Eating Out

Barking up the wrong tree

Insta-obsessed diners can’t see the food for the reels

This article is taken from the March 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Aurélie Canzoneri, India Cardona, Ines Fiorini, Starkellen, Tina Lee; if any of these names are familiar then you should be doing my job.

They and thousands like them are the women who can make or break restaurants through their reach on Instagram. That hospitality has been adapting itself to social media for more than a decade isn’t exactly news, but until I saw the ladies in action at Forestis in the Valle Isarco I had no idea of the depth of the shift.

This goes beyond appealing plate assembly, or even entire locales being designed to look good on an Insta reel (such as El&N, which pitched itself as “the world’s most Instagrammable café” when it launched in 2017).

This is bigger. The entire raison d’etre of Forestis, from the architecture to the coffee cups to the marvellously photogenic staff, appears to be the generation of content for Meta.

Forestis began life as a mountain sanatorium, converted into a hotel in 2015 with the addition of three incongruous-yet-uncompromisingly-stylish towers. The vast spa, the restaurant and the rooms are orientated for maximally magnificent views of the Puez-Odle range. Overall, the feel is contemporary Alpine luxe, spacious, serene and expensively honey-toned.

Children are officially banned, older people, one suspects, gently discouraged. Not that Forestis is for hedonists in search of Mykonos vibes; this brand of sybarism is serious work. At 7am, three elaborate photo shoots were already in progress in the outdoor pool.

The girls posed and pouted as the sun rose pinkly over the peaks, their boyfriends/photographers wrangling ringlights through the snow. One of them turned slowly blue as his subject spent twenty minutes climbing in and out of the sauna plunge, naturally fashioned from a rustic wooden barrel.

They were at it in the restaurant too, a tiered, glass-fronted amphitheatre of curved white leather banquettes. The scale of the view is spectacular, not that anyone was looking at it with their actual eyes. Forestis’s kitchen is run by Roland Lamprecht, whose career throughout Central Europe has focused on “terroir complicity”, which I think means fine dining uncompromised by eco-carelessness.

Unlike the majority of his customers, Lamprecht isn’t concocting an enhanced version of reality

In the evening, the kitchen offers three menus, à la carte, a seven-course set and a detox version which is the set with the carbs removed. Local grains, cheeses and vegetables are elevated with pickled or fermented relishes, hearty traditional recipes refined and lightened.

Roasted-flour ravioli bathed delicately in a lichen tea, braised winter leeks from nearby Merano perched on pillows of späetzle, cauliflower with mustard, honey and almonds, grilled slivers of polenta striped with seared ricotta and charred roots — the dishes were varied, intense yet harmonious, contriving to achieve far more than the sum of their relatively humble parts.

Woodsy aromatic herbs, bark reductions and pine needles provided spikes of unexpected savour, wild cherries and raspberries lent tart sweetness to just-touched venison.

Desserts were similarly thoughtful, deconstructed strudel, bitter chocolate sorbet. There was an impressive lack of reliance on conventionally opulent ingredients and even after seven courses one felt one could manage a couple of misty laps, assuming there was space between the ’Grammers.

Unlike the majority of his customers, Lamprecht isn’t concocting an enhanced version of reality, but the huge integrity of his food deserves better than the setting. Not that Forestis is anything but gorgeous, even flawless, yet the grim intensity of its like-obsessed clientele casts a pall which even the scenery and the impeccable service can’t overcome.

Eating there is entirely unconvivial, each enclosed table cocooned in self-regard masquerading as privacy. No-one converses, let alone laughs.

The wine list is packed with gems, including an exceptional 2015 Lagrein, but everyone except me was too anxious about their close-ups to order from it. The food is exquisitely arranged, carefully piled in contrasting palette tones and prinked out with micro-flowers, but it’s a backdrop, like the white jade snowbanks in the forest outside. Unfiltered moonlight can’t compete with the glow of a hundred scrolling screens.

For India, Star & co, this joyless concentration is legitimate enough. They earn their livings through engagement. Equally, a commercial business which rejected opportunities for such engagement would be wilfully dumb in the present climate. Forestis can do 120 covers a night and maybe they don’t mind if the food comes back uneaten, but it seems a terrible waste in every way.

After visiting Forestis I found an online support group for recovering Boyfriends of Instagram

Clearly, they care profoundly about what they are doing, and one can certainly taste it on the plate, but those carefully-foraged wild mushrooms and cheeky little root artichokes might as well be made of plastic. After visiting Forestis I found an online support group for recovering Boyfriends of Instagram, where the poor chaps shared their stories of holidays wasted on capturing the perfect shoreline beach angle and destinations dictated by their fashionability on social media.

Forestis has bet the organic farm on Insta ratings but given the cyclonic rather than cyclic speed at which trends now move (2021 is currently described as “vintage”), this might prove unwise in the long term.

A beautiful space in a beautiful place, it really doesn’t need any more selfies. Sadly, until the influencers move on, it will never be somewhere I’d want to return to.

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