Restaurant Reviews for Italy
Italy has some fine restaurants,
though also its fair share of dreadful tourist traps. The cuisine is regional, so generalisations
are difficult. I have not explored Italy as much as I would like, so
the notes below are somewhat sketchy. So
many restaurants, so little time….
Florence is beautiful, though
the gallery you want to see is likely to be closed whenever you visit, and some
of the bars and restaurants are surprisingly basic (one had an African style
hole in the ground toilet). The one
famous restaurant, Enoteca Pinchiorri,
was perhaps the worst 3 Michelin star restaurant in the world when I visited,
and even Michelin eventually had the decency to drop it to two stars, if only
for a time. It is absurdly expensive and
couldn’t even serve decent ice cream on my visit. In a truly Italian touch, a couple of Mafiosi
walked in and demanded their regular table, at which happened to be sitting
comedian Steve Martin in the middle of his meal. He was very politely asked to move tables,
and presumably understood the situation as he complied without complaint.
Rome is stunning, with remarkable architecture but sadly not much in the way
of decent restaurants (a sprinkling of one star places are the best the capital
can manage, about the same as the number of Italian one star places as London).
Milan fares better for food, a fairly ordinary city though with one elegant
shopping area. Venice is beautiful but hideously expensive.
A distinctly modest meal at the famous Harry’s Bar will set you back
over £100 each, while the best place, Osteria da Fiori (the only restaurant
with a Michelin star in Venice), is also at the £100 a head level for very
modest seafood. The worst pizza I have
eaten in my life was in Venice, a place recommended by the
concierge of the Cipriani hotel. A little jaunt on a gondola will set you back
£70 or more, and getting about by water taxi quickly adds up, though the public
water buses are more reasonable. Of
course you should go to Venice for its beauty, but that odd noise you hear is
not the water lapping along the canal bank, it a giant sucking sound coming
from your wallet.
You can get
truly ripped off staying at certain famous hotels in Italy; I certainly have been: See : Hotels
Address: Cannetto sull’Oglio 48013, 80 miles east of Milan
Telephone: +39 0 376 723 001
This is in
the middle of nowhere, and there are no rooms.
One idea is to stay in a quite pretty old town called Cremona, which has an excellent modern
boutique hotel called the Della Arti – see www.dellearti.com The restaurant is
then about 15 miles from Cremona. The restaurant itself is in an attractive
farmhouse with a very pretty terrace at the back. Normally there are a few tables there but on
the night we went in June 2003 it was (get this) too hot to sit out – very true
as the temperature had hit 38 Celcius in the
day. You wait in an attractive lounge
which feels very homely, nibbling deep fried parmesan. An amuse guile of a local ham (this is not
far from Parma) appeared called
“heart of ham”. A further nibble was
mozzarella with tomato and a little smoked fish on white bread – the mozzarella
is the best I have eaten anywhere. The
nibbles continued with a simple dish of tomato and aubergine
with olive oil, involving the very freshest vegetables, then divine frog’s legs
in herbs with perfectly salad leaves.
Our first official dish was extremely high grade tuna, lightly seared
and coated in pepper (8/10) while Stella had a “frittata” i.e. a sort of omelette with bell peppers
and pickled onions – this was much better than it sounds, with remarkably
delicate peppers, and even the pickled onions having superb flavour (9/10). Next was yet another complementary dish –
sweet pasta with pumpkin, almonds and fruit mustard: remarkably delicate pasta
(10/10). Risotto with peas and asparagus
also had parsley and flowers of basil, and was utterly faultless (10/10). A ravioli of goats cheese then appeared, with
ricotta and parmesan – this time the pasta was savoury,
but again the technique was flawless and the cheese superb. Sea bass was timed well, cooked with fenne, baby carrots, courgtetes,
leeks, onion, lemon zest and rosemary.
While excellent, this was perhaps more difficult to shine at
(7/10). I had local baby big with
carrot, szechuan pepper,
potato and whole garlic; the pig was originally very fatty and cooked for a
long time – the pepper was a good foil to the richness of the pork (8/10). For dessert pineapple crepes were served with
vanilla ice cream, while and almond cake was prepared with a crispy sugar
crust, served with cassata and chocolate sauce.
A lime sorbet with this was superb.
Coffee came with excellent petit fours e.g. little tarts of wild
strawberries and raspberries. Service
was magnificent throughout, managing to be completely attentive in terms of
topping up yet also having a very apparent genuine sense of friendliness, of
wanting you to appreciate the food. The best restaurant in Italy, featuring one of the few female 3
star chefs (yet one of the two in Italy).
Last visited on June 26th 2003.
Address: Soriso 28018 , 40 miles west of Milan
Telephone: +39 (0) 322 983 228
There are a
few rooms to stay here, though they get booked up a long way ahead. The restaurant is near the pretty lake district, so you can also stay there and drive and get
a taxi. If flying to Milan make sure
you fly to Malpensa airport, which is on the west of
the city and so on the way to the restaurant, rather than Linares airport, which is to the east of Milan.
The dining room is quite small, with a relatively small number of
covers. Our meal began with a delicate
tomato mousse flavoured with basil, featuring the flavour of very fresh and top
quality tomatoes that one only seems to find in France and Italy (8/10). The starters we tried were three very fresh
and lightly seared scallops with a balsamic dressing (8/10). Stella had an apparently simple dish of
porcini, which consisted of two huge porcini mushrooms that had in fact been
stuffed with herbs, served with a few salad leaves. The mushrooms were cooked slowly due to their
size, and had great depth of flavour – the bets porcini I have eaten; the herb
filling was excellent (10/10). We then
had a risotto of asparagus, topped with one of the most perfect prawns I have
ever tasted. The rice was superb, the stock delicate and the asparagus the very
freshest (10/10). When I commented on
the perfect prawn the waiter came back with four more to try –a lovely
gesture. For main course I had a local
beef that was very young and perhaps more a cross between beef and veal, cooked
with a red wine sauce and with a little parcel of superb green beans
(9/10). Stella had sea bass with strips
of carrots and baby courgettes (7/10).
There was a fine Italian cheese board, followed by a dazzling passion
fruit sorbet (10/10). Chocolate fondant
was excellent and served with a delicate fluffy zabaglione, nectarine slices and
a few red currants (8/10). Coffee and
petit fours were very good also. The
bread was perhaps the least good aspect of the meal, pleasant but only really
about 3/10. Service was superb,
attentive and friendly, with flawless topping up and genuine warmth of
welcome. This is a delightful
restaurant, featuring that rarity: a female 3 star chef. Last visited in June 2003.
Address: Strada statale 11, localita Sarmecia, Rubano, 30 miles from Venice, 5 miles from Padua
Telephone: +39 (49) 530303
A train ride from Venice to Padua and then a taxi. This is a charming restaurant in an
unpromising setting, with very fine Italian food at almost absurdly low
prices. It has now been elevated to 3
stars, and good for them. Well worth a detour.
Antica Osteria del Ponte
Address: Piazza G Negri
9, Cassinetta di Lugagnano, Abbiategrasso, 15
miles from Milan
Telephone: +39 (2) 942
A charming, elegant restaurant with 2 Michelin
stars. The food is very good, though
perhaps trying to be a little too elaborate at times. It has a fine wine list at stunningly low
prices, at least when I last meant. Many
prices were below retail in the UK.