To Food Street Catania and beyond

This article is also published in the Financial Times. The Cataniese go to great lengths to ensure that your arrival at the city on the east coast of Sicily is as enjoyable as possible. Firstly, they have named the airport Vincenzo Bellini after the composer and their most famous son, who in turn lent his name to that appetising mixture of sparkling wine and fresh peach juice. And then our brief drive into the city centre incorporated sights that could have been part of an opera set: four men sitting…






High above the Cinque Terre

This article was also published in the Financial Times. At 8 pm one sunny evening I was standing deep in thought by a bus stop in the small seaside town of Moneglia on the Ligurian coast of Italy, just north of the Cinque Terre national park so beloved of walkers. During the day I had received emails from readers in both Brussels and Los Angeles, each notifying me of yet another version of ‘the world’s top 100 restaurants’. While I appreciate the enormous interest that this approach generates, I do…






Food, ancient and modern, in Florence

This article was also published in the Financial Times. As the pianist swung into a Scott Joplin number in the Winter Garden restaurant of the St Regis Hotel in Florence and the sommelier poured our first glass of a Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, my friend lent forward and said somewhat conspiratorially, ‘I think the changes in my city’s restaurants since you were here four years ago can best be described in two words, “alto basso”, from top to bottom.’ He explained the use of this phrase by…






Milan, appetising again

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   The message from my friend, a proud Florentine, was as unusual for its content as for the enthusiasm with which he conveyed it. ‘Do let me know when you are next in Milan’, he said. ‘At last there are several really exciting restaurant openings here.’ Although he has spent his working week in Milan for several years now, a city he still refers to as ‘Italy’s office’, this friend’s heart remains firmly in his home town. His ideal day consists…






The Pastor of La Pineta

This article was also published in the Financial Times. Lorenzo, our waiter in the restaurant of Tenuta Gardini’s Relais Sant’Elena, a 16-bedroom hotel outside Bibbona, an hour’s drive south of Pisa, was about to work a service that other waiters around the world could only envy. Despite the comfort of this hotel and the natural beauty of the surrounding Tuscan countryside (as shown in this image from their website), all of this lit by the rays of the setting sun, we were his only customers. And because this is Tuscany,…






The birth of Slow Food – 2001

The birth of Slow Food – 2001 The world, well at least its food and wine lovers, owe Carlo Petrini and his colleagues who founded Slow Food in Italy a decade ago a great debt. They have forced many to consider the awfulness of a world governed by fast food; put a great deal of attention – from government, retailers, restaurateurs and consumers – back on the future viability and survival of artisanal producers and managed to achieve all this within a great spirit of conviviality and good humour. The…






Venice; food and art

Venice; food and art – 2006 Surprisingly, one of the most exciting aspects of writing this column does not actually involve eating. Instead it happens whenever I hear that a restaurant has just been bought and I have the opportunity to visit it with the new owners and hear of their ambitions before the builders have moved in. Or more frequently these visits take place just before a new restaurant is due to open and I am allowed a sneak preview, to visit the site among the builders, kitchen fitters…






William Black; the adventures of a gastronome in Italy

William Black, the adventures of a gastronome in Italy – 2003 It is 1am and Gennaro Contaldo, chef/proprietor of Passione restaurant calls his fellow professional and compatriot Giorgio Locatelli on his mobile. Locatelli is not surprised at the time of the call (this is usually when chefs begin to wind down after a busy service) but upset to hear that Gennaro is crying. These are, however, tears of joy not sadness as Gennaro explains that he has just finished a proof copy of William Black’s al dente and that he…






Through northern Italy with Luca Monica

Through northern Italy with Luca Monica – 2003 Luca Monica eats in more than 200 restaurants and travels over 80,000 kilometres around Italy every year for his food business which he runs on one simple principle. ‘I only buy and sell the best,’ he confessed. In profile, which is how I saw him for most of the 36 hours he drove his Mercedes over 1000 kilometres and through four different Italian regions, Monica resembles Jack Nicholson with thick black sunglasses and his hair swept high over his head. He spends,…






Eating out in Tuscany

Eating out in Tuscany – 2007 Saturday night and Sunday morning are very different affairs in Bagno Vignoni in Tuscany, a small hilltop town 50 kilometres in the Val D’Orcia south-east of Siena renowned for its hot water spring and pools. Although judging from the drawing of the town in the 14th century on the menu and wine list of the Osteria del Leone where we had dinner there has been very little physical change to the town over the centuries other than the onset of tourism and cars. The…