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.