A long drive to Puglia but good to stop at the service stations for a coffee. Does italy have the best freeway coffee shops in the world? Other countries have dire catering on the roads but in Italy the coffee is consistently drinkable and the rolls and sandwiches fresh and good.
We stay in a small B&B Il Collegio (featured in the TV series Grand Designs) just outside the Ostuni in the heart of Puglia. Good breakfasts with figs direct from their trees, wonderfully fresh peaches and good local cheeses and meats.
After my poor research in Rome I spent a little time looking into the restaurants of the area, Ostuni may be small but it swells with tourists so has lots of restaurants. On the first night we head to “Osteria Piazzetta Cattedrale” for a early dinner. Thankfully it is early as they turn lots of people without reservations away as we enjoy our dinner. Really good food cooked by the owners wife and you can see why Michelin give them a bib. Fantastically fresh burratta with figs and prosciutto, this is the famous local cheese and is best eaten the day it is made, any later and it loses a lots and really isn’t the same (although still good), this one was perfect. Next some zucchini cakes in a rich tomato sauce, again wonderful, this was followed by some fresh Orecchiette with aspargus and beans and some Orecchietta with tomato sauce- another Puglia regional dish - both of which were great. Total bill was €74 which compared to Rome and Capri was excellent value but maybe a little more than I had hoped for in Puglia. It’s a nice restaurant but slightly formal and OTT in that Italian style - good to dress up a little to fit in.
Next day down to Otranto and a decent lunch in a harbour-side restaurant (Agli Angeli Ribelli) with very good seafood pasta (large trofie), we shared an antipasto plate which was OK, but nothing like others. We found it interesting that the antipasto de la casa was usually a similar price in most restaurants but the quality and quantity varied enormously. Usually the top restaurants would charge a few more euro each but deliver far better quality and quantity - my advice is to only order it on places that are at the top end.
That night we eat at Osteria Del Tempo Perso in Ostuni, again a restaurant that gets a Michelin bib, the food here was great with an antipasto that was superb: six different dishes including zucchini flowers, burratta, stuffed peppers, fried eggplants, a barley (I think) and bean stew, and zucchini cakes (like a quiche filling). Not only great but very filling. We had also ordered the local bean puree with peppers and fried olives which was good but enough for four and a plate of the local sausages with roast potatoes which were amazing. Far, far too much food so no dessert. With a decent bottle of local Negroamaro the bill came to €87 which was good value for the quality of food.
We also ate here a second time just before we left to head off to Naples and it was as good. On the second visit we avoided the antipasto selection and simply chose the burrata with prosciutto and zucchini flowers to start which again were superb , and for mains we had Donkey (yes real donkey) and some pasta with chickpeas, first time to eat donkey meat and it was very tasty rolled around herbs and cooked in a rich tomato sauce, for our second meal we chose a bottle of Primitivo which was good, the meal was even better than the first and came in at about the same price €89.
The next day we headed off to visit Trulli houses near Alberobello, but chose to head away from it for lunch as it was a real tourist trap. We ended up at Trattoria Centro Storico in Locorotondo, which is a pretty town with a few good looking restaurants. However, the meal was pretty average despite the restaurant having a Michelin bib - I suspect we have fared better if we had ordered more.
Than night we ate simple pizza at Il Bella Vista Pizzeria in Ostuni. Very simple and very good, as good as the pizza we tried in Naples. Two pizzas and some house red came to
€28 which was good value.
The following night we tried a famed local restaurant Taverna Della Gelosia, which is located on very pretty terraces that cascade down the city walls. The claim to fame is good original food combined with the owners passion for old recipes including renditions of modern dishes. The antipasto de la casa was again very good, this time with eight dishes that arrived on a separate side table. Good frying technique on zucchini flowers and other vegetables, zucchini cakes in a vanilla sauce, some very fresh Ricotta with onion confit, a bowl of sausage stew, and a mysterious black grain dish which was like a risotto dressed with a gorgonzola sauce. All were superb and very filling. We followed with a shared plate of pasta cooked with mint and other herbs, unfortunately slightly overcooked and a bit gloopy. It was also served on a plate made of bread which takes the medieval concept a bit too far. Overall OK for €80 with a decent local wine. That said it is a bit gimmicky and quite tourist driven so not one we we rush back to.
Next day when we tried Ristorante Porta Nova which was highly recommended by a number of guides and some of the waiters we spoke to. It specialises in fish especially the raw fish which is a local tradition. To be frank it didn’t do a lot for me, I love good sashimi and have been spoilt by very fresh fish carpaccio in Australia and this didn’t really measure up. However, we followed with some really good pasta including some black trofie with squid which was very good, and some good seafood pasta and some frito misto. Again with a decent local wine the bill came in at €88. It is quite a formal restaurant in quite a frilly way. Nice for a date for not really for the hearty food of Puglia.
Lunch the next day was the best meal of the whole trip at Cibus in Ceglie Messapica. This is areal slow food shrine with every guidebook sticker under the sun on the door - often worrying but much deserved here. The antipasto plate was really interesting with some changes to the norm. The burrata had lemon rind mixed through it to give it a lift, the ricotta had very finely diced pepper mixed in. Other cheeses had interesting twists and sauces. All in superb condition and delivered in an interesting way. A local olive oil pasta with rabbit and a whole wheat pasta served on burrata with a very intense tomato sauce made up the mains. Both were very interesting and wonderfully flavoured dishes. We finished with a plate of local cheeses (the house speciality) which was made up of eight local varieties served with almond honey. All were in tip top condition. Definitely our best meal of the two week trip, it is a pity we found it on our last day. Total bill was a modest €62 with four glasses of local white wine.
In many ways this was the sort of rustic restaurant I had imagined in Puglia but it seems most of the restaurants cater for Italians on holiday who demand a bit of style and panache. Whilst that doesn’t detract from the food the low key style of Cibus seemed more honest and natural, I am certain there are others out there in the wilds of Puglia but best to research them before you visit. Overall we were very satisfied with all the meals in Puglia, some better than others but there were no real duds
Via Cianche di Scarano,7, Ceglie Messapica, Puglia , IT