Archive for the Puglia Category

Puglia – Foggia – Where to Eat

Posted in Foggia, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , on February 27, 2019 by gannet39

As I mentioned in my Foggia – Things to See post, the upside of Foggia is the food.

In fact, I had one of my favourite ever restaurant experiences here…

Ambasciata Orsarese (Intermediate A), 53 Via Iorio Tenente

I came to this Gambero Rosso recommended local restaurant on a Sunday hoping that I would get a seat without having reserved. What I didn’t know though was that it was Republic Day in Italy, which is an excuse for a big feed for most Italians, and the place was packed out with no free tables at all.

Thankfully though, I was invited by another single diner to join him, which is typical of southern Italian hospitality. I had plenty to talk about with Antonio, an off-duty policeman from Naples, as we were both big lovers of food. I’ve been to Naples over a dozen times and know the restaurant scene well, so we had that in common as well.

Food lovers or not, I’m not sure if either of us were prepared for the food onslaught that was to come…

By the time we’d reached double figures on the courses we were both full to bursting and were were still only on the pasta stages. We hadn’t helped ourselves by asking for second helpings of our favourites. I tentatively asked Antonio how many more courses there were but he didn’t know either so we ploughed on faithfully in the hope we were nearly there.

Alessandro the chef is fond of parading the food around the restaurant when it’s just out of the oven. I was a little startled by the meat course which was baby goat.

This probably isn’t the best place for vegetarians.

The meat was served with roast potatoes and each table also got a whole loaf that had been hollowed out and filled with vegetables and sausages.

It was at this point that the whole restaurant rebelled as one and refused to eat any more. So the loaves were all wrapped up for people to take home.

We did manage to squeeze in a few sweets though. The last round of delicious little goblets were straight out of the oven.

Again, many were wrapped up to take home.

Along with some other tid bits

And of course we still had the digestifs and coffees to get through.

And the cost of this extensive banquet? A measly €35. Unbelievable value. I suppose they keep it so cheap by feeding a lot of people the same thing, and certain things like the wine is their own in-house label.

Other colleagues have been and apparently similar blowouts happen on a daily basis, it just coincided with a holiday when I went. My advice is reserve as soon as you can though so you don’t miss out on this amazing experience. And make sure you go with an appetite or you’ll do yourself a culinary injury!

Trattoria Giordano (High Intermediate B), 14 Vico al Piano

This is a pleasant Michelin recommended restaurant selling simple local food. You have to ring the bell to get in.

I began with a plate of mixed cheeses; Grana Padano (B+), Cacio (B), Provolone Fresca, Provolone (B+), served with some red stuff I think the waiter called Marma Miele (B). Marmalade mixed with honey perhaps?

After this a primo of Cime de Rape, the famous ‘turnip tops’ (actually they’re a kind of broccoli) which is a Puglian classic. I’m actually not that keen on it but due to everyone else loving it so much I feel obliged to keep trying it. This one still failed to convince me though (C+).

Next, a local sausage. Simplicity is beauty as they say (B).

With all this, a bottle of Nero di Troia which was decent (B).

With cover and a final grappa the bill came to €45.

So in my desire to try local dishes, I ended up with a rather unexciting meal. This is a good place that I’d definitely go to again, but I’d just choose differently. Ambasciata Orsarese above is the one though.

Sherwood Chiosco Biker’s (Initial B+), 156 Viale Michelangelo

Motivated by my great experience at Antica Chiosco Da U Russ in Bari (see my Barivecchia-Eating Cheaply in the Old Town post), and in need of a bit of a walk after stuffing my face the night before, I decided to try this food kiosk recommended by an Italian food blogger.

The food was good (A/B) but the ingredients weren’t quite as high quality as at Antica Chiosco. These kiosks tend to specialise in meat and here their homemade sausage is the star (A).

However I didn’t feel that the spiedina (kebab of lamb, vegetables, and frankfurter) and the lamb intestines were anything special (B).

These filled ‘pizzas’ looked interesting but I was full to bursting. They have a great selection of beers as well. Two half litres of blonde beer and a double limoncello took the bill to €19.

This is a nice spot where you can sit outside and chat with the friendly locals. It makes a change from sitting in a restaurant anyway.

I stayed at the Hotel White House www.hotelwhitehouse.it, a fading old hotel but with pleasant staff and a basic but okay breakfast (great cornettos and hand made coffees). The bathrooms are small with cramped shower cubicles and the wardrobes in my room were suspended up on the wall so you needed a stick to lift the hangers up and down, which was a new one me. The plug sockets are all the old three pin style as well rather than the much more common two pin.

Around the other side of the block is the also quite faded Hotel Mercure Cicolella. The restaurant (closed Sundays) is Michelin recommended and the seven course tasting menu for €35 looked pretty good when I popped in for a gander. Next time…

Puglia – Foggia – Things to See

Posted in Foggia, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , , on February 26, 2019 by gannet39

The short answer for Foggia is, not a lot. Successive earthquakes throughout the centuries, and in particular the Allied bombing during WW2, have left very little for the tourist to see.

On the other hand, I ate very well here, which is often the case with ugly Italian towns I find. Please see my next post Foggia – Where to Eat. My map is here.

Various fountains are dotted about town. The nicest one is Fontana del Sele in Piazza Camillo Benso Cavour.

The Cattedrale di Foggia is a nice example of Baroque if you like that kind of thing.

The lower half that survived the quakes is Romanesque.

The interior looks quite attractive though.

One of the oldest existing buildings in town is the Palazzo Marzano Tafuri aka the Palazzo De Vita De Luca, near the cathedral. The lower two stories are 16th century and designed in a Neapolitan Renaisance style, while the third floor was added in the 18th century.

It’s neighbour at 84 Via Arpi also looks like a hotchpotch of styles and in equally bad nick.

There’s a bit of fascist era Rationalism dotted about.

I quite like this old building on the main shopping street but I don’t know anything about it.

And that’s about itm although I left a few things, like a visit to the town’s museum, till next time.

One of the best things about Foggia is that it makes a good jump off point for visiting the Gargano National Park www.parcogargano.it and the Tremeti Islands www.pugliaandculture.com, both of which I must go to one day.

Bari – a drink and a bite in the Porto Vecchio

Posted in Bari, Italy, Porto Vecchio, Puglia with tags , on February 25, 2019 by gannet39

The Porto Vecchio is the old harbour to the east of the town. Map here.

This is where many of the fishermans’ boats are moored, the traditional blue Gozzi.

Molo San Nicola is the southern pier of the Porto Vecchio. You can get some nice views across the water towards the old town from here.

You can buy fresh seafood directly from the gruff fishermen who sell their catch on the pier. Freshly prepared Ricci (sea-urchins) were on sale the afternoon I went.

It’s a popular spot for people to hang out with friends and listen to reggae music from the bar, El Chiringuito. Video here.

El Chiringuito specialises in two things; Peroni, the quintessential Barese beer, and tomato and mozzarella Panzerotti, like small Calzoni but deep-fried rather than baked. I’ve been spoilt so these score a B with me but they they do hit the spot with a cold beer.

Peroni begain life in the north of Italy in 1846 but in 1924 they opened a new production plant in Bari which was the beginning of the company becoming a national beer. You can see photos of the plant and old Peroni trucks on the walls of the bar.

This is a cool little spot. I’ll check it at sunset next time.

Bari – food shops and friendly bars

Posted in Bari, Barivecchia, Italy, Murat, Puglia with tags , , , , , , on February 24, 2019 by gannet39

My favourite bar in Bari is La Taverna del Maltese (Intermediate B+) at 67 Via Nicolai. It’s an everyone-friendly bar with PACE flags on the wall and a large screen for watching the football inside. There was an excellent jazz three piece playing live on a Thursday night when I last went.

They do food outside on the spacious terrace at the back but I’ve never tried it. There are a few, mainly German, draught beers on offer which are fine. On my last visit the barkeep taught me that a double limoncello (€4) is called a ‘regular’.

There are a few pubs near the Hotel Villa Romanazzi Carducci on Via Carducci but they are all pretty rubbish. Much better to go to the other side of the tracks I think. There are several bars along Corso Emanuele (at the old town end) which come into their own at the weekend.

My map is here.

I like to fill my bag with treats before I go home. Here are the shops in Quartiere Murat in the mid-town that I go to…

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.

In 2017 I took a long list of all the wines I’d enjoyed at restaurants all over Puglia and managed to get a good selection for my pop-up restaurant ClandesDine.

In 2014, 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 nearby that you could use for back up. Local varietals recommended by my national manager Claudia (who is also a qualified sommelier!) are the reds Primitivo Manduria and Nero di Troia.

An 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. Fragolino 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.

Near Piazza Ferrarese you should check out the fantastic displays of cheeses and hams at Salumiere Nino at 31 Strada Vallisa even if you’re not buying.

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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. I’ve yet to identify the best bakery for them but the original branch of Panaficio Fiore in the old town might be a good bet (see my Barivecchio – Eating Cheaply in the Old Town post).

If you’re looking for chocolates and bonbons, Marnarid in Barivecchia near the cathedral is a very traditional sweet shop.

Confitteria Mucci at 116 Via Principe Amedeo is another sweet shop in mid-town with a lot of tradtion (see my Andria post).

Please see my separate posts for food and architecture in the old town.

Bari – Barivecchia – mid range restaurants in the old town

Posted in Bari, Barivecchia, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , on February 24, 2019 by gannet39

This post is about mid-range restaurants in Barivecchia.

There are many other small eateries offering traditional Barese cuisine at very low prices. You can read about them in my Barivecchia-eating cheaply in the old town post.

For the most upmarket restaurants please see my post Bari-Posher Nosh in Mid-town Murat.

For stuff to see in Barivecchia see my post Bari-A walk around Bari’s old town.

My Google map is here.

Cianna Cianne (Intermediate B+), 5 Via Corsoli, 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 Pugliese.  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.

I 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). That said they were very nice sgagliozze (A)…

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

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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

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.

La Locanda de Federico (C?), 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 and never went back.

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, three 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 better places to go.

Remember to check out my Barivecchia – eating cheaply in the old town for some other options. Go to Osteria del Travi if you haven’t already!

Bari – Barivecchia – a walk around Bari’s old town

Posted in Bari, Barivecchia, Italy, Piazza Ferrarese, Piazza Mercantile, Puglia with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2019 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.

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.

Here’s my Google map anyway.

Good luck asking for directions. The Barese are nationally famous for having a strong dialect, but within Bari itself, the inhabitants of Barivecchia are renowned for having a lexis that even the rest of the city finds hard to understand. Personally I find both the people and the place fascinating.

The logical place to start a walk is in the Piazzas Ferrarese and Mercantile, the two main squares in the heart of the old town. They blend into each other imperceptibly and are effectively two sides of the same square. This is where many Barese, especially the youth, come to socialise 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.

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In Piazza Mercantile you can see La Colonna della Giustizia, ‘the column of justice’.

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It was a stone punishment pole to which fraudulent debtors were tied and lashed.

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Around the square you’ll see women selling the traditional local street food, sgagliozze, aka fried polenta cubes. Polenta is slowly growing on me (love it with kale and blue cheese) but I don’t see what the fuss is about here. I think you probably have to be brought up on the stuff to fully appreciate it.

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 (see my Barivecchia – eating cheaply in the old town post for some alternatives).

The next main sight is the Duomo di Bari, or Cattedrale di San Sabino, built in the late 12th century.

The streets around here are very atmospheric, especially at night.

Just a short distance away is the Castello Svevo di Bari www.beniculturali.it.

It was built in 1132 by the Normans.

With your back to the bridge going over the moat to the entrance of the castle you will notice two archways leading into the old town. The first one on the left is called Arco Basso which is the street of the pasta makers.

You’ll see their wares drying in mesh bottomed boxes on the street.

I bought 500g each of Cavatelli and ‘Maccatoni’ (spelling?) for €2 and €2.50 respectively which for an artisan product is, as we say in Yorkshire, as cheap as chips. Keep them out of the plastic bag for a while though so the pasta can dry completely, unless you’re cooking it straight away.

Another nice church is the Basilica San di Nicola www.basilicasannicola.it (admission free).

This is where the relics of Father Christmas are kept.

So lots to see and do. You might want to merge the walk with grazing on some food, for which see my post Barivecchio-Eating Cheaply in the Old Town.

Puglia – Taranto – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto

Posted in Italy, Puglia, Taranto with tags , on February 22, 2019 by gannet39

As the son of an archaeologist I’ve been to quite a few museums, and this is one of the best ones I’ve ever been to, so you should definitely go too!

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto – MArTA, 10 Via Cavour, www.museotaranto.beniculturali.it

It’s especially good for Roman and Greek artefacts. Here’s a small selection of what I saw. Please click on the images to get a better view.

Some amazing finds there I’m sure you’ll agree.

Before you go in to the museum, why not make a reservation for lunch at Al Gatto Rosso on the next block. It’s the best place in town! My review here. Map here.

Back to Bari for the nth time after this. Plenty of good food there…

Puglia – Taranto – Eating at Al Gatto Rosso

Posted in Italy, Puglia, Taranto with tags on February 21, 2019 by gannet39

Please see my other posts on Eating & Drinking in Taranto.

Occasionally I write dedicated posts for places I really like, as is the case with…

Al Gatto Rosso (High Intermediate A), 2 Via Cavour, www.ristorantegattorosso.com

This is the best place to eat in Taranto. Don’t just take my word for it, Michelin and Gambero Rosso agree. This visit in April 2017 was my second after a seven year gap and I’m happy to say the food was still excellent, no doubt just as it was when they first opened in 1952.

I received a friendly welcome from Agostino Bartoli the chef whose grandparents opened the restaurant back in the day. He’s very personable and his English is very good, unlike the waiters who kept trying to speak to me in German!

Whilst I was waiting I was given a drizzle of excellent olive oil (A) to mop up with their good quality bread (B+). Coincidentally the olive oil producer was passing by so he came to say hello as well (I think they’d already guessed I was a blogger due to me taking photographs).

The Taralli were great as well (B+), which as I’ve said before is a good test as to a Puglian restaurant’s quality.

First, a series of appetisers beginning with Bruschetta with Pizzaiola Codfish (no photo) followed by Octopus cooked in local Negroamaro wine with mashed beans.

Some deepfried whitebait.

Shrimp with Rocket and Strawberry.

Fried Squid and Eggplant.

Then a Seafood Risotto.

And finally Orichiette with Mussels.

I asked Agostino to recommend a Puglian white wine but instead he proposed a slightly effervescent 2016 rosé, a Rosato del Salento, which was really enjoyable (B+).

It was made by 2 e Mezzo whose Primitivo I’d had at Via Vai two nights before (see my Eating in Taranto post). I enjoyed it so much I later ordered some for my personal cellar.

The table next to me where also enjoying some fizz, a white called Ca’dil Bosco which I could remember enjoying on another occasion at Don Alfonso near Sorrento.

The total cost with water and cover was €44, which was great value. The bill didn’t even mention the espresso and the Amaro di Salento (B), that I got as well.

Hopefully I won’t have to wait another seven years till my next visit. Many thanks Agostino!

From 2009:

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!

Ideally you should eat here before, or preferrably after, the Archaeology museum (see next post) which is virtually next door…

Puglia – Taranto – Eating & Drinking

Posted in Italy, Puglia, Taranto with tags , , , , , , , on February 20, 2019 by gannet39

In April 2017 I made my second visit to Taranto. A few things had changed on the dining scene since November 2009, but a lot was the same. My map with these restaurants and more is here.

My favourite restaurant is still Al Gatto Rosso and it’s still the best in town (please see my next post).

As in 2009, I stayed in the Hotel Mercure Delfino www.accorhotels.com at 66 Viale Virgilio. My tip is to try and get a room at the back for the relaxing sea views. The staff are helpful and the breakfast is okay.

The two nearest decent restaurants to the Hotel Delfino are ten minutes’ walk, or less…

Braceria Via Vai (Intermediate B), 7/B Piazza Ebalia, www.facebook.com/BraceriaViaVai

The restaurant that used to inhabit this spot in 2009 (Ebalia, see review below) had closed by 2017, which is probably for the best as Taranto could do with some new culinary ideas. In a town famous for its seafood there is definitely a place for this ‘Braceria Italiana’ (Italian Grillhouse).

Via Vai isn’t cheap but the choice and quality of the meat on offer probably merits the prices.

The servers are all young guys who were a bit rough round the edges but are relatively attentive. We had a couple of miscommunications; I said ‘patatas fritas’ in Spanish instead of ‘patatine fritte’ which got me some freshly made crisps when I just wanted chips (French fries), although they replaced them without argument. When I finally got them, the chips were pretty good (B+) although they went down to a C once they’d cooled a bit.

I had the Chianina Costata; a rib steak from a Tuscan cow breed. It was overdone even though I asked for it medium rare (B). ‘Medium’ for a steak in Italy means bloodless according to Ivan and Bruno, a friendly local young couple on the next table. The steak was okay (B) but also needed a fair bit of salting to bring the flavour out.

After three days of fish I had a real hunger for meat so I ordered an additional plate of pork sausages (B). I thought they would come as a starter but they came with the steak so I had my work cut out for me. I nearly made it but I had to leave a sausage, a chunk of steak and half the chips. As usual my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

The Primitivo red was decent (B) but Ivan informed me that Negroamaro is nearly always better. He should know about these things as his family run Ristò Fratelli Pesce, a local fish restaurant in the old town.

Total cost with a barrique grappa, water and cover was €64; a bit pricey but there are cheaper cuts and kinds of steak available.

This next place was also excellent in 2009. It’s in the opposite direction from the old town but worth the excursion…

La Fattoria (Intermediate A), 9 Via Abruzzo, www.facebook.com/lafattoriataranto

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), marinated 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. We finished with a fruit salad that included Figi di India prickly pear (B).

This next place is worth knowing. It’s extremely popular, partly because it’s ridiculously cheap and also because it’s very conveniently located for the train station…

Trattoria L’Orologio (Elementary B), 27/29 Via Duca D’Aosta

This is quite possibly the cheapest restaurant I have ever eaten in! All the pasta courses are €3 and the second courses are €5!

Although the building is very modern and clean, it seems they’ve been knocking out basic but tasty food to the masses since 1938.

I had the Penne al Sugo di Carne, Salsiccia Arrosto, Sorbetto al Limone and a Limoncello for the princely sum of €12.

Okay so haute cuisine it ain’t as you can see but it’s nice to know there’s somewhere people can receive nourishment so cheaply.

And if you’re looking for a drinking establishment, this one might have potential…

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 late one night. Just the kind of decadent place I love! It’s a cool little cellar bar with a mixed crowd, handily near the Mercure Delphino hotel. In 2009 a grappa with a very camp half a grape on a cocktail stick on top cost €4. They shut at 2am.

You can stop reading from here if you like as these next two places are ones to avoid and the last one is closed…

Marco Aurelio (Intermediate C+), 17 Via Cavour

I came here when I couldn’t get into Al Gatto Rosso on my first attempt. It’s completely bland and boring so there’s no reason to come unless there really is no other option, or if you want somewhere handy to eat before or after visiting the Archaeological Museum (see coming post) which is immediately over the road.

The young female owner is nice and friendly but her waiter is a member of the dull and sullen brigade. He did his job but without the slightest hint of aplomb.

I had a mezzo of the house white and the antipasti mare (all B).

I finished with an amaro called San Marzano which I’d never come across before. It was pretty horrible (C) so most likely no other restaurant will have it.

All his cost me €21 which isn’t too bad I suppose.

Pizzeria Landhaus (Elementary C+), 107 Via Cesare Battisti, www.pizzerialandhaus.it

I fancied a pizza for once and as this place was ranked #3 on TripAdvisor in 2017 so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

This proved to be a mistake as the food wasn’t great and my visit coincided with a little girl’s birthday party. Woe was me!

The decibels were such that even the other customers were telling them to shut up, to no avail! That’s something I’ve never witnessed before because the Italians usually let their kids run riot.

The Arancino rice ball I had as a starter didn’t do much for me (C).

And the Neapolitan style Margherita was just okay B-).

With a large beer and a limoncello the bill came to €14.50 which is normal.

You’ll never see me in here again though, just in case those little girls are still around.

Ebalia (Intermediate B), Piazza Ebalia NOW CLOSED!

In 2009, seven of us went to this restaurant recommended by the Delfino 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, or ‘drowned’ octopus, which all scored a strong B.

My main course was a huge portion of seafood linguine (B) whereas my friend Nicky had beef steak tagliata on a bed of red chicory (A).

The wine was an excellent Primitivo di Manduria (Villa Mottura ’06) (B+). Claudia our local manager, a wine expert, told us she has never had a bad bottle of Primitivo di Manduria.

I loved the dessert of Sfoglia con Crema Pasticcera (B+). The little sandwiches of puff pastry and vanilla cream, dusted with icing sugar, were described as ‘sporco musso’ by the waiter, 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.

They are absolutely wonderful when they are still warm (A). We washed them down with a glass of Muscat di Trani (A).

The best place in town deserves its own post. Al Gatto Rossa next!

Puglia – a walk around Taranto

Posted in Città Vecchia, Italy, Puglia, Taranto with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2019 by gannet39

As Puglia’s dirty little secret, Taranto doesn’t even get a mention in many travel guides. It’s a shame as the town has an incredible history, stretching back to the Ancient Greeks, due to its exceptional suitability as a port.

The town is blessed with an outer bay, known as the Mare Grande, and two smaller inner seas, together known as the Mare Piccolo, the entrance to which is guarded by an island.

However, the sprawling port around the bay and the derelict old town on the island, along with a large navy base on one side of the Mare Piccolo and several oil refineries on the other, have done Taranto’s reputation no favours.

So, there are more beautiful places in Puglia but I still find Taranto to be a very interesting place and it has quickly grown on me the better I’ve got to know it. A visit to the Archaeology Museum made me aware of its illustrious past (see later post) and in this post I describe a walk you could do to become more familiar with its current layout.

You’ll find a Google map with all the places mentioned here.

Turning left out of the Hotel Delfino, walk down to the western end of Lungomare Vittorio Emanuele III taking in the views of the sea and the port in the distance as you go.

On the right just before the end is the former governor’s palace, now the Prefecture of Taranto.

It was originally built in the fascist era as you can probably tell.

On the corner is the Monumento al Marinaraio, the sailors’ monument.

From here you can cross the old bridge to the Città Vecchia on the island.

By now you’ll have a good view of the Castello Aragonese www.castelloaragonesetaranto.com.

Continuing straight along Via Duomo you’ll immediately come to the remains of a Greek temple, the Tempio Dorico www.museotaranto.it.

It’s very atmospheric walking around the old town. Video here.

Even if it’s a little eerie at times.

There are many important buildings here, locked away behind their big gates.

But despite its dereliction, the Città Vecchia is still very much lived in…

Eventually you come to the Cathedral of Saint Cataldo. I’m not a big fan of Baroque so I’ve not been inside.

That said, the campanile around the back is quite striking.

The most important church however is the church and associated monastery of San Domenico. The Chiesa di San Domenico Maggiore can trace its origins back to the Byzantine period and was used by the Templars in the Middle Ages. The current building dates from the mid-14th century.

Nearby, Palazzo Pantaleo www.comune.taranto.it at Vico Civico is fairly interesting to walk around.

In Piazza Fontana, just before the second bridge at the other end of the island, is another local landmark, the Torre dell’ Orologio.

From there you could double back and walk along the other side of the island, along the quay where all the small boats are.

Some are in better condition than others.

There are a few cheap seafood restaurants along Via Cariati that might be worth a try. Paranza is supposed to be good.

Eventually the road will bring you round to this monument on Discesa Vasto, near the first bridge.

If you cross back over to the Borgo Nuovo and aim left, you will soon come to the Archaeology Musuem, the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto (MARTA). This museum is so good that I’ve given it its own post.

Alternatively or as well, you could go and have lunch at Al Gatto Rosso the best restaurant in town (see later post).

Or you could just admire the dolphins on the gates of Museo TalassograficoAttilio Cerruti“, a mollusc farming research institution on Via Roma.

From here it’s a stone’s throw to the town’s main square Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and the derelict brown hulk of the Palazzo degli Uffizi , a former orphanage, looming over it.

The bandstand is a much nicer thing to look at I think.

From here you can walk back to the hotel along Via d’Aquino, the Borgo Nuovo’s pedestrian shopping street.

Just in case you’re wondering, if you turn right out of the hotel instead of left, you come to…

… more hotels. Some old…

…and some new.

And that kind of sums up Taranto.

I’d happily come back a third time to get to know it even better.

More about places to eat and drink in Taranto next.

Puglia – bowling around Brindisi

Posted in Brindisi, Italy, Puglia with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2019 by gannet39

I flew out to Brindisi a couple of days early in April 2017 in order to have a short break before starting work. Unfortunately I somehow managed to delete all my photos for this historic city, except for a scattering of food photos that were preserved on Instagram, so apologies if this post feels a litte text heavy.

My map with all the places below and more is here.

Restaurants:

Penny (High Intermediate A), 5 Via San Francesco, www.enotecaristorantepenny.it

I would recommend coming here just for the surroundings, a high-vaulted ceiling picked out in striking black and white stripes. Mario the owner told me the building dates back to the time of Frederick II, the Swabian king of Puglia in the thirteenth century.

Alternatively you can sit out on the terrace in the summer.

The food was also good, all B/B+. The seafood antipasti were really nice…

…but the Linguine ai Frutti di Mare took me to the the gates of heaven (A).

They make good Canoli too (B).

La Locanda del Porto (Intermediate B), 20 Via Montenegro, www.lalocandadelporto.com

A popular family restaurant recommended by my AirBnB host just opposite my apartment. The seafood antipasti were the highlight (B/B+), as they often are in Puglia.

Pizzeria Romanelli (Initial A), 3 Via Santa Lucia, www.pizzeriaromanelli.com

I think an essential Brindisi food experience is coming to Romanelli for a panzerotto (a deep fried pizza pocket) which they have been making since 1949. The photos on the walls will also take you back in time. I had a ham, mozzarella and tomato one for €5 which was excellent.

Il Botteghino (High Elementary B), 35 Corso Roma

This place is rated for its focaccia (famous in Brindisi) by some but I didn’t find it to be anything special. The cheese and mushroom one I had for €2.50 was okay (B), but not worth a special trip.

Cafes & Bars:

Bar Rosso et Nero (Elementary B+), 15 Via Santi

Also calling itself Rouge et Noir, this old school bar has won the Slow Food Association award for Best Bar in Puglia, primarily I think for its hand whipped gelato which is indeed excellent (A+). I can vouch for the Crema and Nocciola varieties.

It is also a pasticceria but going by their cornetto I would give the rest of their cakes a miss (B-). The coffee wasn’t great either (C) but the old couple who run it are nice.

Bar Betty (Intermediate A), 6 Via Regina Margherita

I’ve given this place on the waterfront an A rating solely for their Cappuccino and Cornetto di Crema which I had for breakfast one morning. The service I received was friendly and efficient. Can’t say what the food is like though as I haven’t tried it.

Spirito (Intermediate B), 16 Via Santi, spirito-the-right-one.business.site

The bartenders at Spirito mix a decent Negroni and you get lots of stuzzichini (nibbles).

Wine Market (High Elementary B), 3 Via Congregazione

A small modern wine bar with a young friendly staff. You get a glass of celery and carrot sticks and a bag of savoury and sweet nibbles with your glass of wine. I asked for the best Puglian white wine they had. What I got (for €4) was fine (B) but nothing special.

Market:

There’s a food market till 2pm every day in Piazza Mercato, near Piazza Vittoria, that’s worth a wander. I saw these unusual crabs in one of the fish shops nearby.

Museums & Sights:

The most famous monument in Bari is the Colonne Romane a column that is popularly considered to mark the end of the Appian way. In actuality, at least according to the plaque attached to the railings around it, it was just a column in a ceremonial square that happened to be near the water’s edge.

The original capital (the decorated top part of the column) was removed for safety reasons and is now housed in the Palazzo Palazzo Granafei Nervegna (see map) where you can get a much better view of its detailed carving. A copy is now at the top of the column.

I had a look round the Museo Archeologico Provinciale Ribrezzo (MAPRI) www.provincia.brindisi.it (entrance €5 in 2017. It’s housed in a building a pleasant courtyard next to the cathedral in Piazza Duomo.

Part of the complex is the Portico dei Cavalieri Templari, the which is the only remaining part of the Templar’s main church. It now houses some of the museum’s collection of capitals and other bits of stonework.

There’s not that much to see inside most of the museum however the stars of the collection are the bronze statues on the top floor which were pulled up from the bottom of the harbour in the 1970s.

There’s another museum called Collezione Archeologica S. Faldetta down on the waterfront next to the steps leading up to the Colonne Romane. It’s primarily a collection of Greek ceramics which didn’t do much for me. The custodian of the place is what we in Sheffield would call ‘a bit of a wrong un’. He was either drunk or crazy, I couldn’t work out which, as he just wandered around talking to no one in particular in a loud voice. If you don’t fancy looking at the pottery you can just go up to the top floor in the lift and get a view of the harbour and the Colonne Romane in the piazette next door.

One thing I didn’t do was go over to the art deco Monumento al Marinaio d’ Italia on the other side of the harbour. It has a good view of Brindisi but it’s hard to get over to that side.

Taranto next!

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 tried to source it in the UK as it really was some of the best I’ve ever had but to no avail. Fortunately I got to go back again in 2017 and bought a box and a few more bottles!

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.

20140630_133939

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 Orecchiette (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.

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