Eating in Sicily

Eating in Sicily – 2008 As the waiter in the Osteria Antica Marina in Catania, Sicily, a 15 minute drive from the airport, brought us the second half of the dozen or so small white bowls that constituted this fish restaurant’s antispasti course, our Roman friend who, like so many from the mainland, has fallen for the charms of this fascinating island, exclaimed, “Ah, this is Sicily”. At the time I couldn’t help but agree with him but 48 hours later, after dinner in a disused railway waiting room converted…






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…






Feasting in Ferrara, Cremona, Padua and Mantua

Feasting in Ferrara, Cremona, Padua and Mantua – 2006 Three days in four of Italy’s most romantic-sounding cities – Padua, Ferrara, Mantua and Cremona – provided more than enough vivid images to fill the memory card on my camera. And while it is difficult to capture the freshness and simplicity of the food and wine on offer in this stretch of the fecund Po valley quite so easily, two instances during our last morning in Cremona seemed to highlight this region’s unpretentious approach to eating and drinking well. The first…






Eating in Florence

Eating in Florence – 2011 Alessandro Grassi, a proud Florentine, was standing outside Zeb, close to the river Arno, with his hand hovering impatiently on its front door as we arrived. ‘Giuseppina and her son Alberto [pictured] are cooking the best kind of Italian food – fresh, simple and great value’, he explained. ‘In fact, I eat here so often I think she believes I’m her second son.’ These words were music to my ears. I had travelled to Florence despite a slipped disc because it is my favourite city,…






Parma

Parma- 2010 Parmense, those who live in the city and region of Parma in northern Italy, seem to relish contrast in their lives. They are currently celebrating the Verdi festival, which starts this weekend and runs to the end of the month, but are doing so immediately after their annual Parma Ham festival drew to a close. This saw food writers from Japan, Norway, Belgium, Germany and the UK working off their ham tastings by cycling through the city’s cobbled streets. While this delicious ham provides a first course in…






A night in Panzano

A night in Panzano – 2010 The dinner menu at Le Café Anglais on Monday 8 Mar was headed A Night in Panzano. But the more frequently I looked around the packed dining room and took in some of the characters, the more I began to think that I was on the set of the Marx brothers’ film ‘A Night at The Opera.’ There was, of course, the well-dressed straight man, hugely important and barely able to keep a smile off his face. This was Giovanni Manetti from Tuscany, whose…






Verona

Verona – 2009 As I wandered the atmospheric, cobbled streets of Verona in north east Italy I began to realise that this city could please almost everybody. Ancient buildings abound, including the well-preserved arena that doubles as an opera set. Clothes shops are cheek by jowl with those selling the latest spectacles, shoes and jewelry and, as befits a city that takes its food seriously, there are plenty of shops selling wine and kitchen equipment. There is even one bookshop with a wine bar at the rear. But there are…






Eating near Verona

Eatng near Verona – 2009 Alongside the stands representing many of Italy’s 30,000 wine producers at Vinitaly, the annual wine fair held in Verona, are smaller halls filled with food producers and one dedicated to those who produce olive oil. As a result, in early April the narrow streets of this remarkably well-preserved medieval city buzz with the loud chatter of who has eaten or drunk what, where and when. Surprisingly, these topics of conversation even resurfaced in the queue at Passport Control as we left Verona when I bumped…






da Vittorio and Bergamo

da Vittorio and Bergamo – 2007 At 6.00pm the restaurant and the grounds of da Vittorio, the hotel and restaurant outside the small town of Brusaporto, close but not too close to Bergamo airport and 50 kilometres north of Milan, began to come to life. Two managers were checking the layout of the tables while down in the car park several young waiters were parking their cars and then finishing the calls on their mobiles before starting work. From the other side of the hotel a young waitress was approaching…






Cay Tre, Soho – and its designer

Cay Tre, Soho – and its designer – 2011 By the standards of the organised chaos that inevitably overwhelms every new restaurant, the floor of Cây Tre (pronounced Kay Tray), an extremely good value Vietnamese café that has recently replaced a Korean karaoke bar on Dean Street, Soho, looked relatively calm. The waitresses in pink blouses and with flowers in their hair were making their way steadily through the long, narrow room carrying plates of grilled aubergine with minced pork; crisp pork spring rolls; salt and pepper eel; an excellent…