December 20 2010
Accomplished gluttons like The Gannet pride themselves on their ability to sniff out a good restaurant, then suggest it to others. In Bologna recently, I stumbled across a perfect little place: away from the tourists, it was part enoteca, part trattoria, its fiercely local menu scrawled on cardboard signs and its windows bedecked with encomia from Slow Food and Gambero Rosso magazine. I sat down at the one remaining table and ordered tagliatelle alla bolognese and a glass of red, overjoyed to have found a restaurant that ticked every box.
Then my food arrived. A sullen mound of lukewarm, overcooked pasta, stained greasy orange by a vestige of humdrum sauce. The Parmesan was stale; the wine barely drinkable: suddenly, three decades’ experience of eating out seemed worthless. I was so ashamed that I paid and left.
In the medieval hilltop town of Trevi, in Umbria, meanwhile, I eyed the winsome little restaurant by the town hall with deep suspicion. Knapsacks and cameras stalked the piazza, and trade at the tourism office was brisk; nevertheless, this was where my friends had suggested for lunch.
Of course, Ristorante La Vecchia Posta turned out to be a complete delight. Amid cheerful yellow walls and dark wood we were served a litany of beautifully prepared local dishes – crostini smothered with ripe tomatoes, dry-cured ham, halves of roast potato anointed with lardo (cured pork fat), fried quail’s eggs with generous shavings of black autumn truffle, then paccheri (gigantic macaroni) sauced with fabulous, simple sausage, mushrooms and rosy flecks of tomato. Local wine – a perfumed, muscular Montefalco Sagrantino 2005 – provided perfect lubrication. My instincts had failed me again.
The strangest way I have ever discovered a restaurant is by GPS. My friend Giuseppe, unable simultaneously to drive the Lancia, gesticulate wildly, text, take phone calls and work out where we were going, delegated the navigation to me. I tapped in “Fiorenzuola di Focara”, a village south of Rimini, and the GPS’s powers of suggestion came up with La Rupe.
We arrived so late for lunch that the staff were already sitting down to theirs; nonetheless, they happily installed us on a terrace high above the Adriatic, and rustled up some superb tagliarini with prawns, clams, mussels and little crabs in a rich, rust-coloured sauce, followed by fish fried simply in breadcrumbs, olive oil and parsley: red mullet, monkfish, tiny soles, big prawns, and one called sauro, which Giuseppe dumped on my plate with a wrinkle of his nose.
It seemed fine to me. “Why don’t you like it?” I asked. “Because it tastes of mud and algae, don’t you think?” I laid down my fork ruefully, cursing the powers of suggestion. “Well, thanks, Giuseppe. It does now.”