Monthly Archives: October 2011

Dal Pescatore

The cosy entrance to Dal Pescatore

I had this very romantic, relaxed idea of us hiring a car while we were in Verona and taking day trips out, enjoying driving through the Italian countryside – you know the visual, wind through our hair, laughing when we got lost but easily making it to our destination.

How different the actual experience actually was.

As a start, I forgot my drivers license (smart). Then D had to adjust to driving on the right hand side of the road – kept hitting his left hand on the door each time he tried to change gear, both of us terrified with each left turn or encountered a roundabout. Then I couldn’t figure out how the “never lost” GPS system in the car worked. When I finally did, it calculated the fastest route to our destination, which was always always the tollways. Not exactly scenic.

Having said all that, it was fun to drive out in the classic Italian cinquecento, and our first destination was Dal Pescatore in Mantova. All the dramas in the car was worth the trip to a real treat of an experience.

This three Michelin star restaurant is nestled at the back of a small road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But once you enter the house, you are warmly greeted by Valentina Santini, the sister, daughter and granddaughter of the three cooks of the restaurant.

She and her father and owner Antonio are always present in the room – either walking you through the amazing menu, explaining each dish as they arrive, or just chatting to guests – some of whom are clearly local regulars.

Mantovan salami with polenta

Dal Pescatore has been serving simple, traditional Mantovan cuisine since 1926, when Antonio’s grandfather bought a fisherman’s hut by a lake and opened a small osteria with his wife. From those humble beginnings, the restaurant now attracts chefs from all over the world who want to train there, while the wine cellar is reputed to be one of the best in Italy.

Our amuse-bouche was a pumpkin soup – silky, warming and with an intense sweetness from the pumpkin of which Mantova is famous for.

Thinly shaved culatello 

It was our first (and certainly not the last) taste of culatello – (the king of all prosciutto that is made from a smaller part of the traditional prosciutto cut of meat, and only in Basse Parmense in Italy). The taste is sweeter than prosciutto and almost creamy in texture and was served with traditional salami of Mantova, with small cubes of polenta and a teeny tiny quenelle of pork fat mixed with parsley.

Agnoli in broth with lambrusco

We also had agnoli served in broth. The agnoli were little parcels of a mixture of braised raw and cured meats that were served in a clear broth, to which a splash of lambrusco was added at the table. This is the first time I’ve ever had pasta in a broth. I think the warmth of the broth made the agnoli even more tender and the overall flavour was so delicate and light.

Tortellini di zucca 

For mains we ordered more pasta – the tortellini di zucca – the house speciality of pumpkin filled pasta with Amaretto, mustard and Parmigianna Reggianno. How they manage to balance all those strong flavours to end up with a parcel that is not too heavy in flavour or texture is beyond me.

Duck ravioli with asparagus, fennel and black truffles

My pasta was ravioli with duck, cream of asparagus, crunchy fennel and black truffles. Again, a masterpiece with all the flavours and textures working in harmony with each other.

I wish we could have had the time to sample some of the fish and meat dishes but we had reached our capacity and we were also worried about getting too sozzled to drive…

The whole experience was effortlessly perfect. So glad we battled all our driving and navigational demons to dine at this exquisite restaurant on a gorgeously sunny October afternoon.

Dal Pescatore 
Località Runate 15
46013 – Canneto sull”Oglio
Mantova – Italia
Tel:  +39 0376 723001

12 Apostles

Prosciutto with black truffles and parmesan with confit red peppers

On this trip, we fell in love with Verona. Forget all the Romeo and Juliet stuff – it’s fictional after all, and all a bit tacky for me – Verona is charming and just very very pretty.

We managed to eat at so many places this trip and this restaurant is the only one where we went back twice it was that good.

Just around the corner from our our hotel (the wonderful Gabbia D’Oro), 12 Apostoli got its name from the 12 tradesmen who used to meet every day after work back in the 1700s when it was an inn. In was only in the early 1900s that it became a restaurant but still serves simple food, stunningly prepared.

I have to say that it was a bit more formal than I expected, but the staff there were so cheeky in a totally professional way that it lured us back a second time. On recommendation, we started with shaved prosciutto with black truffles and parmesan on a bed of rocket, with red pepper confit. I don’t really need to say any more, do I 🙂

shaved salami on grilled polenta

We also had a traditional Veronese dish, shaved salami on top of grilled polenta. The Italians don’t seem to season their polenta at all but the saltiness of the salami took care of that.

Mains we both stuck to pasta – D had the beef tortellini tossed in butter and sage and I had the papaline (which amusingly is translated to “skullcaps”) filled with marscapone and olives.

Dessert was a total revelation for me. I’m familiar with dessert carts, but not three. It was such a thrill being surrounded by so much sugar ! And we usually had eaten so much that we had no space for dessert but that night, we had three between the two of us. And there were two winners which I would never have dreamed I would even order let alone love.

Traditional Sicilian cassata

The first was a cassata. Now my knowledge of cassata is vanilla ice-cream with dried candied fruit that you can order in Italian takeaways back in Australia – not all that appetising. Apparently that is a type of cassata but the version that we were served that night was the traditional Sicilian version – sponge cake moistened with liquer, layered with ricotta cheese and covered with a shell of marzipan and topped with candied fruit and peel. It was absolutely gorgeous. Light, with no overpowering flavour of marzipan (which I don’t really like the taste of), just delicate and somehow worked beautifully.

Sliced orange with candied orange peel

The second dish was “an orange”. I mean, that makes it sound so .. dull, but essentially it was peeled sliced orange with candied orange peel. That was pretty much it. But the zing of flavour in that orange made all the tastebuds in your mouth sing. Honest.

We had to almost roll ourselves out of 12 Apostles that night but not before we made a reservation for dinner on our last night in Verona. Perfect way to start a visit to this lovely city.

12 Apostoli
Corticela S. Marco 3,
37121, Verona, Italy
Tel: +39 045 596999

Closed Sunday and Monday evenings

Osteria Enoteca San Marco

Caprese salad

Wandering around through the streets of Venice near St Mark’s Square you are bombarded with high-end labels, Venetian glass baubles and masks. Choosing where to eat lunch can also be daunting, with so many choices – D and I ended up picking a place that looked the least like Italy. The modern interior appealed to us and by chance we seemed to pick a touristy restaurant that also happened to serve super good food.

Wild mushroom with fresh pappardelle

Osteria Enoteca San Marco offers a selection of delicious fresh pastas with the added bonus of a great selection of wines by the glass – from prosecco to a Brunello di Montalcino, which we took advantage of 🙂

Buffalo ricotta and scarmoza ravioli with tomatoes

There was the beautifully presented caprese salad, bursting with tomatoey, mozarella-ey and the all important basil goodness, a ravioli with buffalo ricotta and scarmoza (a lightly smoked cheese) and tomatoes, and a simple wild mushroom pappardelle angling for attention on our table with the wines.

D and I swapped the dishes we ordered – he loved the smokey cheese ravioli and I loved the simpleness of the mushroom pappardelle.

And so ends our Venetian eating adventures…next…on to beautiful Verona !

Osteria Enotica San Marco
San Marco 1610 – 30124 Venice
Tel: +39 041 528 52 42

Corta Sconta

The beautiful courtyard at Corta Sconta

Venice is a bit of an anomaly with the rest of Italy – it’s one of the main cities, but few people wax lyrical about the cuisine or share all of their great food experiences there. The locals cater to the masses of tourists, so expect to find trattorias with lots of pasta and pizza options on the menu, and expect to pay a premium to eat anywhere within sniffing distance of St Mark’s Square or with a view of/near a canal.

However, there are some definite brilliant hidey holes and Corta Sconta is one of them.

Carpaccio of sea bream and tuna 

For a start, the entrance to the restaurant is a bland blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hole in the wall, but walk through the small indoor seating area and you’ll pop out the back to the most gorgeous courtyard. It feels like you have entered a secret garden, where some diners eat alone with their books and a glass of wine, amongst groups of locals catching up over never-ending spritzers – a refreshing mix of Aperol and prosecco.

There is a standard menu with a list of fresh pastas, made on the premises – sauces are whatever is available that day, which the owner and hostess, Rita, will happily share with you.

Steamed local clams with white wine and ginger

The daily menu consists of dishes made from strictly seasonal products – with the great option of letting them choose for you.

We started with a tuna carpaccio marinated in balsamic vinegar and sea bream marinated in orange. The fish was delightfully fresh and firm and I loved the sea bream but thought (secretly) to myself it was a shame to marinate gorgeous tuna in such a strong flavour as balsamic.

Next up we had clams steamed with white wine and ginger which were awesome. The sweetness of the clams were released into the broth that was quickly mopped up by crusty bread.

Sardines and prawns – two of the “six fish from laguna”

Third (and for us, final) dish was a dish consisting of “the six fish from Laguna” – the Venetian Lagoon. The six “fish”- recommended to be eaten from the more delicate to the more robust flavours – were cuttlefish roe, mantis shrimp, spider crab in cream on top of crusty squares of bread, prawns, octopus and sardines. Most were simply steamed and served with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon.

We really did consider ordering some of the pasta dishes we saw served at other tables but by this stage both of us were full of seafood and prosecco but if you can squeeze it in, based on the quality and flavour of what we ate, I would definitely recommend it.

There’s such a strong feeling that the family are cooking for you, their friends, at Corta Sconta – it’s a place where you could easily spend the entire afternoon to escape the hustle and bustle outside.

Corta Sconta
Castello 3886
Calle del Pestrin (Arsenale)
Tel: tel 041 5227024

Harry’s Bar, Venice, Italy

The famous Bellini cocktail at Harry’s Bar

Harry’s really doesn’t need any introduction. I did learn before I went though, that not only was it the home of the Bellini cocktail, but also where carpaccio was invented. It was served to the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo in 1950 when she informed the bar’s owner, Gieuseppe Cipriani that her doctor had recommended she eat only raw meat. It consisted of thin slices of raw beef dressed with a mustard sauce, as it remains today. The dish was named Carpaccio by the owner of the bar, Giuseppe Cipriani, in reference to the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, because the colors of the dish reminded him of paintings by Carpaccio.

Cirpriani carpaccio

We started the evening, along with what looked like every other diner that night – a Bellini. Even if you don’t like champagne cocktails, it’s hard not to like these. The simple combination of delicate white peach puree with prosecco works beautifully and it’s a lovely refreshing way to begin any meal.

The food at Harry’s is traditionally Venetian – simply prepared with strong emphasis on seasonal seafood and vegetables. We had wandered around the fresh food markets off the Rialto Bridge earlier that day and the produce was amazing.

Pan-seared cod with lemon and capers

To start with I had pappardelle with tomatoes which was deliciously light and fresh, and D had the Cipriani Carpaccio. The beef was sliced wafer thin and the mustard sauce really added a level of salt and tanginess to the sweetness of the beef.

Fresh pappardelle with saffron and crispy pancetta

For mains I had the cod with lemon and capers and D had the pappardelle with saffron and pancetta. Both, served table side, were amazing.

The restaurant upstairs is packed and you’re pretty close to other diners, but the staff are so friendly and great at what they do. If you go, make sure you ask them to show you the selection of desserts they have on offer on the day – we chose the chocolate mousse cake with our coffees before strolling back along the water’s edge to our apartment. What a perfect way to end our first day in the city of canals.

Harry’s Bar
Calle Vallaresso, 1323
30124 Venezia, Italy
Tel: +39 (0) 41 528 5777

Open daily 10.30am to 11pm

UK feasting

AMAZING lamb chops at L&L’s BBQ extravaganza

I love visiting D’s family in the UK. It’s always about non-stop catching up over food, with discussions about what to eat next, over endless cups of tea between meals, and often with one (or several) of Mummy May’s Sausage Rolls.

I’m also going to share photos of just a portion of the food that we consumed at L&L’s all-day “grazing” BBQ on a gorgeously sunny and warm Autumn day. We really lucked out with the weather on this trip. The temperatures we had in the UK were higher than they had in Summer ! Made tucking in to all that food even more enjoyable.

Mummy May’s sausage rolls

But first, those sausage rolls I was talking about earlier. It’s a serious challenge to eat just one of these. Must be because they’re made with chestnuts, and with added love (awww).

The recipe is not all that different from my recipe, but little changes make all the difference ! For a start, she uses a block of pastry rather than ready-rolled sheets, which give it a more rustic and thicker pastry (that you can adjust to your taste), and also adds chopped chestnuts. It’s amazing how those little nuggets of sweet nuttiness make the whole thing zing in your mouth.

She made heaps of these in readiness for our visit and they were pretty much snacked on throughout each day.

That is, except on the day we visiting L&L’s gorgeously renovated home for a BBQ.

Teriyaki salmon steaks

Basically we got there at 12.30 and ate pretty much non-stop till about 6, absolutely stuffed full of champagne and seemingly endless food – both from the BBQ pit, as well as gorgeously fresh and delicious salads.

Rocket and feta salad

On the menu of the day: tender lamb chops (D says that he still dreams of them), teriyaki salmon steaks, marinaded chicken drumsticks (my favourite of the day, and also apparently of the resident wasps!), thick pork sausages, prawns and steak. Salad-wise there was a fresh rocket with feta salad, boiled rosemary potatoes, cherry tomato salad with pesto dressing, coleslaw, and a whipped smoked salmon dip. And for dessert, home-made white chocolate panna cotta with a strawberry coulis.

Home made white chocolate panna cotta with strawberry coulis

Gosh just reliving that day makes my tummy hurt but always, always, with an enormous grin.

And to think they are hosting Christmas lunch at their place this year. Wish we weren’t 9,500 miles away and could be part of that feast – there was turkey, ham AND goose mentioned !!

And so our short visit to the UK ended shortly after, and D and I were on our way to Italy….

RIP Sebastian 1998 – 2011

Sebastian doing his best E.T. impression

This may seem a little out of place on this blog, but my cat/friend/companion of 13 years, Sebastian passed away two nights ago and I wanted to say goodbye to someone who always kept me company whenever I cooked.

He was the kitten of an abandoned cat and I recall one day a little black kitten with a perfectly symmetrical white patch down from his mouth to under his belly and four white paws came to visit me in my office. My grandmother once commented that it looked like he had just stepped on snow.

Never having owned an animal before, this was completely new territory for me, beginning with naming him. He actually started his first week living with me being called HUDSON (Hey You Don’t S@#! On Nothin’) but after a week that changed to Sebastian Morpheus Chan. Sebastian, because I liked the name, Morpheus because he used to sleep a LOT (and often in places we would have difficulty finding him), and Chan because, well, that’s my surname.

He was a playful and cheeky kitten, and as he grew up he became more aloof, as most cats do. A lot of my friends have met Sebastian, but often only because he would appear at the end of the evening, seemingly out of nowhere, in search for some supper and a whisker scratch. Which meant that the choices he made to sit/lie/sleep near – or on – D and I, were all that much more special.

He had such strangely endearing habits, like coming to bed with us and after settling down on all fours sphinx-like, almost throwing himself upside down and really tucking his head under our chins. Made us uncomfortable as hell, but feeling him so relaxed and happy meant that he won the battle of who’s the-most-comfortable each night. And then for about 3 months earlier this year he took to coming to sleep next to me, with his head on my pillow. D didn’t believe me till one night he came upstairs to find us both asleep, nose-to-nose. For those of you who are allergic, this is probably already making your eyes itch and water, but again, with Sebastian, that sort of affection coming from him was a real treat and oh-so-special.

He was also the only cat I’ve met that you can feel stretch. As in, when he woke up, you could put your hands under his front paws, lift him up, and stretch him. And you could feel him stretching every part of himself, right down to him spreading his little “toes” apart. D appropriately calls it the “transformer stretch”. His paws (and the top of his head) were always my favourite.

He begrudgingly accepted it when we bought him a sister five years back, and while they have never been BFFs, I caught him calmly walking up to her while she was sleeping, and, completely unprovoked, gives her a right hard spank on the head. Llllet’s get ready to ruuummble !!

He was my handsome boy. And I miss him dearly. RIP Lambchop. I know you’re still watching over me while I cook.

I’m baaack ! And now to the holiday ramblings…

The Bell Inn restaurant in the village of Hornden-on-the-Hill

Gosh has it been a whole month since I last posted ?  I do have a valid excuse, D and I just got back from a 17 day spectacular eating holiday, starting in the UK for a few days, and then on to Venice, Verona, Florence and Rome.

I think I’m going to limit my post lengths and share eating experience by eating experience rather than by destination. That way I can relive and savour the memories  🙂

Our trip started off visiting D’s family in the UK.  Lots of pub lunches and dinners, with one standing out in particular, at the Bell Inn, a 15th century Coaching Inn, which was conveniently just up the road from my mum in-law’s house in the village of Horden-on-the-Hill.

There’s so much history in this quaint pub (although no-one could explain to me how the tradition of hanging a hot cross bun on the beam in front of the bar began) that you can read about here.

We ate dinner in the restaurant, voted in the Sunday Times 2010 Food list one of the 10 best gastropubs in the UK.  They source for local produce and I love that I am looking at this week’s menu and it’s already changed from when we ate there just a few weeks ago.

Pan-fried mackerel with cornish crab cake and coriander and red onion marmalade

I started with pan-fried mackerel with Cornish crab cake and a coriander and red onion marmalade.  Mackerel is such a lovely oily fish and having cooked it myself, I know that the crispy bits around the edges are not necessarily from additional oil, but simply the oils in the fish, and the stronger flavour of this complemented the delicate taste and texture of the crab “cake”.  The coriander and red onion marmalade just balanced everything out with a burst of freshness.

Suckling pig on creamed corn mash with potato mash and crispy pancetta

For mains I had the suckling pig that came on a creamed corn mash with an sage and onion jus.  My only complaint with this was that there was very little crackling !  Otherwise, you can’t really go wrong with suckling pig, can you ? My first ever creamed corn mash and it made for a lovely sweet accompaniment to the pork.

Dessert was a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds – a caramel parfait with spun sugar.  D and opted to share something light, but we did have food envy for the other couples on our table who ordered a sampler plate of all the desserts, which included a dark chocolate fondant which was an easy winner.

Perfect dinner – thanks again for the treat M and B !

The Bell Inn
High Road
Essex SS17 8LD
Tel: +44 1375 642463

Check out their website there’s also recommendations on nearby places to visit.