Archive for the Puglia Category

In the blue in Polignano a Mare

Posted in Italy, Polignano a Mare, Puglia with tags , , on May 1, 2015 by gannet39

I spent a blissful Saturday in Polignano a Mare, walking around the old town on my day off. It’s the next station towards Bari from Monopoli so it only took me a few minutes to get there, although you should check the timetable as trains aren’t very frequent.

The town is famous for a few things, in particular the spectacular construction of the inhabitant’s houses which are built flush with the sea cliffs, and below them the natural sea caves which the waves have cut out of the limestone over the eons. You can take a boat trip to see them if you want to.

Polignano is also the hometown of Domenico Modugno whose famous song ‘Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu’ (‘In the blue painted blue’ aka ‘Volare’) was the 1958 Eurovision entry for Italy, back when they still took part. Most people are probably more familiar with the Dean Martin version. Modugno’s beautiful lyrics were apparently inspired by the vivid natural blues of the sea and sky at Polignano and you can see his ecstatic statue on a clifftop with the Adriatic as its background. I spent the day wandering around the old town looking at the pretty old buildings and taking in the views.

Unfortunately a fair few of my photos didn’t come out well as the sun wasn’t in the best position and I was still learning how to use my camera, apologies for that. There are lots more pretty sights than the few I show here.

I wasn’t planning to do any shopping but I found it hard to walk past Oro Della Terra at 41 Piazza Vittorio Emanuele without stopping in to look at their local food products. The nice lady working there pressed me to taste their De Carlo olive oil www.oliodecarlo.com which was fantastic. I left the shop, walked round the town but just couldn’t get the fragrance and taste out of my head, so I went back and bought four bottles, much to her amusement! I’m currently trying to source it in the UK as it really was some of the best I’ve ever had.

The main reason I’d come here though was to eat…

Grotta Palazzese (Advanced B), 59 Via Narciso, www.grottapalazzese.it This is a stunning venue, a hotel perched on the cliffs above a restaurant built into a cave overlooking the sea. This ‘summer cave’ was converted into a banqueting space by a feudal lord in the 1700s and it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever eaten. It’s definitely the kind of place you would go to propose to your loved one. Please click on the images for the best view.

Sadly though, I have to agree with many of the comments on Tripadvisor that it’s overpriced and the food and service are sub-standard. Despite knowing all this I still decided to go to sample the setting. Overall it was a good experience and I wouldn’t want to put anyone off from going, just don’t expect everything to be perfect.

I was ready for some attitude from the waiting staff, especially as I was by myself, wearing jeans and trainers, and clutching a plastic carrier bag full of bottles of olive oil. Instead I caught them on the hop by arriving exactly on time, while some of them were still in a state of undress. Although they tried to tell me they weren’t open, I asked them what their opening time was and pointed out it was one minute past. I hadn’t told them I had a reservation as I was still deciding whether to just have a drink at the bar but I had to play that trump card too when they then tried to tell me they were full (which wasn’t the case as many tables were empty throughout the evening despite it being Saturday).

So with no means left for them to prevent me, I made my way to the bar and befriended the bartender who made me a fairly decent Negroni. Later a less than pleasant waiter tried to seat me at a table where the floor moved every time anyone walked past but a nicer one let me change to a different table further towards the back of the cave, where you can see the waves coming into the lower cavern under you. Tables right next to the rail at the front, overlooking the sea, must be highly coveted so you’d probably have to be popping the question, or be a big tipper, or both, to be seated there.

Not all the staff were arses but I took great pleasure in making the ones that were run around for me constantly, changing dirty cutlery and so on, while giving the nice ones an easy time. The most enjoyable experience though was watching all the colours around me change as the sun began to set and everyone else began to arrive. There was also the great sight of feeding swallows darting in and out of the high roof of the cave, although one silly Englishwoman on an adjoining table thought that they were bats and started freaking out. Fortunately a sax player came out to soothe everyone by playing an instrumental version of Volare on a high ledge above us.

Having established I wasn’t going to take any crap off anyone, in the nicest possible way of course, I prepared to dine. Despite the warnings, I went for the €90 Menu Degustazione which I matched with one of my favourite Campanian wines, the Falanghina Terredora DOC 2011, even though it was overpriced by about a third at €30.

The welcome entrée of a cherry on a cube of raw tuna was actually the best thing they served me (A), probably because it didn’t require any cooking.

The following ‘Burrata di Andria con lo Scampo marinato alla Maggiorana e Riduzione di Negroamaro’, or mozzarella with scampi, courgette flowers and blueberries, with a reduction of a local red wine, was pretty good too (B+).

Sadly things went downhill after that. ‘Busiate Integrali mantecate alla Mousse di fave Bianche, Battuto di scampo e Fava Novella’ or wheat flour pasta (a local speciality) with scampi, broad bean mousse and fresh broad beans was oversalted and overcooked, so I sent it back (D).

They replaced it with a badly-made risotto which was completely unsalted so I had to put the cellar to work. It was watery and the peas in it weren’t fully cooked and I didn’t finish it (C-).

Next the ‘La Variazione del Tonno Pinna Gialla con le Zucchine crispy, Salvia e Fior di Sale alla Vaniglia Bourbon’ or lightly grilled tuna, fried courgettes, sage and salt scented with vanilla Bourbon (?), was badly prepared and completely over salted again.

This started to make me paranoid that the kitchen were taking revenge on me, but it is a salty dish anyway, although too much so even for this big salt lover. It scored a D and I didn’t finish it.

The final ‘Sfera al Riso Soffiato con Chutney di Fragole e Basilico’, or a ‘rice crispy’ strawberry chutney with fresh basil, was unmemorable (C+).

Having burnt out a few waiters with my demands and complaints, Fisher Wanduragala the restaurant manager became my main server. As his name would suggest, although not his seemingly Puglian complexion, he’s actually from Sri Lanka and speaks good English. He fielded my rejections of his kitchen’s food with aplomb and gave me my Negroni and final Amaro di Capo for free, although not the food which I think he should have done. Despite this, I think he actually quite liked the way I’d played them and he even offered to take me on a personal tour of the local area the next day. Sadly I had to work on my day off so we never met up, but it would have been very interesting to have chatted more with him.

After eating I went for a short stroll and an ice cream at Bar Turismo, at 7 Via Sarnelli Pompeo, an old school gelateria recommended by a teacher as being the best in town. Can’t remember what I had except that at my colleague’s suggestion, I had it topped with Panna del Café, or fresh whipped sweet cream, which was delicious (A). The teacher also liked Caruso at 3 Via Martiri di Dogali, which is a bit posher apparently.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Polignano a Mare and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone for a day trip. You don’t have to go to the restaurant I went to, there are plenty of others. A friend liked Osteria de Chichibio www.osteriadichichibio.it 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die lists Da Tuccino (but not Grotta Palazzese interestingly). I’m sure there are others.

Baking in Bitonto

Posted in Bitonto, Italy, Puglia with tags on April 14, 2015 by gannet39

I came to Bitonto on the train from Bari just for a day’s work. After the graft was done the local teacher very kindly gave me a lightning tour of the old town.

20140630_132415First stop was the Porta Baresana, one of only two of the original city gates still standing. Although the original gate was Roman, the current one is Renaissance style, with a 20th century clock added. I think the current council should get with the times and update it with a digital flip clock.

Next we went to see the 11th century Romanesque cathedral in Piazza Cattedrale.

Please click on the photos below to get a full screen slideshow.

There are two lion’s heads either side of the cathedral door but their ancient features have been worn away over time. The teacher (a fellow Northerner from Blackpool) told me that it breaks her heart to see the local kids hanging their coats from the heads to make goalposts.

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On the way back to the station she also took me to the best bakery in town, Pannetteria la Sfornata at 117 Via Matteotti. I bought a ham and cheese panzarotto, to keep me company during my wait on the platform.

20140630_133856From my research I know Bitonto has a strong food culture. Its known as ‘the City of Olives’, but Bocconotto cakes are also a symbol of the city, some of which were on display in the bakery. Bocconotti are also typical of Abruzzo where they are often filled with chocolate, however the local variation, made by the Benedictine nuns of Bitonto, has a filling of ricotta and candied fruit.

My brief impression of Bitonto is of a pretty historical town with a strong food tradition. Hopefully I’ll be back to eat some more someday!

On a burrata mission in Andria

Posted in Andria, Italy, Puglia with tags , , on April 13, 2015 by gannet39

I commuted to work in Andria by train from Barletta for a couple of days.

First impressions are that there’s not much to see and there’s not a lot happening. This town has great culinary significance for me though as this is the home of mozzarella burrata, one of my most favourite foodstuffs ever.

Burrata was invented by Lorenzo Bianchino in February 1956 at the farm Piana Padula farm near Castel del Monte, just a short distance from Andria.

He had the idea of injecting the waste from the mozzarella making process (cream and scraps of mozzarella known as ‘stracciatella’) back into the centre of the mozzarella ball. The little bags of creamy goodness caught on and the rest is cheesy history.

Apparently a shuttle bus runs from Andria station to Castel del Monte seven times a day should you want to go and see the famous castle.

On my second day I finished work early and rather than hightailing it back to Bari as most in my situation would, I asked the local teacher to drop me off in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, the main square in the centre of town.

I had wanted to eat at Il Turacciolo (4 Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, Tel. 388 199 8889, ilturacciolo.blogspot.com) but unfortunately it was closed at lunchtime.

However, another place on my hitlist, Confettiria Mucci at 30 Piazza Vittorio Emanuele www.confettimuccialberto.it, was open and I bought a large bar of high quality chocolate to take home.

Mucci is a traditional name in sweetmaking and there’s also a museum bearing their name around the corner, the Museo del Confetto, at 12 Via Gammarrota, www.museodelconfetto.it. If you telephone ahead on 0883 591871 you can book a short tour but I didn’t find that out until I got there. It’s also still a functioning sweetshop so I just contented myself with a few pictures instead.

You’ll find the cathedral nearby in Piazza Duomo. It’s very plain on the outside but a teacher told me the crypt is quite special, although I don’t know how you would get in to see it.

There’s some nice stonework on another side of the square. Please click on these pics to appreciate them fully.

I eventually had lunch at my second choice restaurant just a short walk away…

Locanda de la Poste (Advanced B), 49 Via Giovanni Bovio, www.locandadelaposte.it

A small modern place with a good rep, recommended in Gambero Rosso.

I had a good lunch here which began with some stringy ‘stracciatella’, the base ingredient for burrata, which was the main reason I’d stayed in town. I’d never eaten mozzarella this way before, it looked like Spaghetti Carbonara one second and tripe soup the next! It was very fresh, as it needs to be, and the flavour was fantastic (A+), much creamier than previous mozzarellas I’d tried.

The following three seafood based dishes were okay as well but not amazing (B/B+). They seemed more about form than flavour, and we were in a baking hot town a fair way from the sea.

I had a bottle of Bombino Bianco, from the local Castel del Monte DOP which was good if I remember correctly (B) and a glass or two of excellent Muscat de Trani dessert wine (A).

With a dessert the bill came to €60 which was reasonable for the amount I had but given the choice  I don’t think I’d go back as the food could have been a bit better.

From here a nearly straight walk to the station down Via Settembre for the train back to Barletta.

Here’s my Google map to help you get around.

 

 

Monopoli – la città nuova

Posted in Italy, Monopoli, Puglia with tags , , , , on April 12, 2015 by gannet39

I’ve used this post to lump together anything not in the old town or on the coast (see separate posts).

Here’s my Google map to help you get around.

I’d been debating whether to go to this place for my whole stay but I couldn’t resist it on my last night…

Angelo Sabatelli Ristorante (Advanced A), 27 Viale Aldo Moro, Tel. 340 510 1419 www.angelosabatelliristorante.com

This Michelin starred restaurant features in most of the guides and is the Trip Advisor #1 in Monopoli, all for good reason. You would pay several times more for food of this quality in the UK.

I saved myself a €15 taxi ride by walking there from the hotel which was a little unsafe as there are no pavements but it was ok while there was still light. It took about 30 minutes from the Hotel Clio. The restaurant called me a taxi for the return journey.

20140625_200244It’s located on an old country estate, now subsumed into the industrial suburbs of Monopoli. Once you turn up the drive the scenery becomes more rustic with old twisted olive trees along the wayside.

20140625_200635The restaurant building is old but decorated in a modern style, which reflects Chef Sabatelli’s philosophy of reworking traditional dishes and ingredients in new imaginative ways.

All the staff were very friendly and English-speaking and indeed about half of the twenty or so customers on the Wednesday night I went were from the UK.

I was sorely tempted by the €100 tasting menu but couldn’t really justify it on my wages, even though I’d just had pizza the night before and no lunch that day in preparation for a blowout. The €50 four-course seafood menu, which came with a few little extras, proved to be more than adequate though.

After an amuse bouche or two, the names of which I forget, I had Ricciola Crema Soffice di Patate Affumicate Capperi e Croccante di Amaranto’ translated as marinated kingfish with smoked potato cream, capers and amaranth crisps (A).

The bread basket included Taralli made with five different cereals, but I found these rather dry (C).

Next, ‘Spaghetti Benedetto Cavalieri Aglio, Olio, Peperoncino e Capesante su Salsa di ‘Maraschiuolo’ or spaghetti  with garlic, oil, chilli sauce and scallops in a wild broccoli sauce (B). The Benedetto Cavalieri company have been making pasta in Maglie Lecce in the south of Puglia since 1918. www.benedettocavalieri.it

And then, ‘Ombrina Arrosto con Zabione di Ostriche e Carciofi’ or roasted seabream with oyster sabayon and artichokes (A).

After this, ‘Zuppa Calda di Cioccolato al Latte e Bergamotto con Arancia e Crostini al Miele’ or warm milk chocolate and bergamot with orange and honey crostini (A).

Finally an assortment of sweets on slabs of marble and slate which I found to be a rather disjointed combination of flavours (C+).

I enjoyed the wine even more than the food thanks to the help of the knowledgeable sommelier, although most of that knowledge was transmitted in floral Italian. I requested all the drinks to be Puglian and he came up with a local organic Fiano called ‘Minutolo’ by Cantine Polvanera. www.cantinepolvanera.it

Fiano is a favourite grape of mine due to its beautiful fragrance, although I’ve usually only drunk it in Campania. It was fantastic (A), the best white of my four-week trip and I couldn’t stop lifting my glass. A snip at €23, compared to most of the other pricey wines in the eighty page wine list. Back in Bari I posted a dozen bottles home of the same wine, at about €7 a bottle.

For dessert the 2008 Muscat di Trani, appropriately named ‘Estasi’, was perhaps the best I’d ever tasted (A+) but I couldn’t find it in the wine shops in Bari sadly.

I also got to try a local Rosolio, a sweet liquor derived from rose petals, around 35% in strength. This base is then flavoured with other fruits, in this case ‘Gelso Rosso’ or red mulberry (B). It came from Gravina as so many Puglian liqueurs seem to do.

The bill came to €86.

Overall this was a great experience. Even if I have been a bit picky about some things, it will be a lasting memory of Monopoli.

Enoteca Il Tralcio, 33 Via Daniele Manin, open 9am till 1 and 5 till 9pm, www.enotecailtralcio.it

This place was recommended as the best wine shop in town by the local owner of a school I worked at, and he’s a guy who likes his wine so he should know.

20150408_085841Pierluigi the helpful owner chose for me a special bottle of Primativo di Manduria DOC for €22. This was a 2004 ‘Il Sava’ from Vinicola Savrese www.vinipichierri.com, that had been aged in terracotta jars using methods the cantina claim to be 2000 years old. I still haven’t opened it as it’s so special!

20140615_150324I also picked up a bottle of ‘Gariga’ amaro (again made in Gravina) that had impressed me at Terranima in Bari for €29.

Fratelli Meo, 53 Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (the main square in the new town).

Also recommended by the school owner as being the  best deli in town, or certainly one of the oldest. A good place to pick up some nice ham and cheese to take home.

Caseificio Gioia In Tavola, 17 Via Paolo VI, Tel. 080 930 6720

According to the head waiter at Sabatelli, good burrata is also made in the Monopoli area (it’s most famous in nearby Andria) and ‘Joy in Table’ is the best place to get it. I haven’t been but I’m sure she’s right.

Hotel Clio (Intermediate C), 20 Via John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Tel. 080 802 711 www.cliohotel.it

I stayed at this fading hotel for six nights. The location isn’t too bad, it’s next to the sea, about 15 minutes’ walk from the old town (see separate posts for the Borgo Vecchio) and the train station.

The room I stayed in was basic but spacious and the Wi-Fi worked most of the time. The breakfast is unremarkable yet adequate but I’m told the food in the hotel restaurant is to be avoided.

The younger receptionists were very friendly and helpful, especially Analisa (studying for our exam), but the two miserable old toads who seem to run the place really could do with finding some other vocation in life.

The best thing about the hotel is the large outdoor pool area which was empty when I was there in mid-June. It’s also a stone’s throw from the sea should you fancy a dip in salt water instead. There is no beach just here but a lot of people swim off the rocks.

A colleague who couldn’t walk very well was put up at the Palazzo Indelli in Piazza Garibaldi which is right in the thick of things and looks much posher. Their restaurant was on my hit list but it was a bit pricey and the restaurant never seemed busy so I left it.

I’d happily put up with the Hotel Clio though if I could get to visit Monopoli again.

Monopoli – Sunday lunch by the sea

Posted in Italy, Monopoli, Puglia with tags on April 10, 2015 by gannet39

As I mentioned two posts ago, after a walk along Lungomare Santa Maria till you get to Porta Vecchia, you can walk out of the town and go to one of several little beaches and inlets along the coast.

The beaches are quite small and many people also swim off the rocks.

The first rocky beach is Cala Portchia, under the town’s sea wall, and right next to it, the sandy Cala Porta Vecchia.

The next beach is Cala Cozze and then two inlets; Porto Bianco and my destination Porto Rosso, probably not more than 15 minutes’ walk from the old town.

 

In Porto Rosso I went to this excellent restaurant for Sunday lunch. You can find the it on this Google map.

 

Lido Bianco (High Intermediate A), 3 Via Procaccia, Tel. 080 246 2030 www.ristorantelidobianco.com

This is a great place, I had a wonderful life-affirming experience here.

The first thing you see when you walk into this large restaurant is a spectacular display of seafood, some of it still very much alive. A team of workers were beavering away preparing it for the kitchen.

Having done my research I knew to walk to the back of the restaurant and walk up the stairs outside to ‘the secret garden’, basically a patio with a handful of tables on the top of the headland. A really wonderful little spot overlooking the azure Adriatic sea. I’d made sure I was the first one there when they opened so I got to pick my table.

I was in full on treat mode for this one after a hard week’s work so with the help of my friendly young waiter I ordered a seafood banquet *(the bill final came to €48) starting with their fantastic Piatti di Frutti di Mare Assorti (salmon, octopus, prawn and more) (A).

The Taglioline al Nero di Seppia con Vongole Veraci Pomodorini e Pesto di Basilico (squid ink pasta with clams, cherry  tomatoes and basil pesto) was also stunning in every way (A).

Finally, some simple grilled prawns, one of my favourite things in life (A).

The Salento Chardonnay ‘Numen’ from Canitna Paol0 Leo www.paololeo.it was the best I’d had so far from the region (B+).

After a homemade limoncello (B+), and some dark chocolate and amaretti, I think I found true contentment. I insist that you come here for lunch on a sunny day if you’re in town.

Please click on the photos to see a full size slideshow.

 

 

Monopoli– Borgo Vecchio – stuff to eat

Posted in Borgo Vecchio, Italy, Monopoli, Puglia with tags , , , , on April 9, 2015 by gannet39

This post is about food in the old town, please see my previous post for other stuff, and the next ones for other areas.

Here’s my Google map with all the places mentioned.

Osteria Perricci (Low Intermediate A), 1 Via Orazio Comes, Tel. 080 937 2208, closed Wednesday

Lauded in several Italian guides, this was the best place in the old town for me in terms of good food at a good price. They serve authentic, rustic local cuisine, and plenty of it.

I came twice and had ‘the sea’ and ‘the earth’ menu which were available for both lunch and dinner. Of the two the seafood is the best, as you would expect being so near the sea. Once I spent just €20 and another time I paid €38, because I had a bottle of wine and four courses, instead of house wine and 3 courses

Invariably you start with complimentary olives (B) and bruschetta (A) before moving onto a host of antipasti. Most of it is great except for the green gloopy Crema di Rucola on a rusk which is virtually tasteless (C+) and the dried tomatoes are a bit bitter too (C) but the sausage and young provolone are ok (B). The fried courgettes are great (A).

The green vegetable that has been fried and tossed with breadcrumbs in the picture was described as ‘asparagi di mare’ but it’s very different from samphire which gets called ‘sea asparagus’ in the UK. It was okay, a bit bitter, but certainly edible (C+).

The primi are very simple, such as their Oricchiette al Pomodoro (A), and Linguine agli Scampi (B+), served with a bowl of hot chillis in oil on the side.  The secondi similarly so, in my case chargrilled Gamberoni alla Griglia and another time Spiedino Misto alla Griglia (grilled kebab of squid and king prawn) (both B+). The house red is ok (B) but next time instead of trying the house white I upgraded to a bottle of fruity Malvasia (B+).

Dessert on one occasion was melon. I didn’t try their cakes as they looked a bit dry. To finish you could have a homemade ‘liquore di alloro’, a bay leaf liqueur (B), or a clear and quite sour limoncello (A).

The old lady running the place is a bit stern but who cares when the food is as good as it is. The other waiters are nice enough (a glum youth and a smiley man) and Roy Orbison is alive and well and working in the kitchen.

Remember you can click on these pics to get a full screen slideshow.

La Vecchia Taverna (Low Intermediate B+),33 Via Argento, Tel. 080 777 779, www.lavecchiataverna.it

Another cheap, authentic and rustic place that attracts a fair few tourists. The food is good although not quite as good as Perricci, but the owner is more friendly.

I had the €25 set menu for lunch involving some good antipasti (B), Linguine ai Frutti di Mare (B) and grilled prawns. House white (B). Can’t remember the dessert but I got a glass of Muscat di Trani dessert wine to finish.

I sat inside as it was so hot but they open a terrace at the back in the evenings. A bit of a walk from my hotel but worth it.

Il Cavaliere (Intermediate B+), 17 Via Cavaliere, Tel. 080 930 3106

This is a very good place foodwise, but the atmosphere doesn’t feel very comfortable. Mind you that might be because they gave me a table in front of the TV so I could watch England get knocked out of the 2014 World Cup by losing 2-1 to Uruguay. I didn’t let this spoil my appetite though.

I started with the Antipasti Crudo della Casa which was very fresh, and tasted even better with some local Favalosa olive oil. I can’t help wishing for some Kikkoman soya sauce and a dollop of wasabi when I eat raw seafood in Puglia though (B).

Then Malagliati (‘badly cut’) pasta with Crema di Ceci, Vongole i Gambaretti (B+), followed by a Frittura Mista (B+). They serve everything on warmed plates, a rare occurrence in Italy. All this with a bottle of Salento white (B).

I finished with a large slab of Spumoni a layered Neapolitan icecream cake (B+). Also a couple of glasses of Passito di Pantelleria dessert wine from Sicily and some complementary Sfoglia con Crema Pasticcera (pastries with vanilla custard).

The bill came to €45. A good place with good food but slightly lacking in atmosphere.

Osteria Il Gozzo (Low Intermediate C), 5 Piazza Garibaldi, Tel. 080 930 1997

In many ways the opposite of Il Cavaliere above; a pleasant atmosphere but substandard food! It looks lovely both inside and out, and the people are nice, but they need a new chef.

The only nice thing about the antipasti was the dish it was presented in. The courgettes were brackish and undercooked (C-), as was the vinegary aubergine. The octopus salad was unremarkable (B-). Carpaccio di Bacalau was a new concept for me, and not a particularly nice one (C). The following gratinated mussels were too salty (C).

Wanting to relive well known southern dishes I ordered Orechiette (little ears) pasta con Cime de Rape (‘turnip tops’). It wasn’t until it arrived that I remembered how much I dislike the bitter green vegetable, and it was particularly unpleasant here. I picked out the pasta and left the green gloop (C-/D).

Mind you the Italians probably feel the same way about turnips. Funny how two cultures can eat different parts of the same plant.

Thankfully the Negroamaro got better as it breathed (B) and the final Sorbetto and Limoncello were both fine (B).

A place to avoid unfortunately.

Pizzeria The King (Elementary B+), 31 Via Orazio Comes, www.facebook.com

I like this place. They sell good pizzas and fritti but the best thing is that you can eat al fresco under an awning in a nice little square. I had their pizza and fish & chips on separate occasions, both were very good (B+).

They also sell Puccia, spelt flour breadcakes baked in a wood-fired pizza oven and which are used to make sandwiches filled with ham, cheese, rocket etc.

NB the previous link lists lots of other interesting Puglian dishes too. Just run the text through Google translate.

The middle aged guy who owns it (an Elvis lover?)  is very friendly and will practice his English on you. He also makes excellent homemade limoncello and he sold me a bottle to take home at a very reasonable price.

La Dolce Vita (Intermediate B), 29 Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, Tel. 080 410 7816 www.ladolcevitamonopoli.it

A popular pizza bar on the buzzing Piazza Garibaldi. I don’t know why I came here, probably because The King was closed and I wanted something easy and simple after a big lunch somewhere else. My Margarita was fine, but so it should be (B).

I had a Poretti beer here for the first time (B+). Produced in Varese in Lombardia, they’re now owned by Carlsberg quelle surprise.

Wunderbar Café (Intermediate A), 31 Corso Pintor Marneli

The name is cheesy but this German pub seems to be the buzziest place back street place in town for a midweek drink. They do food as well but I haven’t tried it. Their cocktails are good though and the atmosphere is fun and friendly.

Monopoli – Borgo Vecchio – stuff to see

Posted in Italy, Monopoli, Puglia with tags , , , , on April 8, 2015 by gannet39

I really liked Monopoli. Everyone I met was very friendly, the old centre is lovely and it’s right by the sea. It’s just about perfect in every way.

The population is about 50,000 but this doubles in summer with the influx of tourists. You’d think they’d be a bit jaded with such a large influx of outsiders but people got to know me quickly and I was greeted on the street regularly, even though I was only there for six nights.

One theory of how Monopoli got its name was for being the ‘only city’ to give sanctuary to the survivors of the destruction of neighbouring town by the Visigoths in the 6th century.

The hub of the Borgo Vecchio (old town) is Piazza Garibaldi which has a concentration of bars and restaurants, for more of which please see the next post dedicated to grub.

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The Torre Civic is in one corner of the square.

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Please click on these photos for a better view.

To get to the harbour, take Via Porto out of the square and turn left down a short passageway. There are several fishing boats in the picturesque Porto Vecchio, which is definitely a good sign for what’s available in the restaurants.

Overlooking the harbour is Castello Carlo V, built in 1525. It was used as a jail until 1969 which is surprising given how small it is.

From the castle it’s a nice walk along Lungomare Santa Maria till you get to Porta Vecchia.

From here you can follow the coast and go to one of several little beaches and inlets (see separate coast post).

Or you could turn back into the old town. The cathedral is not far from here. The roman crypt was being excavated when I was there. For information on tours and events have a look at this website for the local cultural association.

It’s quite amazing just how many churches you can squeeze into such a small area.

One rather spooky one is Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio also known as ‘Il Purgatorio‘, which is dedicated to the cult of death. The church is famed for having the mummies of dead monks hanging on its walls! It was being renovated when I was there so I couldn’t go in, and I’m not sure if it will go back to how it was. The church is near the cathedral, on Via Argento.

I loved just wandering around the maze of streets, stumbling across little gems at every turn.

I liked it so much that I spent a lot of time fantasising about living here. I even looked up a few places on property websites!

A couple of links are here and here if you’re interested. And here’s my Google map of the town.

Now for the grub…

Buzzing in Barletta

Posted in Barletta, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , , on April 6, 2015 by gannet39

I really enjoyed my six nights in Barletta. Everyone I met was really nice and the old town centre was buzzing in the evenings. I also ate very well here.

I stayed at the Hotel Itaca, a fading but comfortable enough old hotel by the beach, with a small pool and a fairly good breakfast. The receptionists were friendly and helpful and the Wi-Fi in the rooms worked well most of the time. www.itacahotel.it

You can find all the places mentioned on this Google map.

In terms of things to see and do, other than going to the beach, there’s not all that much happening. You can go inside Castello Svevo, the symbol of Barletta, for free but you have to pay to climb the walls to get a view. It’s not really worth it I’m told.

Please click on the images to expand them.

The small cathedral nearby is also the entrance to the old town via the archway at the base of its camponile. It’s very plain on the outside except for two stone lions and a stone carving featuring some bizarre characters above one of the small doors at the back. I didn’t get time to go inside sadly.

Another thing you could see is the Cantina della Sfida, ‘the cellar of the challenge’, which was a tavern called the House of Poison in Medieval times. Legend has it that thirteen Italian knights challenged and defeated an equal number of French knights in a joust on the plain between Barletta and Andria. The response to the victory is seen as one of the first stirrings of Italian nationalism.

20140611_201115You can go into the cantina for free. There’s not much to see, just an empty dank stone cellar and some armour and costumes in glass cases, but it does provide a little bit of context. The entrance is opposite Piazza Sfida, off Via Duomo. There’s a statue commemorating the event in the piazza.

Palazzo della Marra at 74 Via Cialdini (the continuation of Via Duomo) is a beautiful old building housing the art of Impressionist painter Giuseppe de Nittis, Barletta’s most famous son.

My busy schedule (work and food) didn’t give me enough time to visit the Pinacoteca Giuseppe De Nittis so I just Googled his pictures instead.

I did walk past a few times though and got some photos of the fantastic carving on the balcony above the front door. There seems to be more of the same in the gallery at the back of the museum and I’d pay just to see that next time I’m here.

Al Vecchio Forno (Intermediate B+), 61 Via Enrico Cialdini, www.vecchiofornobarletta.it

For value, this was my favourite restaurant in Barletta, and the most reviewed one on Trip Advisor by quite a way. I tend to trust the number of reviews a place gets rather than it’s TA ranking (sixth in this case).

The selling point here seems to be the seemingly never-ending array of antipasti that pour down on you should you go for that option. The quality is good but it’s the sheer quantity that makes an impression.

I ate here three times because I liked it so much and so I got to know the brothers who run the place. They were a little concerned by me taking photos at first (‘Who sent you?’) but this just resulted in better service, a little showing off and some great displays of food on the plate. These photos are just a fraction of what I received.

I went through most of their menu and would definitely recommend the ‘sea’ dishes rather than the ‘earth’ (meat), which is okay but much more expensive. The homemade limoncello is excellent and they leave the bottle on the table. Definitely my kind of place!

Antica Cucina (Advanced B+), 4/5 Piazza Marina, Tel. 0883 521718, www.anticacucina1983.it

Perhaps thought of as ‘the best place in town’ this place is certainly upmarket and formal but the waiter and the owner were both very nice and gave me considerate service. Although ‘old’ is in the name, the décor is bright, white and modern.

You can eat three courses for €27 but I found the choices a little limited.  The bread (B+) and amuse bouche (A) were very good as was the bottle of cheap local Malvasia recommended by the waiter (B).

I finished the evening with a couple of interesting distillates, including one made from apricots (B).

I would go again because the food is good and the people are nice but it gets a bit pricey if you want more choices.

Antica Mura (Intermediate B), 4/5 Piazza Marina, Tel. 0883 521718

This place off the beaten track was suggested by a teacher whose students recommended it. It’s fine but nothing special in my opinion although I did have one thing I’ve never eaten before. There were two large groups of locals celebrating an anniversary and a birthday while I was there so I think it’s considered ‘good’ as a family party space.

Located within the old city wall, the restaurant is basically one huge stone walled room with high arched ceilings. I disturbed the staff meal at 8.15pm which was being accompanied by a grime soundtrack although they changed it to Frank Sinatra fairly soon after my arrival.

The standard antipasti consisted of a mozzarella salad, mussels, octopus (all B) some prawns and smoked fish (both C+). I was also given a bowl of what the waiter called ‘mussoli’ (also ‘musci’ in the menu), a bizarre bivalve that I had never come across before but once a common street food in Puglia.

To open the shell you have to pull out a little stopper which exposes a gap you can put your fingertips in to prise the shells apart. Inside is something resembling a peeled lychee and tasting like a mussel but more intensely so (B). Interesting but not mindblowing.

Next Trofie pasta with clams and prawns (B).

After this I was pretty full and tried to make good my escape but the friendly owner wouldn’t let me and brought a free dessert and a shot, as is the Puglian way.

The slice of Nutella tart was pretty basic and the limoncello warm (both C) but the thought was appreciated. Won’t be going back though as there are better places.

Lupo di Mare (Elementary B), open Monday

A basic place with plastic furniture, recommended by the receptionist for cheap seafood. You can sit outside by the Porta Marina, the last of the old city gates still standing.

It’s quite popular, certainly on the Monday I went, so it might be an idea to reserve.

Feeling greedy I had the Frutti di Mare Crudi for two, to myself. The oysters were ok (B) but my favourites were the smaller of the two kinds of mussels (B+). Can’t help wishing for some soya sauce and wasabi when I eat things like this though.

The local Chardonnay was fine if nothing special (C+).

Next Linguine ai Frutti di Mare was competent if a bit salty and only had two fruits to speak of.

I also had an amaro and a limoncello (both C).

The gormless male waiter tried to charge me €25 instead of €2.50 for the dessert but I think this was just him being inept rather than an actual attempt to cheat me.

A good spot for diners on a budget.

For some nice chocolate you can go to Confetti Mucca, the sweet makers from Andria, who have a branch at 82 Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

I really liked Barletta and look forward to going again as there are still a few things left to see and do. I’m sure you’ll love it! 🙂

A quick lunch in Mola di Bari

Posted in Bari, Italy, Mola di Bari, Puglia with tags on April 5, 2015 by gannet39

Mola di Bari  or Mola for short, is the local fishing port where all the restaurants in Bari get their seafood from. It’s a short train ride from Bari Centrale and then a bit of a walk from the station to the seafront.

I was told by the manager of La Bul back in Bari that the best time to go shopping for seafood is at 5pm when the boats return to land their catches. I’m sure they sell some of it directly on the quayside too but there’s also the fish market on Lungomare Dalmazia. It was closed at midday when I drove past so presume it’s only open in the mornings.

I spent a day working in school here so I didn’t get to see much, however the teacher did take me for a short drive, followed by a nice lunch with some excellent and very cheap seafood at one of the restaurants on Via Lungara Porto.

The town feels very impoverished and there isn’t really a special reason to visit unless you love seafood, but they do have an impressive Norman castle.

Bari – south of the tracks in Picone

Posted in Bari, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , , , on April 5, 2015 by gannet39

Picone is the district to the immediate south of the central train station. My employer usually uses two hotels both located on or near Via Capruzzi, a main road which runs parallel to the tracks on the southern side of the station. Thanks to some barmy city planning, the railway effectively cuts the city in half which is a pain for us on the wrong side.

As a relatively fit bloke I don’t mind the walk to Barivecchia or mid-town Murat (click on the names to go to separate posts) but it can be a bit edgy coming back through the station later at night.

Alternatively you could get to the other side via the underpass or the bridge marked on this Google map, which also has all the other places I mention in my posts.

Should you not care for the walk, I’m sure there is good food to be found on the south side, but the choice is much more limited. Here’s what I know:

La Tana del Blasco (Elementarty B+), 252D Via Capruzzi

A postage stamp sized bar where you can sit outside under the porticos and watch the traffic go by. It’s a good spot for a aperitif and some finger food after work. I had the misfortune to see England lose to Italy in the 2014 World Cup here surrounded by students, but don’t let that put you off.

Focacceria Fiore (Elementary B+), 232 Via Capruzzi

Bari is famous for focaccia and they make a good one here (B+). Timing is everything though. Try to catch them when the foccacia is fresh out of the oven, you’ll be able to smell it down the street when it is.

It might be an idea to ask when the next batch is due out because if  you leave it too late, there’s a good chance they’ll have sold out.

Trattoria Giulio Cesare (Intermediate B-), Piazza Giulio Cesare, about 10 mins walk from the Excelsior.

I came here with my veggie friend Mark in October 2009.  My Spaghetti Vongole was fine (B) and my vegetarian friend’s Pasta Arabbiata was good (B) until he found a large chunk of beef in it (D) and realised the sauce was a ragu rather than the more usual tomato and chilli sauce.

Lesson learned, ask the waiter about the ingredients before you eat a supposedly veggie sauce in Puglia.

In short, good food for carnivores at a reasonable price, plain decor, nothing special.

I can’t comment on the food as I haven’t been but Macelleria Signorile at 12 Via Giulio Petroni gets heaps of reviews on Trip Advisor, which is a good sign for this area of town. Reservations only apparently. Must try it next time.

Also a colleague says good things about L’Osteria di Mario at 109 Via Gioacchino Toma.

There’s a supermarket at 166 Via Capruzzi and a gym at 230.

Mercure Villa Romanazzi Carducci (High Intermediate A), 326 Via Giuseppe Capruzzi, www.accorhotels.com

A fantastic hotel with modern rooms, nice grounds and an extensive breakfast buffet. The chef will cook fresh egg dishes for you and you can squeeze your juice fresh.

The reception staff seem a bit hassled but have always been helpful.

There’s a good gym but no floor mats unfortunately.

There were a few problems with the Wi-Fi but they got fixed.

Hotel Excelsior Bari (Intermediate C), 15 Via Giulio Petroni,

Unfortunately when the Villa Romanazzi is full we end up here.

The rooms are a bit cramped but basically okay but the overall atmosphere is gloomy and faded with hardly any guests.

The breakfast is pretty desperate but the staff are nice and helpful.

The Wi-Fi is hopeless so get an ethernet cable from reception. but even this doesn’t always work either.

There’s a basic gym in the cellar but it costs €10 a day!

Inexplicably rooms cost about the same as Villa Romanazzi.

Oh well, at least you’re near the station.

We are also sometimes put up at the Grand Hotel Leon D’Oro www.grandhotelleondoro.it on the town side of the station.

I’ve not stayed there but by all accounts there’s nothing Grand about it!

Bari – posher nosh in mid-town Murat

Posted in Bari, Italy, Murat, Puglia on April 5, 2015 by gannet39

Please see my previous post for buildings, bars and shops in Murat. This post is just about restaurants. Most of the more modern mid range to high end places seem to be in this neighbourhood. Here’s my Google map with everywhere on.

Terranima (High Intermediate A), 213 Via Nicolò Putignani, Tel. 080 521 9725, www.terranima.com

One of my favourite places in town, it’s also a Gambero Rosso selection and a Lonely Planet top pick. You can eat reasonably-priced well-cooked traditional fare, served by nice people in pleasant surroundings. What more could you ask for?

Everything I’ve eaten here is A/B and their own label house red is a good buy. They have some interesting local amari should you like this kind of digestivo.

On two different occasions I spent €35 and €45, which was good value for money.

La Bul (Advanced A), 52 Via Pasquale Villari, Tel. 080 523 0576, www.ristorantelabul.com

Off the beaten path so a little hard to find. It looks like it’s shut but ring the bell and they’ll let you in. The interior is bright and modern but I preferred to sit in their pleasant yard with its honeysuckle covered walls. The helpful and friendly co-owners Antonio, the young chef, and Francesca, the manager, both speak  English and are always chatting with their customers.

I had the €50 tasting menu which was good value given the quality of the food and that included a few glasses of wines from Salento. There was more than one amuse bouche as I remember but the star was a grissini wrapped with what I understand was cured pigs cheek. It was a flavour epiphany for me (A+).

Next I had Mazzancolle al Vapore e Acqua dei Tre Pomodori (steamed king prawn with three types of small tomato). This and other dishes were garnished with a wild herb called ‘limoncello’ (due to its lemony taste) which Antonio told me grows wild on the rooves of Trulli.

Francesca told me their seafood had come from Mola di Bari  the local port where I was working the next day (please see separate post).

I followed on with Risotto al Peperone Crusco, Straccatella e Polvere di Alici (risotto with red peppers, creamy mozzarella and powdered anchovies).

Maialino con Gelatina di Mocato di Trani e Salsa di Aglio Dolce (a tiny piece of piglet with a fig and a jelly of local muscat wine and sweet garlic sauce).

Varazione di Crumble e Crema agli Agrumi (I think apple crumble with citrus infused cream).

Finally my favourite Amaro di Capo, enlivened with a strip of orange peel.

The final bill came to €55, which is good value for what I got I felt.

All excellent and highly recommended for a treat. Definitely on the favourites list.

Biancofiore (High Intermediate B+), Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, Tel. 080 523 5446, www.oraviaggiando.it Closed Wednesday

Another modern and slightly posh place but still friendly. I had their tasting menu for €35 which was good value.

This involved Calamaretti Scottati con Piselli e Scaglogno al Forno (seared squid with peas and shallots baked in the oven).

Cappellacci con Mantecato di Baccala su Vellutata di Asparagi e Scaglie di Bottarga (a stuffed pasta filled with cream of saltcod and asparagus and shavings of mullet roe).

Trancio di Ombrina con Parmentier di Patata, Rucola e Friggitello Saltato (local fish with mashed potato, rocket and pan fried green peppers).

Soffice ai Frutti di Bosco con Salsa allo Yogurt (forest berries with a yogurt sauce), and a couple of little extras including glasses of Muscat di Trani and their own thick, treacly, homemade nocino (a local amaro made with walnuts).

So in short a modern, friendly place that serves good food at a good price.

Ai 2 Ghiottoni (Advanced A/B), 11B Via Putignani, Tel. 080 5233330, www.ai2ghiottoni.it

This is generally considered to be the best place in town. It is good but a bit too high end for me. I’ve been twice and had two different experiences, once as a lone diner and once as part of a group.

When I went by myself in 2014 I received a warm welcome from the tactile owner but was underwhelmed by the slightly snooty service. Perhaps to be expected as I tend to show up in t-shirt, jeans and trainers.

In 2009 I’d had my first taste of burrata here which was a flavour epiphany at the time but I wasn’t that impressed by it this time (B), perhaps because it was a day old. The fresh ricotta it came with was amazing though (A).

The Bavette (‘little dribble’, thinner and wider than linguine) ai Frutti di Mare was good for the price (B+). Everything else was fine except the unsolicited house special, the Spaghetti Assassina I think, long pasta tossed in singed chilli oil, which was one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten in an Italian restaurant (D). And it’s their special! Maybe I just caught a bad one…

I did have one good new experience though. Their homemade ‘Mandarino’ made a nice change from limoncello, but you wouldn’t want to drink too much of it (B).

The bill came to €44 which isn’t too bad but I don’t think I’ll be back by myself.

In 2009 I wrote: Eleven of us went to this fantastic restaurant (appropriately named ‘The Two Gluttons’) after a training convention and had a huge multi-course banquet with drinks for only €40 a head.

Our starters included some sublime ricotta, burrata mozzarella (hard exterior and a soft interior filled with cream ) and panzerotti (deep fried air pockets of dough filled, in this case, with mozzarella) and a salad of boletus mushrooms with celery and parmesan (all A).

Also nice were the fried olives, polenta, two types of octopus, some other grilled mushrooms, omelette and deep fried polenta (B).

My main was a plate of grilled prawns and scampi (A), one neighbour loved her Orichiette with Cime di Rape (a member of the broccoli family) and another the Spaghetti Assassina (pasta coated in chilli and tomato and flash-fried).

The wines were a wonderful Negromaro red (Cantine due Palme)(A) and the white a Locorotondo DOC (Bianco Vendemmia ’08) (B+).

And then came dessert! Several plates piled high with canoli, baba, sfogliatelle, fruit tarts, almond macaroons, figs , pomegranate (A) as well as chocolate balls, roast chestnuts, a huge bowl of liquorice, a slab of chocolate and jugs of homemade limoncello (B).

Pizzeria O’Chalet (Intermediate B), 18 Via Domenico Nicolai, Tel. 080 523 8303

Recommended by a colleague for its seafood, this reasonably priced family restaurant is quite handy if you’re staying at the Hotel Leon D’Oro. The Neapolitan style pizza is supposed to be good too.

Everything I had (Cavatelli ai Frutti di Mare and char-grilled baby squid) which were both fine (B). The cooking is simple and the portions are generous which is all you want most of the time.

I couldn’t manage the house white though (C-) and.I felt the replacement bottle of Fiano (B) was a bit expensive at around €20. Maybe check the price before ordering bottles. A good place all in all.

Bari – Quartiere Murat – shops, bars and buildings

Posted in Bari, Italy, Murat, Puglia with tags , , , on April 5, 2015 by gannet39

Quartiere Murat is where most of the good mid-range and high end restaurants are located. Please see my next post for food, this is about all the other stuff.

The Murat district is bordered by the sea and the old town Barivecchia to the north, and the train tracks to the south. The other city quarters of Madonella and Liberta are to the east and west.

It’s named after Joachim Murat who was a Marshal of Napoleon Bonaparte and head of the government of the Kingdom of Naples, who ushered in the construction of the new area. The walls surrounding the old town were dismantled on the land side and replaced by Corso Vittorio Emanuele which allowed the city to expand.

At first, much of this part of town seems quite unattractive with relatively modern blocks squeezed together by dirty streets with narrow pavements. However, there are some lovely buildings dotted around if you can find them.

I love the over the top Art Noveau stylings of Palazzo Mincuzzi (corner of Via Sprano da Bari and Via Putignani) which is now a clothes store in the posh shopping district (pedestrian streets Via Sparano and Via Argiro).

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You can also find Teatro Petruzzelli near here at 12 Corso Cavour. It’s the fourth largest theatre in Italy but is sadly closed in 2014 due to the state of the economy.

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I don’t know what this building is called (at 127 Via Putignani, on the corner of Via Cairoli) but I love the detailing and the animal heads above the balconies.

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Each animal is carrying its typical food in its mouth so the walrus has a fish, the fox has a bird, the ram some grass and so on.

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I’m not quite sure what its religious function is but Palazzina San Clemente at 245 Beata Elia di San Clemente has a beautifully carved stone entrance.

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20140628_200311Here’s a bit of dirty and forgotten Art Nouveau at 205 Via Putignani, just a few doors down from Ristorante Terranima.

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20140615_130641An excellent deli is Salumeria de Carne Francesco at 128 Via Calefati. In 2009 I managed to get a bottle of fragolino, an apertivo infused with whole wild strawberries from here. It was hard to get at the time because the alcohol was too low for it to be considered a wine, leading to an uncertain legal status.
Taralli biscuits are a local speciality, the fennel (finocchio)and onion flavours being especially tasty but ideally they should be eaten a day or two after purchase.
Confitteria Mucci at 116 Via Principe Amedeo is a sweet shop with a lot of tradtion (see my Andria post).

Enoteca Vinarius De Pasquale at 87 Via Marchese di Montrone is a sizable wine shop, founded in 1911, with an extensive range of Puglian wines. They also have an online shop.

Their efficient staff helped me post a dozen bottles of Fiano ‘Minutolo’ by Cantina Polvanera back home and they all arrived safe and sound. I think they worked out at about £10 a bottle in the end, only about 25% more than their price in Italy which was very cheap to start with.
Cantina Cairoli is another big enoteca at 81 Via Cairoli. Local varietals recommended by my national manager Claudia (who is also a qualified sommelier!) are the reds Primitivo Manduria and Nero di Troia,

La Taverna del Maltese (Intermediate B), 67 Via Nicolai

20140630_224242This is an everyone-friendly bar (PACE flags on the wall) with a large screen for watching the match inside and a spacious terrace out back, which is unusual for this part of town.

There are a few, mainly German, draught beers on offer which are fine but I haven’t tried the food.

There are several bars along at the old town end of Corso Emanuele.

Bari – Barivecchia – eating cheaply and well in the old town

Posted in Bari, Barivecchia, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , , on April 2, 2015 by gannet39

Barivecchia, also know as Quartiere San Nicola, was once quite dodgy, virtually a no-go area for tourists at night. Nowadays, thanks to redevelopment, it’s much safer, though still a thoroughly working class area.

The people here are nationally famous for having their own dialect, related to Greek, that even the rest of the city finds hard to understand.

There’s little point using a map in this warren of alleys and narrow streets. It’s best just to wander around and try to keep a sense of direction.

At the heart of the maze is the Duomo di Bari, or Cattedrale di San Sabino, built in the late 12th century.

Please click on any of these photos to get a full screen slideshow.

Thanks to the redevelopment, Barivecchia is now full of small eateries offering traditional Barese cuisine at very low prices. I’ve collected the ones to avoid in the Piazza Ferrarese post. The following are all places I’d recommend for a cheap meal. For posher places see the posts on the new town.

Osteria del Travi (Elementary A), 12 Largo Chiurlia

A bit hard to find but if you walk straight along Via Sparano da Bari, cross over Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and keep going till you get to the arches, turn left through an arch and you’ll see it in front of you)

Another place bearing the title ‘Vini e Cucina’ (the name of a cheap type of restaurant) above its door, it’s similar in many ways to the famous Paglionico in the Piazza Ferrarese post, but so much better in my opinion. Again I decided to try it a second time after a five year absence to see if my original comparison with its competitor was still true and fair, and it was.

In 2009 I wrote this about lunch:

This place scores for simplicity of decor (wooden tables and benches) and having good simple food at a very cheap price.

We piled our plates high with antipasti and had a whole grilled bream with salad and a quarter of red for only €15 euro each.

In 2014 I wrote this about dinner:

Apparently the oldest eatery in the old town, founded in 1813, it has been run by a pair of brothers since 1980.

The brother I met, while being dour at first (a local quality I can appreciate as a Yorkshireman) is capable of the occasional smile and will stand and chat with his customers.

The atmosphere is simple but pleasant with wooden benches and tables covered with paper tablecloths. It probably hasn’t changed much inside since medieval times, nor have the traditional recipes it dishes up.

This time I passed on the antipasti buffet and I also decided to leave the pasta with horse gravy and horse steak till another time.

20140627_202612Instead I opted for the daily special Patate e Cozze (potato, rice and mussels) which allowed me to make a direct comparison with the more famous Paglionico where I’d had the same dish. It was so much better here, again a bit singed as it probably should be, and really delicious (A-).

20140627_205336I followed this with the ‘Arrosto di Carne’ (actually just pork) involving an excellent local sausage (A), a skewer of pork and a fillet of pork, all of which were a bit tasteless (B-). On the side a decent salad (B) and some ‘french fries’, which were more like crisps and tasted much better while hot (B-)

The rough house wine was also better (B-) than the horrible stuff at Paglionico.

20140627_213022To finish, a slab of apple pie (B-)…

20140627_212923… and a glass of their own homemade dessert wine (B) and a homemade limoncello (B).

Total cost, a miserly €25, excellent value. Go here and not the other place.

Cianna Cianne (Intermediate B), 5 Via Corsoli, Tel. 080 528 9382, www.lacantinadiciannecianne.com

This place was a tip from a Guardian reader and I’d agree with their synopsis of it being a ‘no nonsense place’ serving cucina tradizionale Pugiiese.  The service isn’t the best, but who cares if the food is as good as it is here. I’m guessing mum (Caterina Percoco) is in the kitchen performing the magic while her dour son is the floor manager. The nice waitress I had on both visits was capable of smiling though.

It’s quite hard to find being down in a dead end alley that runs up against the old city wall. It might be easiest to locate by walking along the wall and looking down into the alleys until you see it. Coming up the ramp, from Piazza Mercantile and walking along scenic Via Venezia, it’s in the fourth alley along, although you will have to descend into the fifth alley and then walk back round.

There’s lots of room inside but if you want to sit outside you should arrive at 8 as all the seats were taken by locals by 9 on the rainy Monday night I was there.

20140616_205910I had to wait what seemed like an eternity while all the Italian customers who had arrived after me feasted on multiple plates of antipasti while I only had a few rectangular cubes of sgagliozze (fried polenta cubes) (A)…

20140616_205128… and a bottle of Salento Malvasia (B+) to keep me company. It was worth the wait in the end though.

In response to my request for ‘piatti typici’ they suggested ‘a little fish with some pasta’ which didn’t sound like much but turned out to be two huge plates of food that I struggled to finish.

20140616_211327The pasta was the ubiquitous Orichiette (little ears) in a simple sauce of baby tomatoes (B) which also accompanied the sizable Scorfino (Scorpion fish), along with some toasted bread to soak up the sauce.

20140616_211409Even though I’ve never been a fan of the bony Scorfino in the past I couldn’t fault any of it (all A).

20140616_215715In terms of a digestivo, I was tempted by the cream version of the Padre Peppe amaro that I’d tried at Il Pescatore below, but plumped instead for their homemade ‘grappa’, served with raisins that had been soaking in a large jar behind the bar before being ladled out by the waiter. It certainly put hairs on my chest! (B+) I got all this for €40.

20140614_204205My second visit was a bit of a let down sadly, which is why the overall rating has sunk to a B. I had the antipasti which were all a tasteless C, and in the case of the cozze e patate, an inedible D.

Not sure why, perhaps because it had all been pre-prepared. I would come again but would just have first and second courses.

This next place is located next to Castello Svevo, the old Norman castle.

Al Pescatore (High Intermediate B), 6/7 Piazza Federico II di Svevia, Tel. 080 523 7039

20140614_223810This mid-range place is described by Fodor’s  as one of Bari’s best fish restaurants.

20140614_204644I’m sure that description is true if you are prepared to spend a bit of money, but I was on a budget and so probably didn’t experience the best this place has to offer, hence the B.

20140614_204205The Antipasti di Mare was fine if unexciting (mostly B).

20140614_215754The following Tubettini con le Cozze was slightly oversalted but fine (B).

20140614_203604A glass of the 2013 Chardonnay called ‘Cantele’ from the Salento IGT was good (B).

Although I enjoyed the Negroamaro ‘Illiria’, also from Salento, even more (B+).

20140614_215327The red negroamaro grape is found only in Puglia, and especially in the Salento IGP.

20140614_224308Finally I tasted a shot of dark treacly amaro called Padre Peppe which seems to be the most commercially available local bitter in Bari (B+). Also described as a ‘nocino’ or ‘elixir di noci’, as it’s made with walnuts I think.

I went to the next place hoping Panaficio Antonio Fiore at #38 would be open for some of their famous focaccia, but it seems to just be a day time thing.

Antipasteria Pizzeria Borgo Antico (Elementary B), 46 Strada Palazzo di Citta

Very popular with the locals, perhaps because there’s lots of outdoor seating on the street, but otherwise it looks like somewhere to avoid due to the huge posters displaying their very reasonable fixed menu deals outside the front door.

I had a pretty ugly looking Pizza Margherita di Bufala (the tomato sauce only covering about two thirds of it) but it tasted ok (B) and the limoncello was homemade and strong. Might come and try their antipasti next time I’m in town.

Bari – Barivecchia – Piazza Ferrarese

Posted in Bari, Barivecchia, Italy, Piazza Ferrarese, Piazza Mercantile, Puglia with tags , , on April 1, 2015 by gannet39

Piazzas Ferrarese and Mercantile, the two main squares in the heart of the old town, blend into each other imperceptibly and are effectively two sides of the same square. This is where the Barese, especially the youth, come to meet and chat on a warm evening.

In Piazza Mercantile you can see the Palazzo della Provincia and its clock tower, once the home of the provincial administration, built in 1936. Please click on the pics for the best view.

 

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In Piazza Mercantile you can see La Colonna della Giustizia, ‘the column of justice’, a stone punishment pole to which fraudulent debtors were tied and lashed, which is nice.

 

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20140614_145235Around the square you’ll see women selling the traditional local street food, sgagliozze, fried polenta cubes.

Both piazzas are lined with restaurants, a couple of which are recommended by various guides. While I might come here for a drink I personally would avoid most of the eateries around here. They’re not bad, just very average in my opinion.

You’ll find all the places mentioned in my Bari posts, and some more I haven’t been to, on my Google map.

Paglionico Vini e Cucina (Elementary C), 23 Strada Vallisa, off Piazza Ferrarese, Tel, 330 433 018, closed Sunday evening.

If you can find the section of uncovered Roman road on display in Piazza Ferrarese, as you’re looking at the information board, Strada Vallisa is to the left.

This place is very famous, thanks in particular I think to Lonely Planet, who list it under the name ‘Vini e Cucina’. In fact however, this title refers to a type of restaurant, traditionally much cheaper than a mid-range ‘Osteria’ (although these can also be quite expensive now) or a posh ‘Ristorante’. You won’t find a wine menu or a credit card machine in this kind of place and the ‘wines and cooking’ will be simple down-to-earth fare, which can be great, or not…

I first came in 2009 and wrote this: Run by the same family for over a century (you’d think they’d learned to cook by now), this vaulted cellar has a nice basic ambience with its paper tablecloths and simple decor. Sadly however the food was very disappointing.

The ok-ish antipasti of grilled peppers, provolone, processed ham and fried olives (A/B/C/C) were followed by seafood pasta (B) and a queasiness inducing fritto misto of prawns, sardines and squid (C). My vegetarian friend was restricted by the fixed menu to having a plate of fave bean paste (D) and cime di rape (B).

Cheap Moretti malt beer and an ok house red (B-) made the food more palatable. It does have a nice atmosphere and we only spent €20 a head but I wouldn’t go back.

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Five years later in 2014 I did in fact give it a second chance in the interests of research and wrote:

Nothing has changed, not even the vivid green table cloths, which are the only thing I like about this place.

The owner is quite brusque, which I don’t have a problem with most of the time, but it would be nice to get the drinks order in as well as the food (the menu is spoken only and delivered at high speed) before he walks away to talk to his friends. We warmed to each other by the end of the night though, perhaps because I spoke some Italian, unlike many of the tourists he must get here. Unknown Italians get a similar treatment too.

I did eventually get some water and red wine, the latter being pretty rough (C-). All of the (unordered) antipasti were C (cheese, olives) or D (vinegared courgettes) except for the cured ham and a potato frittata which were B.

Next the classic Barese dish Patate e Cozze but not particularly well made here (C+).

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For the second  course some cavallo (horse meat), rolled up with garlic held together with toothpicks and simmered in tomato sauce, C+ for the meat and B for the sauce.

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With a slab of watermelon and a limoncello (both A) the meal came to €30.  Go to somewhere in my next two posts instead.

Even if you can’t buy, you should check out the fantastic displays of hams and cheeses at Salumiere Nino at 31 Strada Vallisa, just a few doors up from Paglionico above.

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La Locanda de Federico (B?), 63 Piazza Mercantile

A Lonely Planet top pick, open every day, However, I didn’t like the atmosphere or the attitude of the staff (a common complaint on Trip Advisor).

When they wouldn’t give me one of the vacant tables on their terrace because I was a single diner, I went to the place below instead.

La Cecchina (Intermediate B), 31 Piazza Mercantile, Tel. 080 521 4147

Recommended by some guide book. I got pleasant service from a nice lady but the food was unremarkable.

The Antipasti ‘La Cecchina’ looked nice but was rather flavourless (B-).

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The Calamarata pasta Ai Frutti di Mare was ok but unspecial (B), just featuring squid, mussels and cockles and no promised chickpeas.

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My tastebuds might have not been working properly though (I was very tired after working seven days straight) because a previously favourite wine (Polvanera’ s ‘Minutolo’) also failed to excite (B).Or maybe it was just served at the incorrect temperature.

Finally some sfoglia con crema pasticcera (pastries with vanilla custard) (B) and an unfiltered limoncello (B+).

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It was reasonably priced though, 3 courses with all the usual trimmings for €43.50, which was then reduced to €40. Not too expensive, and the food was ok, but there are other places to go.

I grouped all the average places here together. Please see my other Bari posts on Barriavecchia and Murat for the good stuff.

Home Cooking in Lecce

Posted in Lecce with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39
Trattoria Le Zie – Cucina Casareccia  (Intermediate A+), 19 Via Colonello Costadura, Tel. +39 083 224 5178. GEM ALERT!

Just outside the historic centre in a rather dingy part of town, this place unexpectedly provided me with one of the best eating experiences I’ve ever had in Italy. Spartan, traditional and friendly with fantastic food, it’s basically a family house with twelve tables crammed into their dining room and hallway. You have to ring the doorbell and someone comes to let you in. All the family are in the kitchen and greet you as you enter.

The son is a lovely guy and helped me decipher the hand-written menu as we massacred each others languages. I ordered antipasti (beans, aubergine, ricotta) and a primi (‘orecchiette o sagne’ ie pasta with veal meatballs) and would have ordered the horse steak for my secondo had it not been for the plate of pittuli (olives and other things in deep fried doughballs) and and bowl of  ‘tria’ that showed up unordered.

‘Tria’ is an ancient dish, possibly Greek in origin, which consists just of chickpeas and pasta, but a third of the pasta has been deep fried to provided a crunchy contrast to the softness of the rest. Really simple but so deliciously cooked here. Chickpeas (cece) are a staple everywhere in this part of Puglia, as is chicory.

The house red was really good too. I finished off with a sublime cheesecake and a glass of pomegranate liqueur, all made on the premises.

You have to reserve as there are only a few covers, so have the hotel reception call them first. They were empty when I arrived just after 8pm but full by 9.

So in a nutshell, I love this place! It’s not in the old town, it’s a bit of a grotty area actually, but really worth the effort of finding it in my opinion.  I went originally in 2008 so I hope they are still as good.

When I last looked 2014 I was glad to see they are only #117 on Trip Advisor so they hopefully haven’t been spoiled by an oversupply of tourists. Most of the complaints seem to be from Italians who accuse the food of being too simple, or not as good as at home, but then what would you expect? It’s not haute cuisine, just good home cooking.

There are other nice places in the historic centre of Lecce too but they can be a bit hit and miss by all accounts.

Trani

Posted in Trani with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39


Trani is an absolute gem, a beautiful little fishing port, originally founded by the Greeks but with examples of several architectural styles in the old centre. The unusual Romanesque cathedral should certainly be visited.

 

Local food products include fruit, olive oil, and the famous Muscat di Trani, a fortified dessert white wine, for which the town has its own DOC. The hotel is next to the harbour, and there are several restaurants around the marina, although I avoided these as they were empty and looked like tourist traps (I was there in November). The better places are generally down the backstreets but there is a huge choice.

Corteinfiore (Advanced A), 18 via Ognissanti, tel 0883 508402 , closed Monday. GEM ALERT!

This is a wonderful place, bright and modern with an internal garden which is heated in the winter. The service is excellent and the owner very friendly and helpful. We went for a shared €10 Antipasti di Mare Cotto, which included ricotta wrapped in smoked swordfish (A), cod (stockfish) and potato patties coated with polenta flour and fried and served with sundried tomatoes and a hint of chilli (A), marinaded tuna with zucchini (B), roast octopus with rape (B), seared tuna (B) and prawns wrapped in pancetta (C). I also had some Antipasti di Mare Crudo which consisted of tuna, swordfish and prawn sashimi (B). My first course was “Caramelle” di Zucchine e Ricotta con Gamberi su Vellutata di Zucca Gialla (A), which was homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and prawns and served in a seasonal pumpkin sauce, for €10. Alison Slade had some huge langoustines, fresh from the quay, which were €20 for 250g. To drink we were recommended to start with the very original and different tasting Come d’Incanto (€10, B+), a white made with the Puglian red Nero di Troia grape from Cantina Carpentiere who have only been making it for the last two years. We followed with “Canonico” (B+), a Negroamaro from Cantine due Palme in the Salento IGT (B+). It cost €13 but my friend Nicky saw it later for €4 in the supermarket. To finish we had a glass of delicious Muscat di Trani, a famous local dessert wine with a lovely perfume and not too sweet (see enoteca note below). A real winner overall for service, ambience, food and value for money. Also Gambero Rosso recommended.

Trattoria U’Vrascir (Intermediate A), 9 Piazza Cesare Battisti (near the cathedral), Tel. 0883 491840, closed Tuesday.

Nicky went here and said it was even better than the place above! You can opt for Antipasti from the sea or the earth. She went for the latter and had six delightful vegetable and meat dishes.

Locanda Pesevenghi (Intermediate A-), 80 via Marittimi (on the harbourfront), Tel. 347 0303458, closed Tuesdays.

This tiny place (20 seats) was recommended by reception, but I didn’t get in the first time I went as there were no single tables. I went again for lunch and had an excellent local spaghetti-like pasta dish with squid, tiny prawns and baby clams. The house white would have been nicer more chilled but it was ok, and the homemade bread was some of the nicest I have tasted in Italy, soft and still warm. The attractive interior has the feel of a library, shelved books interspersed with knick knacks and nudes. The lady proprietor was very friendly and helpful. A nice little spot.

Ristorante Torrente Antico (Advanced A-), 3 via E.Fusco (bit hard to find, it’s on a backstreet near Piazza Republica).

Found this place by chance and went in for lunch, even though it was empty, due to the window being plastered with guide book stickers. On entering I was hit with a slightly musty old-building smell but it wasn’t intolerable. The walls are covered with shelves bearing a huge array of wine bottles and grappas so I think it doubles as an enoteca. The bow-tied silver service waiter was a very pleasant and helpful chap who spoke a little English. I received a complimentary salt-cod pattie while I was waiting for my Mezze Maniche ai Frutta di Mare (half tubes of medium-size pasta with several clams, squid and a solitary prawn) which was very nice (A-) although the pasta was a little hard. The menu had only three meat options but twice that number of ‘sea fruit’ dishes. Would definitely go again.

La Locanda (Intermediate B), 10/12 via Zanarelli (off the harbourfront, just after Piazza Teatro).

I chose this place because it was busy when all other places were empty, but with hindsight many of the customers were probably staying at the inn, rather than being locals. The ancient stone interior is very atmospheric if a little cramped; I had to change chairs to allow the portly (but very friendly) waiter to squeeze past my table. The decor is unusual, ranging from beautiful tablecloths to more dodgy ceramic smiley suns, still life drawings of fruit, pictures of Glenlivet dray horses and displays of bar utensils in glass cases. I took a chance on the Antipasti Vari con Mare Cotto, without knowing what I was going to get. There were six dishes of cooked seafood, including smoked salmon and swordfish (A), battered chunks of white fish (A), heavily salted prawns (B), squid in tomato sauce (C), oyster mushrooms (C) and the rather tasteless Cernia con Crema di Carciofi (white fish in a puree of artichoke hearts) (C) accompanied by a bottle of non-descript €13 Puglian Chardonnay and two grappas (one complimentary). Total cost €35 with water and cover. I’m sure you can get better dishes here though, a neighbouring table’s scampi looked amazing, so don’t let my C’s put you off going, just choose something else.

Osteria ai Platani (Intermediate B), 16 via E.Comneno, left and left out of the hotel, it’s on a crossroads)

Pleasant enough food, nothing special. After complementary arancini and bruschetta, three of us had a hard time getting through all six dishes of the Antipasto Completo which included marinaded anchovies (from the tin?), prawns and barley, smoked fish with potatoes, mussel gratin, and something lasagne like. House white was fine and the Muscat di Trani dessert wine was wonderful. Nearest decent non-touristy place to the hotel.

You should really take a bottle of Muscat di Trani home with you and there is a good enoteca at #16 Corso Regina Elena which had a choice of two 500ml bottles for €10 and €8.60. However, if you go a couple of doors down to #8 and go through the bead curtain, you will find a chap sat on a plastic garden chair selling his own wine on tap out of four large tanks. He sold me 1.5 litres of nouvelle Muscat in a plastic water bottle for €6, bargain! He also has Aglianico and Montepuciliano. GEM ALERT!

Probably Greek in origin, venerated by kings and Venetian traders, the ancient Muscat di Trani comes in two varities. The ‘sweet’ (dolce)is a golden yellow with an intense aroma and an alcohol content of 12.5. The second ‘liquerish’ (liquoroso) variety is aged for at least a year and has an alcohol content of 18. It should be served at 10\12 degrees and goes well with almond cakes, fruit salads and mild cheeses.

We stayed at Hotel San Paolo al Convento, a very pleasant former convent on the harbourside. Room 204 was the best of three, with two balconies and sea views on two sides. There’s free internet access in all the rooms, just ask for a connecting lead from reception. There’s no gym but I had a pleasant run in the nearby Villa Communale and around the harbour, cathedral and castle.

Written November 2009.

Mussels in Taranto

Posted in Puglia, Taranto with tags , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Taranto skylineNot even mentioned in local guides, Taranto is Puglia’s dirty secret; a near derelict old town with a sprawling port and navy base on one side and oil refineries on the other. There are more beautiful places in Puglia but it’s still interesting and starts to grow on you quickly. There’s a castle, good views of the two bays, lots of great restaurants and a fair bit of nightlife.

In terms of cuisine, Taranto is famous for its mussels, despite potential pollutants from the worrying amount of industry on the shore line. The seafood in general is famous here, as is the Greek-style roast lamb, olive oil, clementines and other fruit. The region has the Lizzano and Primitivo DOC’s and Birra Raffo is the locally made beer.

Harbour entrance

Restaurants:

Al Gatto Rosso (Intermediate A), 2 via Cavour (off Piazza Garibaldi), Tel. 099 4529875, not Mondays. GEM ALERT!

This is an excellent place, recommended by Gambero Rosso and, specialising in seafood since 1952. It’s semi-formal with friendly, attentive waiters in whites and trainers.  I had to have a big bowlful of the famous mussels, with razor clams, cooked in a white wine sauce, generally one of my favourite dishes and in this case perhaps the best I have ever tasted (€7, A+).

To follow I had melt-in-your-mouth Pacchieri ai Frutta di Mare with prawns, baby vongole verace and squid in a tomato and fish sauce (€10, A) and washed it all down with a local white recommended by the owner, ‘Alta’ Bambino ’08 (A) for €9 from Cantina Teanum, which was quite similar to a Falanghina or a Fiano.

To finish, a lemon tart (B+), some complimentary squares of dark chocolate with almonds (A) and a local grappa (B). Even the bread was good (A) which is unusual in Italy. All this for only €36!

Ristorante La Fattoria  (Intermediate A), 9 via Abruzzo (in the opposite direction from the old town but worth the trip), Tel. 099 7362560

Another excellent place. Eight of us sat down for lunch and had the Antipasti di Frutta di Mare which included mussels in breadcrumbs (A), sweet pan-fried olives (A), fried red mullet (B), grilled aubergines (A), marinaded anchovies (A), grilled courgette with mint (A), prawns and baby squid (lightly poached in fish stock) (A). My main was a sea bass cooked with delicious olives (A). The Falanghina (A)and novella Primitivo red (B)were very nice too. Finished with a fruit salad which included Figi di India prickly pear (B).

Ristorante Ebalia (Intermediate B), Piazza Ebalia

Seven of us went to this ok place recommended by reception. The highlights of the shared antipasti were, steamed mussels, sardine roe béchamel gratinata baked in a scallop shell, deep fried artichokes stuffed with ricotta, polpo affogato (‘drowned’ octopus) (all B). My primo was a huge portion of seafood linguine (B).

The wine was an excellent Primitivo di Manduria (Villa Mottura ’06) (B+). Our friend Claudia, a wine expert, told us she has never had a bad bottle of Primitivo di Manduria. Nicky had beef steak tagliata on a bed of red chicory (A).

The dessert of Sfoglia con Crema Pasticcera   (B+),  little sandwiches of puff pastry and vanilla cream dusted with icing sugar,  were described by the waiter as ‘sporcomusso’ which translates as ‘dirty mouth’! They are so described because they cover your lower face with powdered sugar and flakes of pastry when you bite them. When they are still warm and washed down with a glass of Muscat di Trani (A), as we did, they are absolutely delightful.

Service ranged from the very friendly to the overly pushy but the food was good.

Bars:

Exit Village (B), 120 via Cavallotti (on the corner with Lungomare Vittorio Emanuelle).

I was alerted to this bar by the scene of a bloke snogging a drag queen against a skip outside. That’s my kind of place! It’s a cool little mixed bar in a cellar with booths and a big video screen at one end, very near the Mercure Delphino hotel. A grappa costs €4 and comes with half a grape on a cocktail stick. Very camp. They shut at 2am.

There are other bars around too, you can spot the hip places by the crowds outside on the street. The main pub and disco area seems to be along along the Litoranea Salentina seafront.

Hotel:

The Hotel Mercure Delfino at 66 viale Virgilio has free wi-fi in its rooms. Only the rooms at the rear have sea views.

Written November 2009.

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