Wining and Dining at Isola del Nord

Article By Callum Newell

Isola del Nord (formerly known as Colabo) has a reputation for excellent Italian food made from fresh, high quality ingredients. There are restaurants on North Street downtown and on Fenghui South Road in Gaoxin, and the tasteful décor, ever-attentive servers (some with good English) and pleasant atmosphere, makes Isola one of the city’s higher-end dining options

But something even the regulars of this restaurant may not be aware of is their all-you-can-drink offer on house wine. Customers can enjoy as much wine as they’d like for 120rmb per person. With this ‘wine buffet’, as some of the servers refer to it, the restaurant rotates five different bottles, and offers the diner a choice from three different wines each day: one red, one white and one rosé.

But are the wines good? Is the deal worth the expense? What could you order from the menu to complement the wines on offer?

To answer these questions we ventured to the Gaoxin branch and sampled the wines that were available that day, along with a selection of dishes chosen by the restaurant designed to complement the bottles on offer.

Here is a run-through of the dishes we sampled:

• Seafood Soup with Fresh Mussels – the ‘soup of the day’. A light, but full-flavoured seafood broth, with perfectly cooked, soft mussels, and sprinkled with fresh parsley. A perfect start to the meal!

• Caprese (tomato, mozzarella and basil salad) – a classic combination of milky, soft mozzarella cheese, sweet-sharp tomatoes and fresh basil leaves, all liberally drizzled with fragrant pesto. A real classic, the perfectly balanced flavours of this salad could even convert even hardened cheese-haters.

• Scallop and Ruccola Salad – one of the restaurant’s monthly specials for March. Tender, well-cooked scallops, served on a bed of ruccola (also more commonly known as ‘rocket’ or ‘arugula’) and other mixed salad leaves, topped with a fruity sweet and sour dressing. A great dish, which I feel they would do well to consider as a permanent addition to the menu.

• Pizza with Aubergine/Eggplant, Garlic and Basil – Isola del Nord is known for their high quality pizzas, and this one was truly excellent. A thin base, topped with generous cheese, smoky aubergine slices, slivers of sweetly pungent garlic and aromatic basil. The flavour combination worked incredibly well – perfectly balanced flavours, with no ingredients over-powering one another.

• Filet Mignon Tagliata – Filet steak, thinly sliced, and served with ruccola, parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes and a sweet-smoky sauce. The beef was very flavourful (you can, of course, choose how you would like your meat cooked), and was complimented by the tender saltiness of parmesan, the peppery bitterness of ruccola, and bursts of sweet-acidity from the tomatoes. A really well thought through dish!

The three bottles available on the day of visiting were as follows:

• De Bortoli Family Selection Shiraz-Cabernet 2013, Australia.

This blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a smooth, easy-drinking, but also a rich and full-flavoured medium-bodied red. With aromas of plum, red berries, and black cherry, with a subtle hint of spice.

It would pair brilliantly with the tagliata, or indeed any red meat dish, and would also work with any pizza or tomato-based pasta from the menu.

• Two Oceans Fresh & Fruity White 2014, South Africa.

This white blend produced a medium-bodied, off-dry Chardonnay-like wine. It displayed various tropical fruit flavours, notably pineapple, as well as hints of oak.

The simple, easy drinking style would be good with fish, shellfish, poultry or vegetables. It worked well with the scallops, the caprese and the soup. Also, it would pair well with salads, cream (or tomato) based pasta or a meatless pizza.

• De Bortoli Family Selection Pink Moscato 2014, Australia.

This slightly sparkling, light rosé would be perfect for those who prefer a sweeter style of wine. A lower alcohol option at only 8%, this had strong flavours of rose and floral honey, combined with cherries and strawberries. Sweet, but not sickly, and balanced slightly by the fizz, this wine could be drunk on its own as an apéritif, but would also work with desserts, fresh fruit and even perhaps tomato salads.

When you decide to eat at Isola del Nord, you are basically guaranteed great food, in a warm and pleasurable environment, and I would recommend it to any reader wholeheartedly. As a more upscale venue, it is not an everyday kind of place, and the prices reflect that, but it is definitely good value for money when you consider the quality of the food that is produced.

As for the question of whether the all-you-can-drink offer is also value for money. 120rmb may seem like a slightly extravagant amount of money to spend per person, on wine with a meal, but at least you can be sure that the options available will be of good quality. All the wines are simple, easy-to-drink, and adaptable to a range of dishes, which is a good thing as you will likely be drinking quite a lot of it! So if you are planning a special meal, or simply wanting a splurge, go for it. You deserve it!

Callum is an ESL Teacher here in Xi’an, and despite being a liability in the kitchen, is channelling his inner celebrity chef.