I love Italy for its wonderful regional diversity, friendly, hospitable people who know how to enjoy life and its simple, delicious food and wine. Every time I go I make new discoveries, so I’d never dare to propose a definitive list of Italy’s best restaurants … instead these are the five I currently can’t wait to get back to.
Ristorante Cracco, Milan (Lombardy)
I love Carlo Cracco’s ability to walk the line between the traditional (a classic risotto Milanese) and the new (an ‘insalata Caprese’ that’s an assembly of tomato granita, basil oil and mozzarella di bufala) and I love the sense of hospitality in his restaurant. So much so that when we only had 2 nights in Milan and were lucky enough to find ourself here on our first night … we immediately booked the same table for our second (and final) night … that’s how much I love this place!
Trattoria al Gatto Nero, Burano, Venice (Veneto)
Skip the gondola ride and take one of the wonderful old wooden speedboats across the lagoon to the colourful island of Burano. Allow Max, the third generation of his family to run this restaurant, to guide you through the menu full of seafood fresh from the lagoon. The seafood antipasto, so large it comes on several plates, is a meal in itself and, depending on the season, contains the likes of king scallop in a slightly spicy tomato sauce, tiny black mussels and vongole in garlicky olive oil, poached cuttlefish, steamed mantis prawns, octopus salad with herbs and celery, baccalà of snapper and tiny grey prawns atop a grilled square of white polenta. Save room for excellent tiramisu.
Ristorante Buca Mario, Florence (Tuscany)
I had my favourite meal of a three week trip to Italy in this wonderful old-fashioned cellar restaurant close to the heart of the city. This is the place for classic Tuscan cooking and the bistecca Fiorentina for 2, carved tableside, is really what it’s all about … though the dessert trolley’s pretty special too.
Osteria la Gensola, Rome (Lazio)
This simple, family-run osteria on a cobbled piazza in Bohemian Trastevere serves Sicilian and Roman dishes. Seafood arrives daily from the south coast and desserts, including an authentic cassata, come from Sicily twice a week. I dream of the deep-fried artichokes (carciofi alla giudìa), superb tiny tuna meatballs in a tomato and smoked provola sauce and spaghetti ricci di mare.
Trattoria da Ciccio, Amalfi (Campania)
Perched high on a cliff edge just north of the town of Amalfi, this family-run trattoria sources much of their produce from the family farm in Scala, high above the coast that provides their daily seafood. Spaghetti with tiny vongole veraci and olives cooked ‘in cartoccio’ and served tableside is worth it for the theatre of the service alone. Fish is chosen from an iced tray rather than a menu, always cooked whole and also served tableside with the flesh expertly lifted from the bones. The wine list is great and they offer a taxi service to and from local hotels.