La Piazetta, for a long time, epitomised the classic travel writer’s dilemma: whether to shout about its existence, or whether to keep it hidden from the outside world, as an atmospheric local restaurant, to return to when one found oneself in Trenčin, Western Slovakia’s most picturesque medieval town (well, one does, occasionally).
I needn’t have worried. La Piazetta became known about all by itself – at least amongst Slovaks (which in a town only really seasonally visited by tourists is crucial). That it did so pretty much without any advertising whatsoever (the place is terrible at advertising itself, actually, in stark contrast to the wonderful cooking) is testimony to its quality.
I’ve seen La Piazetta grow in stature over the years since I chanced upon it on a rainy lunchtime on my first visit to Trenčin a few years back. Back then, it was up the same alley as the then-famous Lanius (a decent pivovar, or brewery pub, but hardly in the same league food- or wine-wise) and you’d often end up going in the latter by mistake and missing the entrance to the underground La Piazetta of old entirely. Certainly, in the first instance, there were teething problems. Trenčin has become much more cosmopolitan of late but it’s not an international city like Bratislava: locals, apparently, needed some time to grasp the fact that unlike the typical Slovak menu which breaks down oh-so-precisely the exact weight of your meal, Giovanni at the helm of La Piazetta is more about sprinkling a liberal dose of classic Italian generousity in with his cooking. But no longer: who couldn’t be convinced by a place that would hold its own in Bratislava or Vienna?
Yes, Giovanni is Italian, but he’s mastered Slovak impeccably and speaks good English too. And he’s transformed La Piazetta from its original role in town as a high-end wine bar to an informal but upmarket Italianate restaurant with that same ever-changing, ever-great wine list (really, you just have to ask him to explain – the other waiting staff know too but really, it’s Giovanni that breathes life into the whole thing). I say Italianate because the most mouth-watering dish I tried here had a little nod towards the Slovak: a deliciously prepared lamb with divine grilled courgette and aubergine. It was probably the tenderest meat I ever put my fork to: one prod and it separated into melt-in-your-mouth chunks. That said, for 7 to 10 Euros there is always a meat and a fish secondi and invariably a must-try tiramasu for dessert…
Times change, and places to eat have aspirations to maximise the customers they can attract, so it’s fair enough that La Piazetta did relocate: it’s now a stone’s throw outside the Old Town’s main pedestrian drag on a quiet side street. What the new location lacks in cosiness it compensates for with urbane modernity: a large, light interior, pine-topped tables, oodles of room, a tank you can select your fish from, the whole exposed brick thing going on around the bar. It’s still not the easiest place to find – either in physical address or online.
But the place now most certainly given Trenčin what it needed: an intelligently set-out top-end restaurant that challenges the restaurant at Hotel Elizabeth for the best in town. Not that Giovanni would ever say that – he wouldn’t need to. Some restaurants are more about cooking the cuisine than talking the talk. Cooking and, of course, memorable Italian wines. And I would go out of my way to return to eat at La Piazetta.
All this makes me realise that this is only the first Italian restaurant I have written about in-depth for the site. But it’s got me thinking, and my belly rumbling: there are so many more great ones…
A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Trenčin:
LOCATION: Horný Šianec 228/7
OPENING: 7am until late (Monday to Saturday)
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Late evening once it’s really buzzing, say 8 to 9pm, easing into it with help from the Italian wine list, then dinner then more drinks.
BEST DISH: It’s the lamb – although it’s not always on, as the menu changes in accordance with what’s available.
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 6km north and then east from La Piazetta is one of Trenčin’s great unknown gems, the monastery of Klaštor Vel’ka Skalka