From the heart
Fabrizio Gobbato, co-owner of Chester’s Da Noi alongside his wife Valentina Aviotti, on a love story involving music, hospitality and great food
Back at the tail end of November, Absolutely attended a very special event at Da Noi on Bridge Street in Chester. The evening featured producers Ca’ Del Baio and Del Tetto co-hosting a bespoke wine dinner event, with our hosts for the evening the two people behind what has become one of Chester’s most highly desirable restaurants: Fabrizio Gobbato and Valentina Aviotti. The food was exemplary, as was the wine that flowed, but more than anything it was the welcoming atmosphere that stood out for us. This was what neighbourhood restaurants should be all about.
It’s little wonder, sitting down with Fabrizio some time later to discuss Da Noi, that hospitality is a key ethos behind what they do. First though, how did the two cross paths? “‘She was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…’ She actually was indeed,” laughs Fabrizio. “It was 2002 and I would then be playing my first ever concert with my band at the Waxy O’Connor in Turin.”
A lot has happened in the two decades since, but a key date – especially for Cheshire residents – was when they decided to come to the UK and embark on something new. “We moved to Chester in 2018, just one month before Da Noi opened its doors for the first time,” Fabrizio explains. “At the time we opened Da Noi in 2018 we had not had any experience as restaurateurs or business owners. Just the casual jobs in our 20s as waiting-on staff.”
It’s a remarkable statement considering what the two have created on Bridge Street. “My vision for a unique Italian hospitality brand, made of 5-6 different projects under the same “umbrella”, but all different from one another,” is how Fabrizio explains the inspiration behind opening Da Noi. “And the desire to have a project to craft together as a couple.”
And crafted they have. From day one, Fabrizio says they wanted to offer a “unique dining experience based on our Northern origins, without compromises”. When Absolutely Cheshire last visited, the Autumn Tasting Menu was what greeted us (as well as the traditional warm welcome from Fabrizio). The dishes were remarkable, and the choice included Jerusalem artichoke, mascarpone, wild mushrooms and bread tuile; La Tartare: beef, mustard, filo pastry cannolo; Il Branzino: sea bass, coffee, cauliflower and chestnuts; and Il Cervo: venison, red berries, celeriac and almond. The flavours literally jumped out of the menu.
“Valentina usually starts from the seasonal elements,” Fabrizio says on the food at Da Noi. “Then she brings on some first combinations and decides where to use which technique, to keep her level of excitement constant. Then she needs to make sure the textures in each dish are the right ones, and finally she makes sure the link between the dishes in the tasting menu is guaranteed – like a true story, everything has got to make sense for her thread. Her dominant style of cooking is to keep everything very simple, which is paradoxically the most challenging part.”
Valentina’s cooking is truly one of a kind. We mention the combination of sea bass and coffee was beautifully unique, and it’s a dish that he agrees is the height of haute cuisine. “I am in love with the sea bass dish.” he smiles. “All senses involved and the unusual combination with ground coffee is genius. But the Giandujotto dessert is for me unreal, done in collaboration with our sister business Krum Gelato.”
While Valentina is busy creating these stunning dishes, Fabrizio manages the front of house and is in charge of the delectable wine list. “It has the exact same importance as the food,” he says on the wine list. “Our wine selection is unique for the area and for the type of restaurant we are, featuring exclusive and rare wines from our country. Our cocktails list follows the same line.”
Da Noi has been featured in the Michelin Guide since opening – “That gave us a massive push and a real motivation to believe in ourselves and continue on our journey. Hopefully it will continue to be the same,” Fabrizio says – so given the hype behind the restaurant, how does it feel to be running it husband and wife? “We have a perfect balance and know exactly the boundaries of our roles,” he answers. “Valentina is the talent, I am the organiser. There are quite a few clashes, but they usually end up with a positive outcome for the product or the team. We never bring anything personal at home, even though work is a typical subject of our conversations.”
There’s no doubting that Da Noi leads the way when it comes to hospitality in Chester, but Fabrizio speaks warmly about their surroundings. “I find it very exciting,” he says on Chester, “there are lots of interesting things done by very exciting people. I seriously hope this turns into a virtuous circle so there could be more investment from more good people to create an even bigger echo around the city.”
As we head into the new year, what dishes can we expect to be enjoying next at Da Noi? “The detail is a secret,” he smiles, giving nothing away. “But expect seasonality, some new amuse bouche, and very likely some new textures for Da Noi. We want to enjoy a full 2024 with our new tasting menu proposition, and see where we get to. The surrounding conditions for our sector are not at all ideal. We need to be careful with our choices and keep our guests curious and attracted to what we do, hence why we have intensified our events calendar. Very many great places with great chefs/teams have closed this year, so the situation is very delicate.”
Never has a truer word been spoken. Their next event is scheduled for the start off February – Absolutely Cheshire intends to be at the head of the queue.