Italy's Top Restaurant Reale Features A Meat-Free Tasting Menu

Since its opening a mere 20 years ago, Reale, a restaurant in Castel di Sangro, Italy, has been no stranger to accolades. With three Michelin stars, rankings in the world's 50 Best restaurants, and a team led by Niko Romito, Europe's 2020 chef of the year, and Giani Sinesi, Food & Wine Italia's best sommelier under 35, Reale has received its fair share of acknowledgments (via Niko Romito). But its most recent endowment from Gambero Rosso, Italy's most historical guide to dining, came at a time when chef Niko Romito had made a radical choice, one that rid the country's classic meat and fish dishes from Reale's tasting menu entirely (per CNN).

After being named the best restaurant in Italy in October, Romito believes that Reale is defining a new era for Italian cuisine. "It's as if we are writing a new page now; our dishes and work don't exist in gastronomic literature. It's new adrenaline, new energy," he tells CNN.

A taste of Abruzzo

The only neighbors surrounding the secluded 16th-century monastery Reale calls home are the Abruzzo region's Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea — a serene environment intentionally reflected through the restaurant's menu. "We're in Castel di Sangro, Abruzzo, the greenest region of Europe, surrounded by nature. Vegetables represent all of this," Romito tells CNN. "I thought if I didn't do this, who else would?" While the chef's cooking philosophy has always focused on the Abruzzo region and its local producers, the decision to go meatless was ultimately about the evolution of their clients.

Romito has found that today, more and more clients are seeking restaurants where they can eat well and make less of an impact on the environment. To do that, Romito sought to creatively elevate ingredients that aren't typical in fine dining. Legumes, chickpeas, lentils, and beans are just some of the ingredients the Abruzzo region has to offer, showcased on a fully vegetarian-tasting menu. Reale's menu, per Niko Romito, features dishes like lentils with hazelnut and garlic oil, capellini pasta with leeks, and a rosemary artichoke in a way that's just as exciting, if not more, than meat or fish.

Romito hopes that, through the success of Reale, he can influence other restaurants in Italy to utilize more local ingredients. However, he emphasizes that "the real difference is when a chef can make an ingredient we all know well and tell a new story."