I’m not a fan of gentrification and globalization and when it comes in the shape of food trends I’m not particularly excited. However, if following a food hype means enriching the city’s menu, then I’m all for it. In particular, vegan and vegetarian places, despite being a steadily growing trend in Bologna too, were in strong need of restyling. Too many people are still convinced, despite having countless options to be proved wrong, that eating “green ‘n cruelty free” means sacrificing taste, vibe and palatal orgasms (yes, old-fashioned sad cafeterias disguised as veggie restaurants, still prospering in Bologna, I’m talking to you). So I couldn’t be happier to see that at least two notable gourmet restaurants serving a 100% plant based menu debuted lately.
The first is Radici, owned and directed by Alessandro Costenaro, mastermind of La spesa bio (a delivery service of local veggies and organic groceries). I met “Sandro” four years ago when he was running Cucina Fuorimoda, a little “member’s kitchen” where he provided tasteful vegan dinners and a nice conversation around food and culture. He even came to visit me when I was in Berlin, where he clearly had a mission of cool hunting and studying the german capital’s vegan bars and restaurants, and I always noticed his fashion sense, good taste and restless spirit of initiative (since the first time I’ve met him, he launched and changed more ventures than I’ve changed hairstyle. But it must be said that my hairstyle hasn’t changed much since I was at school).
Minimalistic in style and décor, with big windows facing Via San Vitale and black and green chairs, Radici serves simple recipes taken from tradition (hummus, lentil soups, salads, pinzimonio) and typical vegan gourmet icons (cashews cheeses, vegan creamy desserts), with a dedicated eye for the mise-en-place and a clear penchant for what can be worked out from almonds and cashews. I promised myself to go back and try the almond ricotta with figues. It also has a nice selection of organic, vegan wines (Radici is actually a “Winehouse with kitchen”, and lovely Wu, the young Chinese sommelier, will give you all the advice you need), and provides two things few places in Bologna offer: you can dine all day, and you can work from there with your computer (post on the difficult life of freelancers and digital nomads in Bologna soon to come).
Botanica Lab is a whole different matter. Despite targeting the same food sector and having the same love for cashew cream cakes, this restaurant in Via del Battibecco (but it already existed in Via San Racco next to Via del Pratello, where it was launched in 2015, before opening here in December) has a slightly different vibe. A careful, richer décor, nice velvet chairs and and overall posher atmosphere, it “welcomed” me into its overheated space with a noisy (acoustics need improvement) crowd of customers that seemed to have been casted for the fashion shooting of a sunday’s paper style supplement. All good looking, in their thirties and forties, well dressed with a hipster twist, beautiful blond children and/or wonderful trendy coats (couldn’t help noticing a fur, slightly out of place in a vegan restaurant, my simple mind reckoned).
Such trendy crowd must have been attracted by the background of owner Anna Artesiani, a former student of Los Angeles-based Matthew Kenney (“international guru of raw cooking”, as you can read on the restaurant’s website). Also the location (right behind Via D’Azeglio) and the bohemian chic furnishing call for a slightly more pretentious crowd, and you could easily spot a couple of these “Bologna bene” (“the well-offs of Bologna”) types, even if it must be said that prices are on the norm. As for the menu, I had a rather disappointing spelt crepe with pumpkin, cabbage and the inevitable cashew cream that needed salt or at least some more character, but my friend’s black rice with vegetables, pistachio and fresh pomegranate was really nice and also quite a big serving. Another disappointment came with the dessert. Armed with strong hopes, I ordered the “vegan cassata” that was an honest cake but really had nothing to do with cassata at all.
Botanica’s overall menu is fascinating though, and Tripadvisor’s rating are super high, so I promised myself to go again. Especially to check on the service: my friend and I had a hilarious time as they first forgot to clean our table from the previous occupiers and take our orders, then coldly apologized as temporarily understaffed, then again forgot about cutleries and left us for a solid 5 minutes with our lovely plates getting cold and nothing to eat them with. The waitress was really nice, while the owner perhaps needs to work a bit on making people feel welcomed. But then again, young hearts, young places, expectations are still high and I hope that both these new additions will improve the already rich food offer of foodie Bologna.