an Authentic Italian Aperitivo Bring Italy to Barbados
Stepping into Il Tempio at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday or Sunday is like stepping off a plane in the Caribbean but ending up in a tropical version of Milan.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
— Cover: Anna Pirrelli and Leo Valente,
Owners – Il Tempio
The traditional aperitivo hour – northern Italy’s delicious interpretation of happy hour – is in full swing; guests sip Aperol spritz cocktails while nibbling complimentary home-made focaccia, carpaccio, arancini rice balls and other antipasti. The only difference is that nowhere in Milan is there an aperitivo with a view quite like this.
As you enter the open-air restaurant, the sound of waves crashing on the white sand beach becomes your soundtrack. Elegant pillars, white-washed walls, dark wood-panelled ceiling and linen-topped tables channel the Positano or Amalfi coasts, with their iconic multi-coloured homes and restaurants set on breathtaking terraced garden cliffs – making you think ahead to the limoncello you’ll sip with dessert (tiramisù, of course, though the deconstructed cheesecake, served in a glass and similarly layered, is a close contender).
“And grappa. Don’t forget the grappa!” say Italian owners Anna Pirrelli and Leo Valente, both originally from Bari, a beachside city in the south-eastern region of Puglia. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, since there’s a lot that comes before the grappa.
A meal at Il Tempio should start with Prosecco in any of its guises: a Spritz with bitter-sweet Campari, a Bellini with peach purée or a Rossini with strawberries. Of course, you are in the Caribbean, so the daily happy hour menu from 4-6 p.m. also offers piña coladas, daiquiris and Mai Tais, all at a discount. To accompany the extended Friday and Sunday aperitivo hours from 4-7 p.m., Chef Luca Casalicchio, originally from the northern Italian town of Turin, outdoes himself with bite-sized spoonfuls of vitello tonnato, polpette meatballs, pizza and other canapés starting at 5:30 p.m.
As for the lunch and dinner menus, it’s a mix of traditional dishes and modern touches. Anna returns to Italy at least once a year to seek inspiration for the menu. “We need to know what’s going on with the food, the new combinations, the new products, the new trends”, she says.
Her approach is reflected in our appetiser, the Sinfonia al profumo di mare (“a symphony with the scent of the sea”), a romantic sounding trio of marinated shrimp, octopus, smoked salmon and avocado mousse. It’s also reflected in the orange-marinated barracuda tartare with fresh mint, a revisitation of a traditional tuna tartare, with local barracuda expertly chopped into bite-sized morsels to match the cucumber, peppers, tomatoes and orange segments.
“Barracuda is one of the best fish in Barbados and Luca marinates it for a day in a sweet orange sauce.” It’s perfect with a crisp South African Sauvignon Blanc from Porcupine Ridge, though the restaurant boasts an impressive selection of Italian bottles, naturalmente, including a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Umani Ronchi, a Tuscan Rosso Piceno from Saladini Pilastri and a heavyweight Barolo from Gaja Winery.
Low and slow is the motto for the best Italian cooking, which is reflected at Il Tempio in the bolognese sauce of beef simmered with red wine and tomato sauce for five hours. The sauce ends up baked into lasagna, the restaurant’s most popular dish. Even longer to make is the home-made ricotta. And the pasta and pizza doughs are all made by hand, not with a machine. “Our goal since we opened has been to give the customer the most that we can fresh, so the taste of the pasta is very unique”, says Anna. “In Italian cuisine, you want to taste each individual ingredient, not cover it.”
Even the gluten-free pasta is home-made using cassava flour. Stuffed with ricotta and spinach, it’s rolled into cannelloni and baked with cheese and tomato sauce on top. “It gives you the feeling that you’re eating without restrictions”, says Anna, “and people love it.”
Luciano Pavarotti, a restaurant regular for years before he passed away, would order
Il Tempio’s signature dish: agnolotti stuffed with Gorgonzola and pear and cooked with a walnut-cream sauce. “He wasn’t a big drinker because of his voice, but he was a big eater!”, she says. “He was a dear friend of ours. He used to come to Barbados every year for one month with other famous Italians and he’d tell them they had to come here. Pavarotti was a fantastic chef and cared a lot about food details. One night with Pavarotti and the Contessa Cavalli, we were dancing on this table”, she says, indicating the long table where we’re eating. Pavarotti wasn’t on the table, notes Anna. “He was just laughing.”
To Anna, though, every guest deserves the Pavarotti treatment. “We have such lovely customers, and we’re proud that we were able to build this personal relationship with the people”, she says. “Our service is friendly and we’re not a really expensive place. Our motto is ‘come as a customer and leave as a friend’. When they come, they’re really serious and then they slowly start to relax and be warmer. And when they leave, they kiss us goodbye. We have people who come for a week and they eat here four or five times. With all the restaurants here, that’s a big success for us.”
With so much success under its belt, what’s next for Il Tempio? “Our major plan is to use more of the beach”, says Anna. “We’ve added lounge chairs so our customers can come in the morning, drink a cappuccino or a coffee, have a pizza or salad for lunch and stay more of the day on the beach, because we’re not just a dinner place. We’ve also improved the pizza menu and added it to the dinner menu. We used to serve it only at lunch, but demand was so high that we had to add it to the dinner menu.”
Finally, we’ve made it to the grappa. As you sip your post-meal coffee, limoncello or grappa on the torch-lined, tranquil beach, you too will realise that at Il Tempio, Italy blends into Barbados. And it doesn’t matter which continent you’re on – because you’re exactly where you want to be.