Do not be fooled by the sweet and shy smile and by bisquit doll’s liquid large eyes of Solaika Marrocco: her hand is resting on the stove between ladles and pans. And despite her young age, she leads the cuisine of the Primo Restaurant in Lecce with acclaimed authority.
There’s strenght in numbers: Silvia, Marco and Solaika
But do not exchange it for self-assurance. Solaika, behind the scenes of the Primo from the beginning, has a great desire to grow, learn and perfecting herself. She tells us at the end of lunch, when to shield herself from our compliments, she condemns her words with humility, exalted by the melodious tone of her voice and her Salento accent.
With the same tone, calm and harmonious, she opens up to us that at the base of her dishes there are the raw materials of the Salento and Puglia tradition that she assembles in preparations that come to the table as if they were abstract paintings with bright colors.
This young chef, calm but also determined, is in perfect harmony with the elegant and almost rarefied atmosphere but not for this cold of the place, which is illuminated by the smiles and grace of Silvia and Marco, two professionals in the catering sector who have formed outside regional boundaries but who have chosen their city to express their sense of hospitality, never intrusive, discrete and calibrated.
For us, Primo Restaurant remains a confirmation: sober, elegant, without a note out of place, starting with the music in the background. And if at the beginning that of Silvia and Marco was a bet, today exactly two years after the opening, the confirmations have arrived. Their tenacious work, with head down – as Silvia tells us – without being distracted by easy exaltations, sequins and cotillons, has led them to become a staple in the catering of the capital of Salento and of Puglia as a whole.
When the dishes arrive on the table, they are presented impeccably by Silvia who explains the chef’s choices by combining the right wine.
In our case, she aimed straight at the heart as well as the palate, proposing a fascinating Nebbiolo from the Ettore Germano Winery of Serralunga d’Alba, with a ruby red color, with enveloping tannins and full and round taste, which perfectly combined with the preparation of Solaika.
The welcome entrée is based on cod cheeks, sweet and sour tomato and dried black cabbage: a good proof of balance that is not at all obvious.
Then are arrived the appetizers ordered by us. For Michele Battuta di Podolica on tomato jam and with almond flakes, while for me small Choux with scattarisciato tomato from Morciano, wild chicory and fava beans. Both illuminated revisits of dishes related to the flavors, smells and colors of our land.
We did not want to renounce the Ragù, Sunday dish par excellence, with the Benedetto Cavalieri lumaconi seasoned with a meat sauce cooked for 24 hours, tasty yet light. But when it came to choosing my first, I had no doubts, and I opted for Tortelli from the liquid filling to artichokes served with fondue of Pallone di Gravina, so harmonious that one flavor does not overpower the other, rather exalts it.
Without detracting from the other Solaika creations, I liked them very much! And she was happy because the tortelli are her strong dish and presents them in every season changing the stuffing with what the period offers.
And so, breaking the tender but firm little bundle, you can appreciate the strong taste of cardoncelli mushrooms or porcini mushrooms or the more delicate of the vegetables bought fresh at the market every day. But we are sure that Solaika will not fail to amaze us again and that her tortelli will dress different, always captivating and greedy clothes.
We could not not taste the Turcinieddhi glazed with beer with jam of sweet onion of Tropea to the orange, critmi – that is the fennels of sea – in tempura and infusion of hops in combination with Birra Moretti La Bianca, recipe with which Solaika won, the only woman on the short list, the Birra Moretti Grand Cru Award in Milan among ten finalists on 160 young chefs who took part. A beautiful satisfaction in whose memory her young eyes flash!
A pleasant surprise is the poker of greediness served as a pre-dessert: opuntia jelly, licorice meringue and rosemary biscuit, almond namelaka and black cherry syrup and white chocolate macaroon ganache with Evo oil by Frantoio D’Orazio and caramelized caper.
Even if we were full we did not want to give up the dessert that we divided into two. Our choice, among the inviting proposals, fell on a Millefeuille with Chantilly cream with fresh blueberries on which we tasted a wrapping and velvety Primitivo Dolce Naturale, La Dolce Vite of Antico Palmento, toasting with Silvia and Marco to the second birthday of their creature and their future, ever brighter and lighter.
Before leaving, I can not hold back one last question and I ask Solaika the origin of her name: “My mother liked it so much, it is of Egyptian origin, but my family is Salentina doc, from Parabita” – she tells us proudly. Now the restaurant is empty and everyone rushes to caress Otto, who waited patiently under the table, taking part in his first review.