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


Da Pescatore  

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   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. 


Al Sorriso 

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. 


Le Calandre 

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 0034


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.




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