I’ve been scouring the local dining scene for a good rendition of pasta ricci di mare – sea urchin pasta – but I’m not sure anything can top the deliciousness of L’altroBaffo’s version, wiped very clean one balmy afternoon in Otranto, a whitewashed seaside town at the heel of Italy. 5 days in Puglia this past May really wasn’t enough, but thanks to a perfectly food obsessed traveling partner (hello Andrea!), I think we got a good feel of the region’s gastronomic offerings. Down south, “Italian food” takes on an entirely different interpretation, with an emphasis on vegetable variety and fresh seafood. Here, I share some of our highlights.
1. Osteria Calvi, Altamura
When an Altamura native promises you “the best meal of your life”, you take it seriously. Tender, succulent baby lamb basted with a herb and tomato based broth, crunchy sweet langoustines, and an indulgent serving of the house signature ‘Peperomisu’ – traditional tiramisu with a touch of earthy, tart peppercorn – make for an incredible, unforgettable meal. Osteria Calvi is where homely food is given a refined twist; everything was excellent, topped off with a glass or two of Puglian red.
Via 4 Novembre, 30c, 70022 Altamura, Italy
Tel: +39 080 314 2942
2. Ristorante Soul Kitchen, Matera
Tucked away in the heart of the Sassi district, Ristorante Soul Kitchen was a dream of a find. I’ve never had grains cooked so deliciously, each al dente bite coated with a light, intense pea puree-broth that harmonised beautifully with lashings of the local olive oil. Fried food never tasted so good in the form of creamy ricotta fritters, set off by a tart balsamic reduction. This was part of the chef’s antipasti selection, which also included beef carpaccio topped with black truffle shavings, addictive crispy baby onions fried into little blooms, and a great selection of charcuterie and cheese.
Via Casalnuovo, 27, 75100 Matera MT, Italy
Tel: +39 329 933 1094
3. Storico Caseficio Dicecca, Altamura
If you love cheese, this place is an absolute must. The third-generation of the Dicecca family now helm this cheese atelier along the busy streets of Altamura, churning out innovative, artisanal and healthy dairy products. Just as well, since they’ve already perfected their traditional recipes – the morning’s batch of stracciatella, streaked over a slice of freshly baked focaccia from the corner bakery, was an absolute revelation. We carted off two tubs of their house yogurt in blueberry and peach flavours, preservative and white sugar free, and packed with natural goodness. Any doubts about not being able to finish them all but disappeared one short train ride later.
26 Via Bari, Altamura
Tel: +39 080 314 0822
4. L’altroBaffo, Otranto
The Salento region is well known for its sea urchin, and of course we couldn’t pass up a plate of carbonara ai ricci di mare. L’altroBaffo, sitting stylishly on the slopes of the popular seaside town of Otranto, makes a pretty lip-smacking version. We also had a raw seafood antipasti, paired with mango and raspberry coulis, as well as a refined, flavourful version of the traditional claypot stewed octopus. Interestingly, while Japanese sashimi often focuses on fat for maximum flavour, Italians seemed to prefer their raw fish to have more of a crunch. Delicious either way!
Via Cenobio Basiliano 23, 73028 Otranto LE, Italy
Tel: +39 0836 80 16 36
5. L’Aratro, Alberobello
We were afraid that this place would be a tourist trap, since their menu came in 5 languages. But the antipasti selection sounded too good to pass up, which explains how we ended up with 16 plates coming in wave after wave to the applause of the patrons at the next table. I loved the battered zucchini flowers in particular, though some of the hot antipasti were served at room temperature. Our main dish of lamb chops however, well seasoned and lightly grilled, was delicious.
Via Monte S. Michele, 25/29, 70011 Alberobello BA, Italy
Tel: +39 080 432 2789
6. La Cantina, Alberobello
A hugely popular restaurant in Alberobello, with both locals and tourists alike, led to our last ditch attempt at making a reservation and scoring a table only at 10pm. Not that it was hard to find stomach space for a homely, rustic dish of saffron and pork cheek pasta, as well as a tasty spread of homemade sausages and house cured ham. Service was a tad indifferent, but the food was packed with flavour and the place lively enough for us to overlook this. Reservations are essential.
Vico Lippolis 8 (ang. Corso Vittorio Emanuele), Alberobello, Italy
Tel: +39 080 4323473
7. L’Osteria di Chichibio Ristorante, Polignano A Mare
It’s not easy to sort out your cravings when only one place can serve your final meal in Puglia. But we gravitated towards seafood, driven by a desire to have one last plate of sea urchin pasta. Unfortunately, this dish must be reserved for dinner as they only offer it during lunch! The snooty waiter offered raw scorpion fish as an alternative, which we gamely tried though it’s honestly not a true substitute at all. The fish tasted exceptionally clean, fresh and crunchy, pairing well with a squeeze of lemon and a dab of sea salt. We loved the zucchini pasta that we ordered instead – each strand of linguine coated in an umami-packed parmesan and seafood broth reduction.
Especially memorable was a couple at the next table, whose son fell asleep some way into the second course, yet they powered on for another 4 courses or so, ending with a beautifully extravagant lobster. Italian parenting done right!
Largo Gelso, 12, 70044 Polignano A Mare BA, Italy
Tel: +39 080 424 0488