During high school I fell in love, not with any of my spotty counterparts, but with the Italian language.
Spoken with so much drama, romance and musicality, those Italian lessons transported me from my chewing gum ridden desk to the shimmering shores of Lake Garda.
To my shame, I’ve yet to put my rusty Italian to the test with a visit to the land of ancient monuments, beautiful art, stunning food and amazing natural landscapes.
But I have fully immersed myself into another delicious dialect: the Italian language of food.
From pizza and prosciutto to tiramisu and tagliatelle, the Italian way is definitely through the stomach.
So on an unseasonably warm September Saturday night in Aberdeen, my partner Andy and I decided to take a trip to Italy via Rustico, an authentic, family run restaurant tucked away in the city’s Union Row.
Cavernous and cosy with low ceilings, alcoves and wooden beams, stepping into Rustico was like gate-crashing a romantic restaurant scene from a movie.
Greeted by our server like an old friend, we were led through the buzz of Saturday night service, down some steps and into an intimate yet spacious area of the restaurant.
Instantly besotted with the red and white chequered tablecloths, synonymous with traditional Italian dining, we drank in our Mediterranean-style surroundings, enjoying the characterful Italian faces staring back at us from photos adorning the whitewashed walls.
With such a romantic feel to the restaurant, it wasn’t a surprise to see couples of all ages staring lovingly into each others’ eyes.
My eyes meanwhile were fixated on the extensive menu placed in front of me. With 15 starters, 32 mains, eight salads and sides and seven desserts, plus gluten-free and vegan alternatives, the menu was a meal in itself.
Lubricating my mind with a chilled glass of Villa dei Fiori Pecorino, a medium bodied Italian white wine with hints of orange blossom, I finally settled on arancini con carne, risotto and ragu balls.
Perfectly plump with an enticing golden exterior, my fork had punctured the risotto balls before I even knew what my hand was doing.
Deliciously crispy on the outside, it was the rich, rice interior that sent my tastebuds into overdrive.
Balancing the creaminess of the risotto rice was the meaty ragu sauce, while the accompanying tangy tomato dip brought a little spice to the party with salad leaves adding crunch.
Opposite me, Andy’s eyes lit up as he delved into his carpaccio, thinly sliced roasted duck breast dressed with caramelised beetroot, feta cheese and mixed leaves.
Succulent and sweet with that distinctive pink hue, the duck breast quickly received the thumbs up and was perfectly paired with earthy caramelised beetroot and the salty feta cheese.
Rather ravenous after a trip to the gym earlier in the day, we also ordered a side of pane all’ aglio, fresh stone-baked garlic pizza bread topped with Sicilian red pesto and parmesan cheese.
Made from sundried tomatoes, herbs and parmesan, the red pesto tasted amazing, but teamed with the super garlicky pizza bread it was sheer indulgent heaven.
More than satisfied with our generous starters, we sipped on wine as our super friendly server promptly cleared our plates away.
Scanning the restaurant, it’s clear that Rustico has a cross generation appeal with couples and families of all ages tucking into hearty bowls of pasta and pizza.
Leaving us just enough time to let our starters digest and it was on to the mains.
Despite being pizza obsessed, I’m also a huge seafood fan so I couldn’t resist the linguine alla marinara.
Taking in the delicious tangle of long, thin, cylindrical pasta, shiny black mussel shells and alluringly juicy prawns, I wasted no time in swirling up a forkful.
Bursting with briny flavours of the ocean, hunks of fresh monkfish and meaty squid were given extra depth with the spicy garlic and tomato marinara sauce.
Tender with a slight chewiness, the mussels were cooked to perfection while the plump king prawns were clearly fresh from the sea and not of the frozen supermarket variety.
A self-confessed carnivore, Andy opted for the vitello saltimbocca – veal T-bone steak – for his main.
More tender than beef, the delicately flavoured meat, flamed with white wine and brandy, was complemented by melt-in-the-mouth parma ham, while the slightly peppery sage butter and buffalo mozzarella added some creamy richness to the dish.
Served with vegetables and potatoes seasoned by rosemary, Andy demolished the hearty dish.
Stomachs full but with extra pockets left for dessert, we were only too happy when our server handed us back the menus.
Eyeing up the options which ranged from homemade cheesecake and profiteroles to gelato and sorbets, I finally settled on tartuffo bianco.
Featuring semifreddo (half frozen) ice cream, topped with crushed meringue and an espresso shot, it was an intriguing hot and cold combination.
Pouring the hot espresso over the ice cream felt wrong but tasted so right as the creaminess of the ice cream and the sweet crunch from the meringue cut through the deliciously strong coffee flavour.
No stranger to a supermarket tiramisu, Andy was seriously impressed by the homemade version alluringly presented in front of him.
Soaked in a fortified marsala wine, the sponge biscuits were moist while the sweet mascarpone cream was light and creamy.
Bringing our Italian experience to an even sweeter end, we ordered some dessert wine for the road.
For a trip to Italy without your feet leaving the ground, Rustico should be your number one destination.
From the friendly but not overbearing staff and the authentic Italian décor, to the sensational starters, mouthwatering mains and homemade desserts, it’s easy to see why Rustico is a long-running Aberdeen institution.
In an attempt to resurrect my rusty high school Italian, I would sum up our experience as truly ‘bellisimo’.
Address: 62 Union Row, Aberdeen AB10 1SA
T: 01224 658444
Price: £120 for two starters, one side, two mains, two desserts, two dessert wines, one bottle of sparkling water and a bottle of wine.
- Food: 5/5
- Service: 5/5
- Surroundings: 5/5