If Puglia is the heel of Italy's boot, then the picturesque seaside town of Trani is somewhere around its upper Achilles tendon. Despite 20th-century sprawl – the old town, with its imposing 13th-century fort, glorious Romanesque cathedral and pretty fishing harbour – remains more or less untouched.
The harbour is where the fish-mad Gannet stumbled across Osteria La Banchina, having spotted a toothsome sea bass in the restaurant’s open fridge. I had it kept to one side for an hour or so, though, while I scoured the menu looking for other fishy treats: mussels with some of the summer’s last cherry tomatoes, skinned and sweet, and a fragrant, herby, olive oil-rich broth, mopped up with toast; some especially wonderful octopus, squashed into a tin and cooked slowly like a terrine, then sliced thinly and anointed with a sparkling citrus dressing; and a half-portion of tagliolini flecked with herbs and sweet prawns.
All were terrific, particularly with a bottle of Marina Cvetic's Trebbiano Riserva from Abruzzo, and the sea bass – beautifully cooked, fragrant with smoke from the grill – was only marginally spoiled by my seeing platters of oysters and sea urchins being delivered to neighbouring tables. They weren't on the menu, but I should have asked.
That schoolboy error apart, I thoroughly enjoyed Osteria La Banchina. If the fish is fresh, there is no need for cheffy self-indulgence: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes, a sentiment that seafood cooks the world over would do well to heed.
Around the top of Italy’s heel, in the pleasantly scruffy, hilly, white-walled old city of Ostuni, the chefs at Porta Nova generally stick to that principle. The service is charming too: I had wandered in wearing sandals and shorts, expecting a humble trattoria, and nearly turned tail when I saw the smartly liveried dining room and its magnificent picture windows with views stretching as far as the Adriatic.
Don’t you dare (or something like that: my colloquial Italian is somewhat ropey) said the maître d’, so I made my excuses and stayed. Squid ink trofie – thin, elegant quills of pasta – was dressed with anchovy, baby squid, breadcrumbs fried in olive oil and cime di rapa (turnip tops, that most Puglian of green vegetables): a perfect balance of flavour and texture.
Then sea bream: a fat tranche of it, bathing happily in an olive oil and fish stock emulsion, artichokes and carrots scattered next to it. A bottle of local Fiano provided a pleasingly lemony counterpoint. I lingered for an hour after that, admiring the scenery and finishing my wine. Overfed, overwatered but underdressed… and – in the best possible way – down at heel.