Posts for the 'Italy' Category


La Pergola – Three-Star Michelin in Rome, Italy

La Pergola is the only restaurant in Rome to hold three Michelin stars and is probably the most famous restaurant in the eternal city. The restaurant is located on the top floor of the Cavalieri Hotel, which is part of the Waldorf Astoria Group. Perched on a hilltop in the Montemario area, the restaurant affords gorgeous views of Rome and the Vatican.

Executive Chef is German-born Heinz Beck who has been at the helm of La Pergola for the last 18 years. One of the most respected chefs in the world, there have often been attempts to persuade Chef Beck to export his La Pergola brand to cities such as New York and Tokyo in the same way that other famous chefs such as Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon have done. Thus far, Chef Beck has resisted all calls with the exception of London. Apsley’s at The Lanesborough Hotel is his only subsidiary restaurant.

La Pergola is a magnet for the rich and famous. It famously hosted Michele Obama and Sarah Brown during the G8 summit in 2009, and it was reported that the First Lady claimed that her meal at La Pergola was the best of her life.

Prices are not cheap however, with a six-course and nine-course tasting menu priced at €190 and €210, respectively. Where relevant, the a ala carte prices have been listed in brackets below. Going for the nine-course menu, we started with an amuse bouche of beef carpaccio which was tender and tasty. It came with a hint of coffee powder and a deliciously light cappuccino cream.

Beef carpaccio

Beef carpaccio

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Il Pagliaccio – Two-Star Michelin in Rome, Italy

Anthony Genovese is Chef and part owner of Il Pagliaccio, a two-star Michelin restaurant considered to be one of the best in Rome. Born to Italian parents in France, Genovese began his career on the Cote D’Azur, after which came travels in Asia where he honed his skills before returning to Italy to deliver an eclectic menu at Il Pagliaccio.

Situated in the historical centre of Rome, the restaurant is elegant but feels quite stiff and formal. The doors to the restaurant are kept locked throughout the service, and one must be let out when leaving. There are only about 25 covers and the dining area is quite small.

Il Pagliaccio

Il Pagliaccio

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Rome, Italy – Five Mid-Range Restaurants

After Naples I made tracks to Rome. The wealth of research out there on Roman restaurants is staggering and it would take months to eat at all of them to work out the truly good ones from the not so great. So if you do go to Rome, it’s best to do your research and then hope that your picks are for the best. Anyway here is my round up of five of the mid-range restaurants I tried, some of which proved better than others.

PRIMO AL PIGNETO

Primo al Pigneto was an absolute cracking find. Located in the new grungy/trendy area between via Casilina and via Prenestina in the South East of Rome and away from the tourist hordes of centro storico, it means you have to travel a little. But I assure you the travel was well worth it.

A little taster of a deep-fried meat ball (veal and beef) was amazingly flavoursome. This was followed by a generous starter of warm tagliolini tossed with raw sea bass, lemon peel, coriander and parsley (€15) that was also fabulous. Fresh and aromatic, the fish had been combined in such a way so as to let its freshness sing. Lightly cooked veg of carrots and cucumber running through the noodles gave the dish a hint of crunch.

Meatball

Meatball

Raw sea bass tagliolini

Raw sea bass tagliolini

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Naples, Italy – From Pizza to a Michelin One Star

Any illusions I might have had about going low carb during my recent trip to Italy were quickly quashed the moment I landed in the country. There were simply too many temptations on offer – and to even think I thought I would be able to resist! So if you’re going to give in, then give in all the way I say. Pizza, pasta, gelato, cannoli – you name it!

So here is my first calorific blog post on Naples… Delizioso!


Sorbillo

Naples isn’t the prettiest city in the world but it is certainty a city of contrasts, from the worldly cosmopolitan air of the Santa Lucia area to the grimy parts around Stazione Centrale, its striking just how diverse this city is. Also nearby are the ruins of Pompeii, which were breath taking in their splendour.

But sites aside, one really comes to Naples for the pizza. One of the most famous Neapolitan pizzerias is Antica Pizzeria Sorbillo. Founded in 1935, some say this is the true home of pizza in Naples. In a city that is so famed for this simple dish of dough with topping, this is really saying a lot. The queues attest to its popularity. It may have been mid-afternoon when I went, but I was still required to wait 50 minutes for a table.

Sorbillo

Sorbillo

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Antica Focacceria San Francisco – Palermo, Sicily

Antica Focacceria San Francisco

Antica Focacceria San Francisco

Like any big city, there is much to see in Palermo, a place that’s sultry and sensuous, but sliced with an edginess. One moment you’re walking down a street filled with designer shops, the next, wandering through rubble built up after years of gun fighting. The architecture is fascinating given its influences which include that of the Arabs and the Spanish, and with military precision, I went from one tourist spot to another to try and take it all in. I visited many a church, as one is prone to do while in Italy, and on a couple of occasions, I found myself walking in on a wedding ceremony. From what I could gather, these are not off limits to the general public. What I found most fascinating about walking in on one was the people watching – the guests, all dressed to the nines, and fanning themselves simultaneously to provide some respite from the heat.

As ever, I tried to seek out some local food specialities by asking for some advice, but my first attempt was ill-fated. I made my inquiries with the people who ran the B&B that I stayed at. “Do you like spicy?”, they ask. (Hmmm, this was not a promising start.) “We know a delicious Chinese”, they continued. (Clearly not foodies). “No, thanks”, I replied, but they were pretty persistent, insisting that it was really yummy. But honestly, how good could Chinese food in Sicily possibly be?

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Quattro Gatti – Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

Mussels

The mussels at Quattro Gatti

I have since left Ragusa Ibla, but a little more on this tiny little town, which after only a couple of days had managed to charm its way into my heart. I managed to make a few friends during my stay, namely some of the older male residents, the ones who, if you read my previous blog post, you’ll recall seemed to ‘while away their time watching the world go by’. As I became more of a regular spectacle wandering the little streets of Ragusa Ibla, I would encounter the odd one who would try and talk to me. I barely speak a word of Italian, so as I watched them talk to me, following their hands as they made those gestures that Italians so love, I can only assume that their favourite pastime after sitting is to indulge in idle gossip.

What I found most amusing about these experiences was that my protestations that I do not speak Italian did nothing to curtail their desire to talk to me. In fact, it made them more determined to be understood. But because of my language failings, what I was unable to convey to any of them is that “it doesn’t matter how many times you repeat what you say, or even if you S-A-Y I-T S-L-O-W-L-Y, if I don’t understand it the first time, I probably won’t understand it the second time either.” But if I could actually say this to them, then it would be because I was able to speak Italian, in which case I would not be having this problem in the first place. As it was, I could only nod and smile.

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Ristorante Duomo – Ragusa Ibla, Sicily

Ragusa Ibla

Ragusa Ibla

My next stop after Catania was Ragusa Ibla, about 2 hours drive south of Catania. My reason for coming here was food related for it is home to the only two star Michelin restaurant in Sicily (there are other one stars). Truth be told, I had also tried to do some research on other Sicilian restaurants through this one Italian food blog I found. As it was written in Italian, I needed the help of ‘Google Translator’. While ‘Google Translator’ translates words fine, it translates meanings less well, and after a little while spent trying to ‘translate’ the translation, I found myself giving up.

Anyway, Michelin pointed me to Ragusa Ibla, the old part of Ragusa, which is not to be mistaken for Ragusa itself, the new town. A Unesco World Heritage site, it is built upon a hill and extremely beautiful, with narrow ancient streets that makes the thought of driving a car through them seem impossible (although it is possible for there are in fact cars here). It also has to be said that Ragusa Ibla is tiny, tiny, tiny. If you can imagine a scene where the older generation of men from the town while away their days sitting in the main square watching the world go by, then you have pretty much captured the essence of this place. I must admit to a small bout of worry that there would not be enough to keep me busy for the two nights that I had planned to stay here. But after a while, I too cottoned on to the sheer pleasure of watching the world go by, especially with a cappuccino and a good book to hand.

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De Fiore – Catania, Sicily

Mount Etna

Mount Etna

If I had to use one word to describe Sicily, it would be ‘hot‘. No two words, ‘stinking hot‘. But what else could I possibly expect from this Mediterranean island during the height of summer? Temperatures have been hovering at between 35c and 40c, and at times it is almost unbearable.

And as I write this, I have come to realise that after living in London for a number of years, I must have picked up some element of Britishness. How else can I possibly explain an opening paragraph which is all about the weather? So putting that to one side, let me talk briefly about Catania, my first port of call in Sicily. It’s situated on the east side of the island, and is a rather pleasant town. It’s also a really good base from which to explore the sites of Mount Etna, the town of Syracuse which is steeped in history, and the quaint and picturesque (if a little touristy) town of Taormina.

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