Tonight I returned to a restaurant I have enjoyed before and when asked whether I would like the menu in English or Italian I said both but received only the English one. Of course my Italian and my appearance indicate I am clearly English so it seemed churlish to insist on an Italian menu and as ever, the translation was a little off with its "saide plates" and "backed rolls of ham and cheese" and I got a little chuckle when I saw the sub-heading of "pizza without tomato source". However I did myself proud ordering in Italian, even asking if they had gluten free and choosing a sensible cinque cereale ("five cereals") option in terms of flour used for my pizza. According to the English menu it had mozzarella buffalo, sausage, truffle oil, dried tomatoes. Imagine my surprise therefore when it arrived with mozzarella buffalo and some bacon, without any sign of the sausage or dried tomatoes. Checking the Italian menu later it was clear that sausage was a poor and somewhat ironic translation of bacon and the dried tomatoes were in the oil! So, lesson learned as I may have chosen differently if I'd seen the Italian!
After that, I had one of the most successfully executed melting middle hot chocolate fondants I've ever tasted, and I've certainly tasted a few to compare as I immodestly consider my own rather fantastic! The service was friendly and the atmosphere lively so it was a shame to overhear my neighbouring table of three English people bemoaning it. I couldn't hear the details but it seemed this holiday wasn't living up to their experiences in Tuscany and they seemed most unimpressed with the restaurant. When their bill came it was just €53 (approx £42) and considering I'd heard them saying at least the wine was good I couldn't help but wonder what food they had ordered that had cost them so little per head, and when they last got a meal in a nice restaurant for that price. As they counted out their change to ensure not leaving a tip I felt quite disappointed that they couldn't see Puglia for being, perhaps at times unpolished and homely when compared to the glitzier more established regions, but nonetheless, the honest and well-meaning gem that it is. I have been in restaurants in more touristy parts of Italy where being a tourist means no prospect of return business and accordingly receiving surly service and inflated prices.
After the day I've had (see my last post: Obstinate builders, extortionate prices and racist slurs - just another day trying to fix up a house in Puglia!) you'd think I'd be the last to be defending this place but perhaps overhearing that table was exactly what I needed. As I walked through a buzzing piazza full of after dinner socialisers (they genuinely don't think 10pm is late to go for dinner so why not be out on the street with your kids and friends enjoying a drink and chatting at 11.30pm on a school night?!) and a live band playing in the open air, I felt really proud and happy to be here again: all the unpleasantness of the day forgotten. I guess that's why so many of us love Italy - like so many places it has its problems, but they really know how to put them to one side and get on with the serious business of enjoying life here.
Yep, I'm back in love with Italy!