The Faloria Spa Resort
Eating Out

A fright in the Dolomites

It’s a bit much to go to dinner at a luxury ski resort and find oneself inadvertently appearing in Fawlty Towers with zombies

This article is taken from the March 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Skiing food generally gets a bad rap. Volcanic piles of cheesy starch dished up to roaring English who still parse the condition of Being Abroad as an injunction to get pissed at lunchtime before attempting a slalom down that tricky black, because of course they can ski; they had a whole week of lessons in Kitzbühel in 1982.

For those who make it down intact, it’s back to the chalet, where a hungover girl called Poppy or India has climbed off Ignatz the ski instructor for long enough to slop out a puddle of Death by Chocolate and Mummy’s whizzy three-tin boeuf bourguignon.

It feels like the most glamorous of cocoons

Conversely, I think that some of the most skilled and interesting cooking in Europe can be found in the Alps. Megève has long had a solid reputation as a foodie destination (perhaps to compensate for the lack of snow), but over the border in Italy, from Courmayeur to Val Gardena, a new generation of restaurateurs are catering for a crowd who expect a lot more than glühwein and bratwurst.

Everything that was made globally fashionable by the unlamented Noma — arcane local ingredients, inventive traditions of fermenting and preserving — has always been part of Alpine tradition, which combined with the demands of sophisticated and, let’s be frank, rich customers means that one consistently eats better in the mountains than elsewhere in Italy.

Cortina d’Ampezzo has several low-key superstars which include the newly-revamped Rosapetra and the superlative lakeside Lago Pianozes, so I was excited to try the Faloria, ten minutes across the valley.

The Faloria is a small, high-end hotel and spa with the restaurant housed in a glass atrium tacked on to the standard low-slung, dark wood building. Nothing special from the outside, but once in range of the toasty green-tiled stove, amongst twinkly fairy lights bouncing the sparkle off the snow, it feels like the most glamorous of cocoons. We agreed that the view of the Dolomites beneath a full moon merited a glass of Champagne to begin, but from there things went downhill faster than Hermann Maier.

Something of a Blitz spirit had grown up between the bewildered diners

What follows is a true account.

Our waiter had a bit of difficulty with the cork and most of the bubbles ended up on the tablecloth. He was mortified and apologetic, removed the glasses and never returned.

After 20 minutes or so, the man from the front desk arrived to take our order. Another 20 minutes passed and we asked for some bread, and perhaps a glass of water. The receptionist was doing his best, but from the bare tables and rising irritation around us it was clear that something was going very wrong in the kitchen.

A starter of poached egg in pine needle broth with caviar could have been a really clever dish, but by the time it appeared it looked and smelled like a cold bath with the Radox left in. Things picked up briefly with a primo of
tightly furled Turin-style ravioli di plin stuffed with capon and mostarda in a fantastically dense game reduction. The bread was still a no-show.

Our host attempted to jolly things along with a very extravagant bottle of Gaja, which galvanised the sweating receptionist to the extent that he broke the cork in two bottles before he too retired from the field. His place was taken by the manager, bearing our main course of vanilla-scented beef fillet with foie gras and caramelised celeriac.

We gently pointed out that the celeriac was missing, as was the wine, and might we please have some bread? The manager squeaked loudly and actually ran away.

By this point something of a Blitz spirit had grown up between the bewildered diners. Rations were shared from table to table in the now-staffless restaurant and a raid launched on the sommelier’s cupboard. Two bold gentlemen advanced on the swing doors to the kitchen, which proved to be entirely empty. Abandoned to the last plongeur. And there we were, alone on the snowy mountain in the isolated restaurant.

Obviously the thing to do was leave, but who knew what was lurking outside? Were we unwitting contestants in a reality show? Or was something more sinister going on? Which of us was going to be hauled to the cold storage and turned into tomorrow’s carpaccio special? It’s a bit much to go to dinner in expectation of a witty take on raclette and a nice fillet of venison and find oneself inadvertently appearing in Fawlty Towers with zombies.

And then — honestly this is no exaggeration — the staff came back. Service recommenced, our plates were removed and a dish of plain boiled carrots and courgettes was plonked on the table by the manager, who asked if everything was alright and did we want to see the dessert menu?

The oddest thing of all was that no-one complained. Conversation resumed, the Gaja was drunk, the bill was paid. No explanation was offered and none requested. As a study in the collective inertia imposed by good manners or the paralysing effect of brass-necked smashing of social codes, the Faloria proved the most extraordinary restaurant experience I have ever had.

The food seemed to have great potential, had it been possible to really try it, but despite the draw of the mystery of the vanishing waiters, I shan’t be going back.

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