A new, authentic, and original Italian restaurant in Norwich, Al Dente, is a place that I was eager to go to. But my initial plans didn’t come to fruition. Hoping to arrive late in the evening, I realized on a Monday that it closed at 7pm. Rather unusual for a modern restaurant. But this isn’t a restaurant, owner Adriano Turco tells me it’s an eatery.
“It’s a cozy, playful, cheerful eatery,” he said. While the typical restaurant focuses on high presentation costs, and multiple course meals, “An eatery is a place where you can come for one meal at a reasonable price, and go.” They open at 8am, serving traditional Italian breakfasts, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Specializing in pasta, Al Dente offers a lighter main course than the typical Italian-style restaurant, and so closes early. It leaves the heavier meals to the high street chains, and instead caters to a different kind of consumer.
The style of Al Dente is certainly unique among the high street restaurants of Norwich. Not focused on pomp and circumstance, it’s décor is warm and vibrant; a wooden interior, with blue and yellow chairs and cushions. The cutlery is held in quirky re-used pasta sauce tins.
Locally run, the food is prepared by Adriano, who has 18 years of experience, and his assistant. You are able to see them both over the counter, cooking right in front of you. The service was very friendly, and the staff are happy to explain the menu to anyone new to Italian cuisine. The menu is simple, but unique. You can choose your type of pasta, your sauce, and toppings from a list of options. Adriano says Al Dente is only the sixth restaurant in the UK to offer this kind of selection; the seventh is opening soon, and just so happens to be run by a friend of his.
I opted for the Pasta al Forno, a pasta bake with beef ragout, aubergines and parmesan – one of the chef’s specials.
It’s clear that Al Dente take the time to prepare their dishes from scratch. The pasta was incredibly soft, with wonderfully cooked aubergines, and the bake was neither too light, nor too heavy.
Desert options are mostly cakes and gelato, with an array of coffees available. The pistachio gelato was among the smoothest I’ve tried and is something that I would strongly recommend. It’s only just being added to the menu, as they’ve been awaiting its delivery from Italy.
I would highly recommend Al Dente to anyone looking to try authentic Italian food. It offers an array of breakfast options from Egg Milanese, to Croque Gorgonzola that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in Norwich. The mains are ideal for a date night, or a lighter main before evening drinks.