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Italian delights hidden in city centre corner
MY visit to Cibo Divino, an Italian restaurant which opened in central St Albans only four months ago, was unquestionably one of my best ever gastronomic experiences.
It was easy to believe that joint owners Guiseppe Mola and Lee Purcell, a chef with experience of several top London establishments, had scoured Italy over the summer for the latest developments in the national cuisine.
Guiseppe told me: "We came back ten kilogrammes overweight.
"We don't go to places that do spaghetti carbonara - we know how to make that.
"But Italian food is evolving all the time."
His mother, who lives in Puglia, the "heel" of Italy, passed on to Lee family gastronomic secrets handed down through generations.
Back in England, the chef embarked on a crusade to source the very best of the ingredients which had so enthused him on his travels.
My meal began a delicious concoction of courgettes topped with rocket and some wonderful parmesan, while my companion enjoyed some delicate carpaccio - very lightly delicately cooked thin slices of beef - with a mayonaise mustard.
Lee's creative skill was amply demonstrated with our superb main dish of duck and spinach.
While garnished with lentils, pear slices and a sauce made from vino santo, a sweet Tuscan wine, this owed its success to the inspired combination of main ingredients.
My dessert, a white chocolate bruleé with a chestnut puree base, was scrumptious, while my companion enjoyed the vanilla panacotta, delicately poised halfway between jelly and ice-cream.
Accompanying this feast was an excellent chianti which was served after I had been refreshed with a peach aperitif.
And I loved the focaccia bread, given its distinctive character by semolina and rosemary.
It would probably be too salty for some, but Guiseppe explained how the Genoese dock workers who traditionally snacked on it would have sweated out the salt.
I was surprised to find no cheese on the menu, but he told me the Waddington Street premises are not suitable for storing it properly, and his standards will not allow him to serve it straight from the fridge.
He said: "If we can't do something really well, we won't do it at all.
"We're are not in St Albans to make a quick buck and run away - we are here to stay."
If all his food is as good as my meal, that's great news.