Skip to content

Restaurant Review: Debraggio – Italian Kitchen

FBBDFF28-FE01-4F19-B13D-80AD400D45C7

My friend Kate was treating me to a late birthday lunch and we decided to meet in Debraggio in Richmond, where we’ve met before. We’re both Italophiles. Indeed, a few years ago we used to meet up once a week to practise our Italian and made a trip to Rome together.

There’s been an Italian deli cum cafe-restaurant at 1 Duke Street in Richmond – which runs from the high street to Richmond Green – for a number of years. It was once Giuliano’s and then turned in Debraggio and I didn’t go for some time. Mainly because of the wonderful Italian restaurants and delis we have in Twickenham, a bit closer to home. But then Kate asked me a little while ago if there was somewhere ‘like Corto Deli’ in Richmond and I mentioned Debraggio … and she had such a good lunch I went back with her.

There are a few counter seats downstairs in the deli, but upstairs there are tables and waiter service. It’s all very simple and ideal for lunch. They write the menu on a blackboard – and if you’re so inclined, you can take a look in the deli downstairs to get an idea of the food.

They had some wonderful ‘specials’ like black spaghetti with garlic prawns – and I’d seen the large, wonderful prawns in the cool cabinet downstairs. There’s a good choice of food, from filled ciabatta, to main dishes – mainly pasta, but also risottos, frittata and chicken Milanese – and salads. So you can go for either a light lunch or a more substantial meal. The last time I was there, I chose the filled ciabatta with Italian meatballs, mozzarella and spicy pesto (£7.90 to eat in). It was absolutely fabulous. So good in fact that I thought I’d have it again today. But then Kate saw the vegetarian antipasti option and we asked the waitress about it and decided it would be nice to share that. Kate also fancied the Caprese salad to go with it but the helpful waitress told us there was some in the antipasti, so we decided to wait and if we wanted more food, we could order extra later. As it happened, there was plenty of food for lunch in the one plate of antipasti (about £12 – I forgot to make a note).

It was a gorgeous plate of food: bruschetta, Caprese salad of tomatoes and mozzarella, Melanzane Parmigiana (which was wonderful!), roasted carrots and beetroot, cauliflower and broccoli, roasted peppers and some olives. It was really excellent. This was all freshly prepared food; no pre-prepared from jars as you sometimes get in an antipasti mix. This was ‘home’ cooking of the best kind.

We had some wine with it – on the basis it was a birthday treat! I rarely drink alcohol at lunchtime. Afterwards we were asked if we wanted dessert and I said, No thanks. However, the waitress suggested we might like one of their home-made cannoli with our coffees, so we did. They were a perfect little treat.

Downstairs, Kate paid while I took some photos. The prepared food is really good – either for eating in or takeaway. You can see it’s freshly made and is high quality.

   

There are larder goods like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pasta, biscuits, as well as Italian cheeses and cooked meats. They have a good selection of Italian wines too.

Debraggio is an independent family run restaurant. They ‘cook with passion, using fresh quality ingredients to produce authentic Italian food’. It’s a friendly place serving excellent food and I know I’m going to go more often now I’ve rediscovered it. They’re open 8.30am-6.00pm Mon-Sat and are closed on Sundays.

Debraggio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Richmond Cafe – Thai Cuisine

IMG_1112

It’s been a glorious sunny weekend and if the weather yesterday was perfect for the Royal Wedding in Windsor, where Harry and Meghan tied the knot, it turned out to be the perfect day for a visit to Kew Gardens to see the recently reopened Temperate House.

My friend Elsa took the London Overground train from Hackney to Richmond and I suggested we meet at Kew Gardens (the stop before Richmond) and go in to see the Temperate House, which reopened only last week after 5 years of major restoration. It is the most magnificent building and the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world, housing 1,500 species of plants from temperate regions around the world, including some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants.

It occurred to me earlier in the day that maybe going so soon after the reopening, and on a sunny Saturday, was a mistake. It was bound to be horrendously crowded. But here’s where the ‘royal wedding’ card played a good hand. It seemed that lots of people were at home watching the ‘big day’ on TV; there were many street parties in full flow; and Kew Gardens was remarkably quiet and calm.

I’ve been going to Kew for so long I can remember when it only cost one old penny, put in a turnstile at the gate, to get in. Yes, that’s showing my age! Now it costs £16 for adult entry, which is why I buy an annual season ticket for £69 so that I can go in at any time and take someone in with me. Anyway, you’ll understand that I’ve a long history with the Temperate House and so it was exciting to see it in such a wonderful restored state. I have to say, with all the new planting, it looked a little bare, but I look forward to seeing how well all the plants grow and how long it takes for the glasshouse to feel like entering a jungle again!

We emerged around 6.30pm and took a 65 bus to Richmond. We decided to head down to the river for a drink before eating. Most of the bars and the riverside were heaving with crowds but walking on, I was delighted to find Tide Tables Café open; I’ve only ever thought of it as a daytime place for coffee or a light lunch. It has simply one of the best locations in Richmond, housed in the archways under Richmond Bridge with a large open space outside looking across the Thames.

They sold vegan wine by the glass at £5.50 for 175ml, with a simple choice of red, white or rosé. We both chose cool rosé and they gave us a small pot of olives to go with it. It was a lovely place to sit and relax on a summer’s evening.

Around 8.00 we decided to move on and find somewhere to eat. Nearby, on Hill Rise, leading up to Richmond Hill, I knew of Richmond Café, which is a Thai restaurant. I’d never tried it but my son had told me it’s good, so we decided to give it a try.

The café is a very simple place – more reminiscent of an old style ‘caff’ than restaurant. But it was busy; it has a good reputation. We thought it was getting a bit too cold to take an outside table now the night was drawing in so opted for a table down in the basement. Though not as nice as the ground floor, it soon filled up and was fine, but there’s a clear advantage in booking in advance if you can.

At all times the service was friendly and efficient. A menu was brought; a drinks order taken, including glasses of tap water. Elsa ordered a glass of red Merlot; I ordered white Côtes de Gascogne.

We decided to share a starter and order two main courses (to share) with some plain steamed Thai rice. For our starter we chose Som Tum – Thai style green papaya salad with peanuts, green beans and tomatoes (£6.50).

It was a good size to share as a starter. Som Tum is a spicy Thai salad made with shredded unripe papaya. It’s a Thai staple that has been called one of the best salads in the world. It was wonderfully fresh tasting; nicely crispy with a good chilli edge to it, and I really loved it.

We ordered one fish main: Plate Ta Kri – deep fried sea bass fillet in light batter with chilli, lemongrass and lime leaves (£13.95).

This was really delicious. There were two sea bass fillets so we had plenty each. The batter really was light; the fish moist and tasty; and the accompanying vegetables were cooked through but retained a nice bite.

Our other main was a chicken stir-fry dish with cashews and mushrooms. This was good too.

It was a good meal; a nice friendly place for a simple Thai meal in casual surroundings. And an ideal choice following on from the rest of our day. Our bill came to just over £36 for the two of us, including wine, so it was very reasonable too.

Five Nights in Genoa – Eat, Drink, Do

Why go?

My main reason for the trip was to attend a 3-day art history course with Hotel Alphabet, but it wasn’t my only reason. Genoa had been a destination I’d in mind for a long time – and the reasons were almost totally food-related! For Genoa is the capital of Liguria, famed gastronomically for the birth of pesto, focaccia and their delicate olive oil. But what also appealed would be a trip to the Cinque Terre. I’d heard so much about how beautiful it is and know people who’ve walked the UNESCO coastal path.

Genoa offers much more than food and pretty coastal villages though. It’s the sixth largest city in Italy and has a strong commercial and financial history. Casa di San Giorgio, established in 1407, is one of the oldest in the world; during a tour of the city with Hotel Alphabet we stood in Piazza Banchi and saw the site of the bank and the old stock exchange; there are still a number of banks in the square.

This building in Piazza Banchi looks a bit like a bank but is in fact a church!

Genoa also has a long history as one of the largest and most important ports in the Mediterranean.

Culturally, it’s the birthplace of many famous people: Cristoforo Colombo (indeed he gives his name to the airport); Niccolò Paganini of violin fame – and the prize for an annual competition for young musicians is to be allowed to play one of his violins; Guiseppe Mazzini, a 19th century politician and activist who helped bring about an independent and united Italy; and one of today’s leading architects, Renzo Piano, who designed London’s The Shard and the Georges Pompidou centre in Paris.

 

How to get there and where to stay

I flew with British Airways from Gatwick; Ryanair fly there from Stansted. Cristoforo Colombo Airport is only 7km from the centre of the city. You can take a Volabus into the centre for €8 or a taxi costs about €25.

I stayed in the 3* Best Western Hotel Metropoli, which I booked through British Airways. I was very happy with it and its location was fabulous so I’d definitely recommend staying in this area, the heart of the historic centre. It’s just 200m from Piazza de Ferrari, which is the central hub of the city.

From here it’s a short walk to the old port – Porto Antico – and major sights, with plenty of bars, cafes and hotels. There’s shopping in via XX Settembre or via Roma. It’s beautiful at night, too.

  

There were colourful umbrellas hanging about many roads while I was there. It had nothing to do with rain but was a celebration of a flower festival, the colours representing flowers.

 

Getting around the city

Genoa is quite a small city so although there are trams and a Metro, I never felt the need to use them but could easily walk to anywhere I wanted to go. It’s worth noting, however, that it’s a very steep city, and while climbing high provides wonderful views, even just walking round the centre often requires walking up very steep, narrow roads or alleyways, sometimes cobbled. So sturdy shoes and a good deal of energy are required!

 

A short walk round the historic centre and port

My hotel was in Piazza Fontane Marose. From here I liked to turn into via Luccoli. It was a little hard to find at first as you have to go down some steps in front of the hotel. It’s quite a narrow road – a caruggi. It can be quite confusing that roads that look fairly big on a map are narrow alleyways down which no car – other than maybe a cinquecento – could drive. Via Luccoli, leads into Piazza Soziglia, then via Orefici, which takes you into Piazza Banchi. From here you can almost see the port, coming on to it at Piazza Caricamento.

IMG_0922

What becomes immediately obvious is that a huge, great road runs right across the front of the old port. This more than anything demonstrates the practicality of the Genovese. The road, built high on stilts, was a 1960s solution to gridlock within the old city roads. While it works in traffic terms perhaps, for me it ruined the beauty of the old buildings and port frontage.

Looking out to sea is tricky too. For you can’t actually see far due to all the buildings and structures. The area was redesigned by Renzo Piano in 1992. While I love his Shard in London, I found it hard to even like his reinvention of Genoa’s port.

   

Turn left and walk to Calata Mandraccio and you’ll pass an Eataly on your left (a good source of food and drink) and a couple of other restaurants. Keep going and eventually you will find a quieter area to sit. This also takes you in the direction of the oldest part of the port and where I went on my first night to eat at Osteria di Vico Palla, where I had a great Ligurian meal.

From here, go back away from the sea and into Piazza Cavour, turning left and towards where you entered the port area, but not all the way. Turn right into via San Lorenzo. Soon you will come into Piazza San Lorenzo and before you will be Genoa’s cathedral – Cattedrale di San Lorenzo.

Dating from the 12th century, it’s a mix of Romanesque and Gothic style. Its striking 13th century facade is made with bands of Carrara stone and Ligurian slate.

A little way on you’ll come into Piazza Matteotti.

This piazza became a favourite haunt because of Douce cafe, which I loved to go to for aperitivo or afternoon tea. From here you can cut up behind the cafe into Piazza de Ferrari. Passing the large fountain on your right continue into via XXV Aprile.

This will take you back into Piazza Fontane Marose, where you began.

 

Other sights to visit

Go to the Palazzo Rosso (photo above) for fine furnishings and artwork but also for a great view over the city from its roof terrace.

See also: Torre Piacentini, a 1940 Art Deco tower, is said to be Italy’s oldest skyscraper. Villa del Principe, home to the famous Doria Pamphili family, has beautiful frescoes and furnishings. Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) was built in the 17th century by the Balbi family and is a fine example of Baroque style. You can also visit Cristoforo Colombo’s house.

Take a walk along via Garibaldi, a mainly pedestrianised street lined with beautiful palazzi.

 

Food & Drink

Breakfast and morning coffee

   

Go to Caffe Mangini at the top of via Roma for a great breakfast. As elsewhere in Italy, orange juice – spremuta – is squeezed freshly for you. They have great pastries and coffee and you can eat like a local (and for much less money) at the bar or sit at one of the tables and enjoy the ambiance. Also recommended: Pasticceria Marescotti di Cavo and Douce (click here for more).

Lunch

A favourite place was Caffe Boasi in via XX Settembre. A modern cafe, it sells gorgeous focaccia sandwiches to enjoy, perhaps, with a glass of local wine. Another good place is Douce in Piazza Ducale; French owned it’s not traditional Italian but very good.

Gelato

When in Italy don’t forget to eat gelato every day! Well, I like to.

Try Profumo di Rosa in via Cairolli, Vaniglia in via XX Settembre or Gelateria Profumo in vico Superiore del Ferro (click here for more).

Aperitivo

If you mustn’t forget to eat gelato you certainly shouldn’t forget to enjoy aperitivo either. ‘Happy hour’ in Italy is less about 2 for 1 cocktails but serving you a wonderful plate of little snacks with your food. It can vary from simple olives and nuts, for which you may not be charged, to elaborate canapés. At Douce you pay an extra €2 for ‘finger food’ with your early evening drink but it’s €2 well spent for a lovely plate of gorgeous snacks.

Dinner

I found three great osterias selling local Cucina Ligure: Osteria di Vico Palla in the old port area; and in the historic centre Antica Osteria Ravecca and Osteria Il Cadraio. Douce also have an evening menu.

 

Food shopping

Markets

The Mercato Orientale, just off via XX Settembre, is a food lover’s paradise. Everything looks wonderful and of the highest quality and you’ll find things you don’t see back home (or if you live in London!): boxes full of courgette flowers, purple asparagus, little baby artichokes, enormous aubergines, large bunches of fresh herbs, plus meat, fish, cheese – great blocks of Parmesan – and local breads like focaccia Ligure. Then of course there’s pesto. Pesto in Genoa is like no other – it really is incredible. But then it was born here!

There was a great little market in Piazza de Ferrari the day I arrived and another evening I found a good food one in Piazza Ducale.

Shops

   

Buy pesto, olive oil and pasta and other foods in Liguria in Bottega in via Banchi.

  

Visit the lovely Pasticceria Profumo in via del Portello, one of Genoa’s oldest bakeries dating from 1827 to buy a Pandolce Genovese – a dense fruit cake with honey and pine nuts – to bring home.

 

Getting out of the city

If you’ve enough time to make an excursion, then explore the Cinque Terre. The most popular place to go is Portofino. I went by minibus with Hotel Alphabet and it took an hour but we came back by bus to Santa Marguerita and then train to Genoa – so you can clearly do it the other way round too!

Closer to the centre, take advantage of buying a €1.50 return ticket to travel on the funicular.

The funicular station is just off Largo della Zecca.

   

The little train runs every 15 minutes (at least during the day) and it takes about 15 minutes to get to the top at Righi.

Come out of the station and turn left. Immediately you’re in a calmer, quieter place. Though, to be honest, there’s not much there. I think you have to walk a long way to find food or drink and I didn’t make it. But I did make it to some glorious views that made the journey and steep climb up the road worthwhile.

 

Final thoughts on Genoa

I had a good trip and what stands out for me is the wonderful friendly welcome I found everywhere, particularly at my hotel. Then there’s the food which was not only wonderful – especially the pesto! – but reasonably priced, and much cheaper than more touristy cities in Italy.

But I don’t feel Genoa is a place to fall in love with in the instant way I fell in love with places like Venice, Turin and Bologna as soon as I arrived. Genoa is a city that grows on you. It’s more rundown that other major cities but then it doesn’t aspire to become touristy; it’s a city that’s lived in. The locals haven’t been forced out as they have in Venice. And that is, of course, one of its attractions. It also means that you frequently come across people in shops and cafes who don’t speak English and thus I found I had more opportunity to practise my (not very good) Italian than I usually do, which I enjoyed.

I find it a little hard to forgive the way they’re vandalised the harbour area – and I’m someone who likes modern architecture a lot. It’s just that sometimes preserving the old when it’s beautiful is worthwhile. Or maybe I’m just too romantic and the practical Genovese have got it right! But there are certainly places of beauty and wonderful palazzi to explore. And given enough time there the friendly Genovese will win you over.

 

Genoa 2018: Best Western Hotel Metropoli

0873A27A-638D-4E58-8229-3F02F349A1FC

I went to Genoa primarily to do an art history course with Hotel Alphabet. I’d done some day courses in London with its owner, Dr Marie-Anne Mancio, and thought she was such a great lecturer it would be fantastic to combine one of the courses she runs with a short city break. She teaches all over the world, from London, New York, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Spain, France and several places in Italy where she lives with husband Paul, who runs the company with her.

Genoa was on offer at the time I wanted to go away and it had been on my mind as a good destination for some time as it has such a long and important food history (click here for more). The 3-day course also offered a trip to Portofino on the Cinque Terre and I’d heard so much about it, seen photos of how beautiful it is, that I really wanted to go there too. Another thing that was a plus for me was I would remain an independent traveller. I really am a happy independent traveller and the fact that I would have to book my own flights and hotel was great; I would be free to choose my own place and fix my own dates, so could easily add on a day or two to do some food exploration as well as look at art.

As I so often do, I booked the whole trip with British Airways. Their recommended hotels are usually reliable and invariably I make a good saving by booking flight + hotel with them. I wanted somewhere central (and luckily this turned out to be only a lazy 15-minute walk away from where Marie-Anne was staying; our morning meeting place). I was reasonably budget minded so went for a 3* Best Western. I’ve stayed in Best Western hotels a couple of times before. Some are more basic 3* and some more upmarket 4* (such as the one I stayed in years ago with my daughter in Naples, with a fantastic view across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius).

Hotel Metropoli fitted the bill on many counts – location and price being main ones. In fact its location is much more brilliant than I’d realised; it would be hard to better it. It’s just 5 minutes – at the most – walk from Piazza de Ferrari, a central hub of Genoa from which all important roads and piazzas seem to run.

Set in the historic centre, you can get to most areas of interest and sights, and down to the Old Port (Porto Antico) in a matter of minutes. It’s also one of the nicest areas of Genoa.

The staff had been wonderfully friendly even before my arrival. I’d exchanged emails with Irene and Cinzia about the best way to get from the airport; adding on breakfast to my booking, which hadn’t been included. I don’t always mind but with three days when I had to get out early to the course, it seemed a good idea to have breakfast at the hotel. How much did they charge? I asked. Sometimes adding on breakfast can be outrageously expensive – but no, they would charge me just €5 a day.

I took a taxi from the airport (about €20-25). The hotel had told me of a bus which would drop me off at Piazza de Ferrari for €7 but it was a city I hadn’t been to before and I’d been up since 4.30am; I wanted to make things easy. As it happened, it would have been an easy walk from the piazza but it was nice to get a taxi!

It was such a warm welcome it was almost like returning to an old favourite hotel, not a new one. It was too early to get into my room – it was only about 11am – so they took my bag, gave me a map of the city, and said if I returned at 1pm my room would be ready.

My room was on the 4th floor. I was pleased as it was in a busy area and I thought that would be quieter. It was, but actually at night, even in the centre of the city in a busy small piazza, it was wonderfully quiet and peaceful. It was a very simple room; even rather plain. But I was happy with it and it turned out to have a very comfortable bed – and excellent pillows! I have a thing about good pillows as I have a Tempur one at home so am used to good support. And it had a nice parquet floor.

I could open the windows too and I liked to do that to look out on to the Piazza Fontane Marose. It was a pretty view, albeit it a city one. I also left the windows open a bit at night for air, which wasn’t a problem as it was so quiet by late evening.

   

The bathroom – well, shower room as there was no bath – was again simple but nice. And it had a proper hair dryer; not one of those awful tube ones that are hopeless at drying hair.

A mini bar contained a few drinks and snacks; reasonably priced. There was also a kettle and I do love having a kettle in my hotel room. I’d known this so had taken a selection of teas I like to have for early morning while still in bed, and at night before going to sleep. It also meant if I went back to the hotel during the day for a while, I could make myself a hot drink.

The wifi was – as is normal now in hotels – free but it was a particularly good one. I say this with my blogger’s hat on. Believe me, one of the reasons I don’t always write regularly on the blog while I’m away is that the process is too stressful. I need internet connection to load photos but in some hotels, the wifi just can’t cope. In Florence (lovely as the hotel was) I had to take my iPad down to the Apple Store a few minutes walk away and load things there! Other times, it all works but is painfully slow. But at Hotel Metropoli it was as good as being at home!

Breakfast! Hotel Metropoli are – quite rightly – very proud of their buffet breakfast. To be honest, at €5 I hadn’t expected anything great but actually it was one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve had.

Here’s the table laden with fresh, wonderful food.

There was a fresh fruit salad every morning, bowls of fruit and a choice of fruit juice. There were cereals and yoghurts; hams and cheeses; you could boil and egg and make warm food but I never want to do that.

   

There was a choice of breads, including focaccia Ligure, and Pandolce Genovese – a lovely moist and rich fruit cake; a speciality of the city. There were cakes and flans.

   

I’m quite modest with breakfast and really only want cereal, yoghurt and fruit first thing and to then have a coffee break a bit later. But I did have a coffee and they’d often put a chocolate heart on my cappuccino, which was such a sweet touch. And I couldn’t resist a slice of the gorgeous Pandolce.

Always, whoever was on Reception, whether I was coming down in the morning, going out for the day, returning, I was always greeted with a warm smile and a little conversation. It was truly one of the friendliest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. On my last day one of the regular receptionists said, Oh no! You’re not going already. We want you to stay. Maybe she said the same to others but it felt such a nice warm offering and such warmth really does make a difference, especially when holidaying on your own.

My flight home was late – 20:00hrs – so I had pretty much a full day to see more of Genoa. I had to check out by 12 and came back from a morning’s exploration and coffee and shopping to do that. But in the afternoon I also came back a couple of times. As I said, it’s so central I was never far away. And the warmth was there and I was welcome to make myself comfortable in the sitting area; I could charge up my phone.

It had been a good stay. And anytime I go back to Genoa, I’m definitely staying at Hotel Metropoli again.

 

Genoa 2018: Ligurian Food & Where to Eat

DB028C18-B923-4BBD-B300-BAA0EF03785C

When in a new city you haven’t been to before, the most obvious place to get a feel for the cuisine is to go to the local market. Genoa has a truly fabulous covered market, Mercato Orientale, just off via XX Settembre. It has the most wonderful produce; everything looked perfect and of the highest quality.

   

   

There were mixes to make risotto with local flavourings; fabulous cheeses; fresh meat and fish; bakeries; beautiful fruit and vegetables including purple asparagus, baby artichokes and courgette flowers.

You can buy fresh ingredients to cook at home or in a holiday apartment, but there are a also lots of little bars where you can buy food to eat there – especially slices of focaccia to go with coffee.

Genoa has a rich food history and is the home of focaccia and pesto. Although you will find both elsewhere in Italy, there is really something special about eating them in Liguria.

One of the things that make both so special is Ligurian olive oil. Ligurian oils are amongst Italy’s most prized and expensive. This is partly because production is small due to the olives being grown on steep hillside terraces and it’s considered that the higher the olive grove, the more delicate the oil will be. Only three areas are DOP certified – those around Genoa, La Spezia and Imperia. They must contain at least 90% Taggiasca olives and the other 10% must come from the same area. You see the sweet-tasting little Taggisasca olives everywhere and they were often given to me with a drink and used in cooking. Ligurian olive oil is much more delicate than its fruity Tuscan cousin. Even the ‘extra virgin’ is quite pale in comparison to the sometimes dark green of neighbouring Tuscany. It’s this delicacy that makes the pesto of the region so special; the oil doesn’t overpower the basil.

Pesto comes from the verb pestare – to crush. Some believe that it has been made in the Genoa area since the time of the Phoenicians or Greeks. It might upset purists to know that it wasn’t always made with basil and in winter months other herbs would be used. But even the Genovese have given up calling it ‘basil pesto’ now because basil has become an expected ingredient, and it is known as Pesto alla Genovese. Traditionally it’s a raw sauce containing basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt and a mix of grated Pecorino and Parmigiano cheese. The ingredients are crushed, traditionally in a mortar and pestle, but inevitably now a blender is likely to be used.

The sauce is often served with pasta and in Genoa stirred into minestrone.

Focaccia is really an Italian flatbread and in Genoa – the capital of Liguria – it looks much more like a flatbread than many of us are used to and is known as focaccia Ligure.

Focaccia Ligure is generally eaten very simply with just some olive oil on it, a little salt and maybe some chopped rosemary. It’s eaten as a snack at any time of day and many Genovese will eat it with their morning coffee rather than a sweet pastry. It was always on the breakfast buffet table at my hotel.

It should be quite thin, slightly crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Ligurians call it fugassa rather than focaccia. You will also find a stuffed kind – focaccia ripiena – when it’s filled with things like mozzarella and ham before baking and is much softer. I prefer the crispier kind.

Farinata is a kind of pancake made with chickpea flour and you will see stalls or narrow little shops selling it. Chestnuts grow in abundance in the area and so you will find chestnut flour used a lot for baking or making pasta. And of course being by the sea, Genoa offers some wonderful seafood, and a popular dish is a plate of mixed fish fried in a light batter.

 

Restaurants Serving Ligurian Food

I ate some really lovely meals in Genoa. I saw lots of restaurants offering ‘Cucina Ligure’. Most of these were osterias and trattorias – small simple restaurants, often family run. This is the kind of food I like best and for me, these simple dishes are what makes eating in Italy so special. A true Italian cook can use only a very few ingredients, but always of the highest quality, and produce an amazing meal. And of course being in Liguria I wanted to sample the true cuisine. I was bowled over particularly by pesto. Really, I don’t know how they do it but it’s so wonderful, much more special than at home, even my homemade pesto, which I think it good.

I had minestrone twice – each a bit different but both wonderful. One was served so thick it was barely a soup.

In UK we tend to think of minestrone as a tomato-based soup with some beans and pasta in it, but really minestrone is just the name given to a thick vegetable soup that will often have a base of onions, carrots and potato but is made according to what’s in season. It often has some pasta or beans added.  In Genoa they add pesto and it’s known as Minestrone alla Genovese. It can be very thick indeed, as in the photo just above; the other one (a little further up the page) was more traditionally soup-like but the addition of a large spoonful of pesto took it to glorious culinary heights.

I also had a local fish, ombrina, twice. It’s a fish found in warm seas like the Mediterranean. It’s fairly firm and very tasty.

Restaurants I tried and loved, which serve Ligurian food, were: Osteria di Vico Palla, down by the old port, Porto Antico; Antica Osteria Ravecca and Osteria Il Cadraio.

See also my post on Cafes & Gelato.

 

Genoa 2018: Cafes & Gelato

226013CE-AFAB-453A-AB40-D6A96092671F

I love spending time in cafes – from morning coffee to maybe a snack lunch, and then when in Italy to enjoy an aperitivo early evening. The name cafe is pretty interchangeable with bar and most will sell you coffee or alcohol at any time. I especially like the wonderful historic cafes you find in places like Turin, Florence and Vienna; cafes steeped in history and often where famous writers, philosophers and politicians of old have met to talk. Call me a romantic!

I was therefore pleased to find a vibrant cafe life in Genoa – and inevitably I spent a lot of time seeking out new cafes, returning to ones I liked and sampling an array of delicious coffee, pastries and aperitivo.

Of course, when in Italy, there is gelato too! Any of you who regularly read my blog know of my love of ice cream – more particularly Italian gelato. I found a good gelateria on my first day, close to my hotel, Profuma di Rosa, and the friendly young woman who ran it happily shared her two other favourite gelaterie in Genoa once I’d told her about my blog. She knew a lot about the best gelaterie in London too so really knew her stuff and her gelato was gorgeous.

So, here is a roundup of my favourite cafes and gelaterie in Genoa.

 

CAFES

Bar Uffa, via XXV Aprile

This little bar was just round the corner from my hotel and was my first stop after arriving on Thursday morning and dropping off my bag. It was really just one of many similar bars that proliferate in the centre of the city; you pass them all the time. It was about 11am and I’d been on the go since 4.30am, getting up early for my flight. Coffee was definitely in order and I didn’t want to go far so stopped at pretty much the first cafe I came to. It was a simple little bar but they served a very good coffee and a nice croissant (the Italians call them ‘brioche’ and they almost always have some kind of filling, like jam or pastry cream, and are glazed). I think I paid just less than €2 for both. I noticed a few more ‘Coffee Lab’ cafes around the town and their coffee was reliably good.

 

Bar Caffe Boasi, via XX Settembre

   

I usually eat a big meal in the evening and so prefer just a snack at lunchtime. On my first day I found this modern cafe in one of the main roads off Piazza de Ferrari, a central hub of Genoa. And as I was in Genoa, home of focaccia – the authentic focaccia Ligure! – I of course chose a sandwich of filled focaccia for my lunch: filled with prosciutto, cheese, tomato and rocket. It was delicious; the focaccia thin, as they make in in Liguria, slightly crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. And because I was on holiday I had a glass of wine too. Glasses of wine come quite small, but they don’t cost much either (from as little as €2 in some places to about €5 in others). It’s common on the Continent to be served small glasses rather than the large 250ml ones on offer in UK. I really loved Bar Caffe Boasi and went back again another day. Slightly confusingly I saw the name elsewhere but completely different sorts of cafes; it was because ‘caffe Boasi’ is also the name of a brand of coffee.

 

Douce-Patisserie-Cafe, Piazza Ducale

This cafe is actually of French origin and an advantage of that is they serve gorgeous French cakes and have a large selection of teas, which they serve in a pot. But they also do the most wonderful Italian aperitivo. Situated on a large open piazza, it was a lovely place to sit with a good view and a couple of times small markets. Most restaurants don’t open in the evening until 7.30 and I got into the habit of going to Douce first for a glass of prosecco. The first evening the friendly waitress seemed most concerned I didn’t want anything to eat with my drink and I agreed to some olives (which they didn’t charge me for). But as I saw the plates of ‘finger food’ go by, I could see that this was the main reason for people filling the cafe early evening. I think the waitress was only surprised rather than looking to get me to spend more money, for it turned out that you only had to pay an extra €2 on top of your drink for ‘finger food’.

The next night I decided I had to go back for a proper aperitivo! Aperitivo is an Italian institution. If you have a drink early evening then food comes too. Often this is very simple and sometimes you don’t even have to pay for it, but even if you do, it’s only minimal and the food can almost be a meal in itself, as you can see from the one above. It was all gorgeous. I saw similar plates in other cafes but none looked as good. I only had it the one time as it was far too much food before an evening meal, but I did go back for just the glass of prosecco and some olives – lovely little local Taggiasca olives.

Another day I went back and had tea, in true English fashion at about 4pm. They brought it with some little complimentary biscuits but on my last day I chose one of their gorgeous cakes to have too.

 

Pasticceria Marescotti di Cavo, via di Fossatello

This historic bar-cafe is thought to date back to the 1600s. It was bought by the De Michele-Marescotti family in 1906 and restored in mid 19th century style; it then closed in 1979 but was the reopened in 2008. There’s still a 19th century feel to it inside. It attracts tourists but Genoa isn’t a particularly touristy city, and so the cafe had a good number of obvious locals in it too, particularly doing the Italian thing of drinking your morning caffe at the bar, which means you pay much less than sitting down and being served.

   

I followed the locals’ example and stood and paid just €5 for my spremuta – oranges squeezed freshly in front of me – and a croissant and cappuccino.

 

Caffe Mangini, via Roma

This historic cafe dates from 1876. The great thing about these old cafes in Genoa is that, while quite grand, they are not in the least pompous and everyone is wonderfully friendly and you find yourself surrounded by locals.

My first visit was one evening when I fancied going somewhere different for a post-supper coffee and dessert. The obvious choice for dessert elsewhere when in Italy is to go to a gelateria, but I remembered passing Mangini and decided to try it out. I stood at the bar and enjoyed a wonderful little cake – Mille Sfoglie Crema e Cioccolato – and an excellent espresso.

   

Of course I had to go back for morning coffee one day. I always had some breakfast early at my hotel in the mornings, which provided a wonderful buffet, but I liked to leave room for a coffee and pastry elsewhere a little later; partly because I just like hanging out in cafes with the locals! I went back to Mangini on my last morning. I paid extra to sit down. This can cost a lot more. A cappuccino standing at the bar might cost you only €1 but to sit down it will be more like €3 or more. But I decided to spend the extra on the last morning and wanted to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere for a while. Locals were popping in and grabbing a quick – mainly espresso – coffee at the bar and a pastry, which is served in a serviette.

My breakfast was a more elaborate serving and every bit of it was excellent – wonderful fresh orange juice, a gorgeous pastry and very good coffee. If I go back to Genoa I’m definitely going back to Mangini!

 

GELATERIE – Where to eat ice cream

Profumo di Rosa Gelateria, via Cairolli

This is the wonderful little gelateria where the owner so kindly advised me where else I should try gelato in Genoa. I had the month’s special of cinnamon & candied ginger with pink grapefruit – the small cup €2.50.

It was wonderful gelato.

 

Vaniglia, via XX Settembre

This is a little way down the via XX Settembre from Piazza de Ferrari, opposite Mercato Orientale.

Here I had a panera (coffee flavoured) ice cream with raspberry and they were very good.

 

Gelateria Profumo, vico Superiore del Ferro

This gelateria is sister to Pasticceria Profumo in via del Portillo, just a little way up a road or, more accurately, alleyway. The Pasticceria opened in 1827 as a shop selling herbs and spices before branching into cakes. Today their pastries are thought to be some of the best in Genoa (as is their gelato) and I bought one of the famous Pandolce Genovese – a dense fruit cake – to bring home. The bakery is closed on Sunday afternoons and all day Monday; the gelateria is closed all day Sunday and Monday.

Inside it’s quite clinical with the assistants wearing white coats. It reminded me of Gelateria di San Crispino in Rome where they also have the ice cream in round covered metal containers and you can’t see inside. However, I’m pretty sure they’d offer you a tasting if you wanted to try a flavour out before choosing. I had a €3 cup with 2 flavours – gianduia (a Piemontese mix of chocolate and hazelnut) and zabione.

It was truly gorgeous ice cream and definitely not to be missed if you like gelato as much as I do!

**************

If you ever go to Genoa I hope you’ll take the chance to visit some of these places – and do let me know of any you find and particularly like. Genoa is quite a small city and it’s easy to walk, if staying centrally, to any of these cafes or gelaterie.

Genoa 2018: Dinner at Osteria il Cadraio

EFA13672-3931-4F9B-930B-350EAD2C98E6

I’d been trying to get into this little osteria just round the corner from my hotel for a couple of days. The people leading my Hotel Alphabet course pointed it out as a good place for local food and so I tried to book, but never seemed to find a time to pop in when they were open or get an answer from their phone. Today I went in at lunchtime and booked for the evening. And I’m very glad I did!

I’ve been mostly eating very well this trip and love just going to simple places serving traditional local food. With the occasional exception, I’m more of a cafe and trattoria person than a posh restaurant person -not just on holiday or even just when alone, but really anytime.

Here in Genoa, capital of Liguria and a busy port, the emphasis is on pesto, focaccia and fish. And the prices, compared to more fashionable destinations, are very reasonable.

The restaurant is attractive inside and in a traditional style. I’d booked for 7.30, their opening time and what seems to be a common time here. Thus it was almost empty – though soon filled up – and they showed me a table and asked if I was happy with it. I like that touch. A simple thing but giving you any easy opening to say no, you’d rather sit somewhere else, if you’re not happy. As it happens, I was, so I sat down and looked at the menu.

Another thing I liked was that house wine could be ordered in quarter, half or litre carafes. Sometimes a glass isn’t quite enough.

A ¼ litre of house red was €4, a ½ litre of water €1. They came with a basket of bread, which included the famous Ligurian focaccia; thinner than we often find it in UK, slightly crispy on the outside but soft in the middle. Delicious! The Genovese have it for breakfast too, not just lunch or dinner; they are as likely to have a piece of focaccia with a morning coffee as a sweet pastry.

There were many temptations on the menu but I opted for Minestrone alla Genovese (€8) simply because I fancied it. I’d already had one this trip but sometimes, dear followers, I have to go with what I fancy and not something new just for the sake of the blog. Though the blog provides an excellent excuse for eating well and trying lots of new places!

It came in a large deep bowl and had a huge, generous dollop of homemade pesto on top. It was truly wonderful; such a glorious flavour. Very different from the thick – but also delicious – one I had on the first night; more obviously a soup. It was truly one of the best soups I’ve had.

Well I have to confess to going off piste with my main and took myself to Tuscany by ordering a Tagliata di Manzo (€15). I’ve eaten a lot of fish and love having a steak sometimes and Tagliata is one of my very favourite dishes.

They use cheaper flank steak but it was very tender and good. It was dressed with thickly grated local Pecorino cheese and served with gorgeous little roasted new potatoes. I enjoyed it a lot but couldn’t quite finish it as it was a large portion, as the minestrone had also been. I noticed all plates of food going past me were large and generous so you definitely need to go there hungry!

Too full for dessert, I ordered just an espresso to finish.

The bill came to €31.50.

It was an excellent meal and good value. I liked the osteria a lot and would certainly go back another time. In fact, as I ate I was contemplating lunch there tomorrow before I set off to the airport and home, because there are some lovely pasta dishes on the menu which would make a perfect lunch.

Genoa 2018: A Trip to Portofino & Aperitivo

It was the second day of my 3-day tour of Genoa and its art with Hotel Alphabet. While a visit to the Cinque Terre and Portofino didn’t strictly fit into the ‘art history’ theme, it was nevertheless a great thing to do. And happily, despite an unpromising weather forecast over the last few days, we were lucky to enjoy some glorious sunny weather.

A minibus had been arranged to take 8 of us to Portofino; an hour’s drive away. This pretty little fishing village on the Ligurian coast has been a favourite destination for the rich and famous for decades. Today it’s a major tourist attraction.

The minibus dropped us off at the top of the village as cars aren’t allowed to drive down. But it was only a very short walk to the bay and sea.

It was about 10.30 by now and not very busy; an hour later it would be packed with tourists.

Marie-Anne led us to the start of a steep, cobbled path which would take us up to the 16th century fortress, Castello Brown. The fortress played a major role in various wars, including during Napoleon’s Ligurian Republic, but later, in the early 19th century, was abandoned and fell into ruin. Then in 1867 the remains were bought by Montague Yeats-Brown (hence the ‘Brown’ name) who was the British consul in Genoa at the time. It was turned into a home and remained in the family until 1949. It was eventually sold to the city of Portofino in 1961.

The climb up may have been steep but the reward was fantastic views.

At the top you could see from the castle’s terrace how wonderful it must have been to live there, looking out across the village and along the coast of the Ligurian Sea.

I really loved visiting Portofino, having wanted to see it for a long time.  However, I wouldn’t want to stay there or even spend much time there for it’s now far too touristy.

We came back to Genoa by bus to Santa Marguerita, then a train to Genova-Nervi. Here we visited The Wolfsonian Museum with its focus on decorative Art Nouveau and Art Deco art and Rationalism.

A short walk took us to the Galleria D’Arte Moderna. There were no art gems there, it has to be said, so not worth a special visit, but still interesting to go as we were close and by chance a flower festival was on in the gardens which we could see too.

A final short train ride took us back into central Genoa. By now it was nearly 6pm. After a short time back at my hotel, I headed to Piazza Giacomo Matteotti and Cafe Douce where I’d gone for a drink last night. I hadn’t wanted to eat anything then as I’d a table booked at Osteria Ravecca but I’d seen some wonderful plates of snacks for aperitivo pass me by and I wanted to try them.

When I arrived in the piazza there was a small food market. The produce looked wonderful and a cheese stall offered me a tasting.

   

   

Then I found myself a seat outside the cafe. It was clouding over and I’d even felt a few raindrops in the air so I made sure I sat under one of the big umbrellas.

I ordered a glass of prosecco for €5 and for an extra €2 it was served with ‘finger food’. (Notice also in the photo the bottle of water with spray to ‘dissuade’ the pigeons!)

It was the most wonderful plate of food. And all for €2! It was almost a meal. Really, no one does aperitivo like the Italians. It’s quite common in Italy to have some food brought with an early evening drink. You don’t always pay depending on what is served but it’s worth paying €2 for this lovely selection of ‘finger food’.

I sat and enjoyed the drink and food, eating slowly and relaxing in the warm summer’s air, a gentle buzz of happy chatter around me, and a nice view of this lovely city of Genoa.

Genoa 2018: Dinner at Antica Osteria Ravecca

49C2651F-8314-48D0-8429-2FAFBC6B5273

I had a great first day with Hotel Alphabet and our intimate little group of art history lovers. Amazingly out of a group of six of us, I immediately recognised a couple as they arrived this morning at our meeting place. They come from Twickenham too and our daughters were at school together. What a small world it is!

I have done  a lot of walking over the past two days: 11 km yesterday and 9.8 km today. I’ve found this is quite typical on a city break. It may not be as obviously ‘healthy’ and ‘hearty’ as a walking or hiking holiday – but I do serious walking on my city holidays. And love it. What better way to get to know a city.

It may, however, not be quite so healthy to think that all this walking means I can indulge in good food and wine a little more! An aperitivo had definitely been earned, I decided. First I reserved a table at Antica Osteria Ravecca, which I’d seen on my first day walkabout yesterday and found it had good reviews. I ignored the ‘Closed’ sign on the door and went in, about 6.30, to ask if they had a table. They had if I was happy to sit in the small area near the entrance. I said yes and later saw I had managed to secure the last table as they really were fully booked. Typically here restaurants open at 7.30pm and so I said I’d be back in an hour.

Nearby, in Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, I’d earlier seen Caffe Douce, which my friend Tina – who was recently in Genoa – recommended, so I headed there. By now, earlier clouds had disappeared and it was a lovely warm, sunny evening. I sat outside and ordered a prosecco. The friendly waitress seemed concerned I should eat something too and offered to bring olives (which they didn’t charge for). Again, I found kindness, friendliness and a nice big smile in Genoa.

I was happy sitting there for almost an hour, with a book, before making the short walk back to the osteria.

I was pretty much the first to arrive but the restaurant soon filled up. The helpful waiter showed me the wine list and recommended a couple of white wines to have by the glass and I chose a local one.

   

When a plate of bread came I asked the waitress what the black one was and she said it was made with black sepia (cuttlefish) ink. It was really delicious, as was their focaccia. It was quite hard to resist eating all the lovely bread but I had to save room for my meal.

I simply had to have the homemade pasta with Genovese pesto made in house.

It was truly wonderful. It smelled wonderful as it was put before me; I was enjoying it before I’d even had a taste. And the taste was glorious.

I’d hesitated over my main choice. The fish of the day turned out to be ombrina, which I had last night – and also cooked with olives and tomatoes. I wanted fish and as my indecision lingered on, and I asked about another couple of fish dishes, the waiter assured me the special was really excellent. So, I went with it. It didn’t really matter is was similar to the night before, especially as I’d decided ombrina is a very tasty fish.

It was similar but slightly different and really, really gorgeous. It was served on a soft and creamy mash of potato. I was very glad I’d had it.

It was a fabulous meal. I had just an espresso to finish. The bill with food and wine came to €35.

Genoa 2018: Dinner at Osteria di Vico Palla

5DE102DB-41F8-44E3-B535-62986E46D508

Home to Christopher Columbus, the port city of Genoa, the 6th largest city in Italy, has a long and impressive maritime history. And down in the old port – Porto Antico – you will find many restaurants serving up traditional Ligurian food.

When I booked the trip and saw my hotel was close to Porto Antico, I had romantic imaginings of a pretty old harbour lined with ochre and pastel-coloured buildings and little old fishing boats bobbing on the water. In fact, Porto Antico is a large bustling area with rather brassy over-the-top constructions dominating all views. The area was remodelled in the early 1990s by the famous architect, Renzo Piano, of – if you’re a Londoner – The Shard (which I love) fame.

Pretty it is not. However, tucked away in the far corner amongst some old narrow roads and alleyways you will find Osteria Vico di Palla. The restaurant dates back to the 17th century and inside you can see that thankfully no modern architect has had their way with it. (Perhaps at this point I should say that in general I’m a big fan of modern architecture and don’t believe in preserving just for the sake of it.)

I arrived a little early, just as they were opening, but is was so cold and blustery outside it wasn’t an evening for sightseeing. The welcome was warm (Genoa does seem a wonderfully friendly city), it was remembered I’d booked by email and I was shown to my table in a little alcove by a window looking out onto the alleyway – vico Palla.

   

Only a few tables had people sitting at them but soon the restaurant filled up and I decided it was as well I’d booked. On the table stood a bottle of local olive oil, specially bottled for the restaurant and made from the area’s popular Taggiasca olives.

   

The menu was written on a board, presumably as it changes regularly according to season and what’s available. I understood quite a bit but food dishes rarely translate directly and a waiter helped me out.

   

While I waited for my food some very good bread and a glass of house fizz came. I’d wanted a small fizz to start but it was a reasonably sized glass so I stuck with that for the whole meal. It only cost me €2.

The restaurant is known for specialising in Cucina Povera – peasant food. I chose Minestrone alla Genovese to start. In UK we tend to have one idea of minestrone as a tomato based soup with beans and pasta in it but actually minestrone is just a thick soup made from available ingredients, which does often contain beans and pasta.

This one was so thick it was barely a soup but absolutely fabulous. Green vegetable based, the beans in it were fresh green and there were also peas, a little pasta and of course – because I’m in Liguria – pesto. I loved it. The flavour was deep and wonderful.

Staying ‘local’ I chose Filetto di Ombrina alla Genovese for my main.

Ombrina – or sometimes Umbrina – is a white fish found in warm seas like the Mediterranean. It was a fine, firm and very delicious fish which I liked a lot. The sauce, with its baby tomatoes and Taggiasca olives had a good flavour and complemented it perfectly; not too overpowering.

I hesitated over dessert but it is nice to have a treat on holiday. However the apple cake was the only disappointment in an otherwise excellent meal. I thought the syrupy sauce drizzled over the top wasn’t a good sign and so it proved. So, dessert was OK but not great.

The meal overall however was great. I loved the restaurant. There was a good lively buzz, the staff were friendly and the main part of my meal was gorgeous and had been just the kind of local food I was looking for. The bill was €37.