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Bologna Europe Food From Travels Italy


It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot go wrong with a food recommendation from a local, and after some of the top restaurants on my Bologna hit list turned out to be closed without warning for summer holidays (sob), I was lucky to have some extra tips to explore from my lovely Air BnB host, Marco.

Ideally, one of these recommendations happened to be right opposite my apartment in Mercato delle Erbe, the grocery market favoured with locals that dates back to 1910. The market has an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fresh handmade pasta, and also has several food stalls and cafes where locals flock to for lunch and dinner, tucked away to the side of the market stalls in the wings of the old building. If you saw Rick Stein’s Long Weekend in Bologna, Mercato delle Erbe may ring a bell: the market featured on  the tv show and was home to the location where Rick tried stuffed squid at Banco 32 – another restaurant also recommended by Marco, though I opted for his other tip in the market: Altro?

Altro? was the spot for my first meal in Italy on this trip, and what better way to start a weekend of eating your way around an Italian city than with a steaming bowl of tagliatelle al ragu (€10) and a couple of glasses of Sangiovese? Seeing as I came to Bologna specifically to eat, there was a lot riding on this first meal to live up to the high expectations I’d built up around the food of Bologna, and I wasn’t disappointed. Altro? served up one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had: the pasta fresh and perfectly cooked al dente (and you should hope so in the land of pasta), the ragu rich and plentiful. Parmesan served in a shaker on the table allows you to keep piling on the good stuff as you make your way through your meal as you go, something I appreciate over posher establishments where the waiter is in charge of your cheese distribution.

I was actually so impressed with Altro’s version of the most traditional of Bolognese dishes that I returned a few days later for another go at it. This time around I started with the burrata (€10), which hands down overtook what I thought was the best burrata I’ve had. Sitting in the cream sauce of two varieties of tomato, Altro’s was ‘eyes rolling to the back of your head’ good, particularly mopped up with the bowl of fresh sourdough brought over to me at the start of the meal. If you’re even the slightest fan of burrata, this dish is unmissable. Pleasingly, the tagliatelle al ragu that followed kept up the high calibre of a few days previous.

Whilst dishes here can be slightly higher in price than those in many of Bologna’s trattorias, the quality is clearly worth it. The food excelled, and I would happily return to try many of the other dishes on the menu. In hindsight I was particularly disappointed in myself to have not found room to try the desserts they had on offer. I would love to return in the evening in order to take longer over my meal and enjoy the atmosphere around Via Belvedere afterwards. In the evening, the restaurants of Mercato delle Erbe and the surrounding bars spill out onto the pedestrian street, animated with scores of young professionals drinking aperitivo into the night. The night time atmosphere is wonderful on this stretch, even in the quiet of August, and Altro is the perfect place to eat before settling into a night of Aperol in the balmy air. Returning to a restaurant in the relatively short space of a long weekend is something I never usually do, keen as I am to try many different places to eat as possible. In a city of unfailingly good food such as Bologna, it is the highest of accolades.

Mercato delle Erbe, Via Ugo Bassi, 23 – 25, 40121 Bologna, Italy
+39 351 014 4191
Open every day 8am – 12am except Sundays

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Pasta. The freshest of pasta made in house every day with homemade sauces and the very best of simple ingredients. That’s all you need to know, really. I’d heard about Padella via Sabrina Ghayour’s Instagram, and figured if Sabrina was a regular who raved about it, it was certainly worth trying. I trust Sabrina. Then one of my colleagues pounced on me one morning and went on and on and on about how it’s the best pasta he’s had in London, and he continued to hound me until I went. They were both right – this is without question some of the best Italian food I’ve had in the city.

I am a long time fan of a ‘small plates’ menu, mainly because I want to try everything in any given restaurant, which I think is totally acceptable. I don’t want to be tied down to one choice, suffering from food envy should my companion have chosen wiser than me. Luckily for me, restaurants going down the small plates route are hugely popular and opening at a rapid rate in London, and Padella is one of them, taking inspiration from traditional Italian small plates. Coming from the team behind Trullo (er hello, one look at that sample menu and I’m now desperate to visit), Padella is based on years of travelling through Italy making and eating a shit tonne of pappardelle. Sounds like the perfect excuse to open a pasta bar if you ask me.

After a 30 minute wait in line for a table (for Padella is one of those no reservations places we don’t mind so much in the summer months but cry about in the winter), we were fortunate to get a table outside on one of the last warm, sunny evenings in September. Vowing to eat as much as we could, we went in hard with an order of four dishes to share as a start to our meal. We went classic with cold meat and cheese with bread and salad – the simplest of European combinations that is always some kind of perfect. The salami was excellent and the burrata spot on (£5), but when is burrata not spot on? Next time I would opt for the spinach with chilli, garlic and anchovy (£5.50) over the radicchio, watercress and rocket salad (£5.50), though it’s not like we didn’t polish it off – the spinach just sounds more interesting. I have apparently memorised the beauty of Padella’s sourdough (£2), crunchy on the crust but so soft and warm on the inside, the perfect accompaniment to soaking up the Puglian olive oil it’s served with. A very solid start.

Despite a great start to our meal, the mains really did steal the show. The ricotta ravioli in sage butter (£7) came out on top, helped by the fact it’s one of my favourite dishes of all time, but therefore at high risk of being judged too harshly. It was second only to some ravioli I’ve had at a wedding in Tuscany, which I swear to God I can still taste if I close my eyes. The ravioli is a must order, as is the pappardelle with 8 hour Dexter beef shin ragu (£8.50), on par with that I’ve eaten in a Florentine trattoria. Tagliatelle with nduja, mascarpone and parsley (£5.50) was creamy but much spicier than expected – not necessarily a bad thing, and I am certainly one for spice, though I may substitute for fettuccine carbonara next time (£7.50). Or maybe just go with more people and get both? That’s probably a better idea. Also worth a mention – aforementioned colleague of mine still talks about their Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon on a weekly basis, so there are two things we can take away from this: a) you cannot go far wrong choosing between any of the eight mains Padella offer, and b) we thank the pasta Gods once more that Padella is somewhere you are actively encouraged to order multiple dishes to share (around three or four dishes between two).

Desserts came in the form of a chocolate tart, an almond and blueberry tart or salted caramel ice cream. We tried the chocolate and ice cream, and whilst both were pleasant they did pale next to the high standard of the starters and mains, which is perhaps to be expected when the pasta is known to be the star of the show. And for all of this, wager how much the bill came to? Four dishes to start, three pastas, two desserts, and a very decent amount of wine, prosecco and Aperol came to £45pp including service. For this amount of food, I consider this a great deal in a city such as London, and for food of this quality, it’s heaven.

Despite being advised that the tables had a turn around of 1.5 hours per sitting, we didn’t feel rushed whilst we had our meal which is absolutely key. Service was friendly and accommodating, offering drinks to those waiting in the near constant queue that didn’t die down until gone 9pm. Sure, a queue can be off putting and I for one have little patience to wait outside in the cold, but the reward is a great one: a warm, friendly atmosphere with good wine and what surely must be some of London’s best pasta.

6 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TQ
Mon – Sat: 12-4pm; 5-10pm; Sun: 12-5pm

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California Food From Travels Los Angeles

Scopa Italian Roots

This spring, after a twelve hour flight drinking a fair amount of British Airways issued cava and a complete shift in time difference, I arrive in Los Angeles, home of the rich and famous. Los Angeles, the land of the beautiful and slender. Do they even eat here?

I arrive at my friend’s place overlooking Venice Beach, watch the sunset with some champagne to toast my arrival, and she suggests a plethora of options as to where to grab some dinner that evening. Apparently at least some of them do.

“Ooh actually we could go to Scopa, it’s just around…”
“SCOPA! I’ve heard about that place! Yes yes let’s go there!”

You may not be surprised to find out that whenever I head somewhere new, I arrive with a bunch of notes about where to eat in whatever new city or land I may be in. In fact I had actually printed off the entire menu for Scopa and it lived in my LA specific food folder in my carry on – no, really. And whilst you can do all the research you like, recommendations from locals are always the best, so after my friend suggested the place herself I was expecting a great deal from Scopa Italian Roots in Venice.

We arrived around 8pm on a Friday night and as was to be expected, the place was buzzing. Exposed brick, dark wood and huge mirrors with an industrial twist, Scopa instantly feels cool. Very L.A. We put our names on the list (which feels somewhat more glamorous when in the U.S. opposed to down the local Nando’s for a quick pre-cinema Peri Peri) and headed to the beautiful bar, all backlit and showing off rows and rows of premium spirits in all their glory. Fittingly, their drinks menu has the byline ‘the field guide to navigating the giant wall of booze’.

After a well crafted cocktail each (at $20 a pop, mind – Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore) and a short wait we were seated at the bar and finally got our hands on a copy of the menu that sat in my suitcase back in the apartment. Naturally we started with antipasti, the ricotta crostini ($13) arriving first and oh my GOD. I thought it would be good, but the creaminess of the ricotta with delicate mix of herbs, the olive oil pooled on top teamed with the crunchiness of the lightly garlicky crostini was far, far better than I imagined it could be. This is the beauty of Italian food: it’s not complicated, it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t need to be. In fact if it is, you’re probably doing it wrong. The simplicity of high quality ingredients complimenting each other in a fine balance is what makes Italian food so good, and so loved, and already with this first dish I knew Scopa had nailed it.

Next up was the prosciutto burrata ($17) served with sesame seeded bread that added a fantastic earthiness to the soft melting cheese. Onto the hot antipasti and we were served a giant arancini ball ($17) filled with meat sauce, peas, ricotta (oh, always more ricotta) and mozzarella in a tomato sauce. Without question enough to share between two, if not three – this is the sort of place you want to take at least three other people so you can order more and try a bit of everything. There was so much on the antipasti menu I would have ordered: crispy squash blossoms with mozzarella, tomato, chilli and – you guessed it – ricotta ($14); crispy cod with potato, chives, olive oil and lemon ($10); scallops with oregano, brown butter and lemon ($19), and that’s all before you get to the cold cuts with cheese ($18-32).

Mains we went solo, my friend choosing the creste rigate pasta with mushrooms and asparagus ($19), whilst I went classic with the richest lasagne ($18) that tasted just as good cold the next day (I ate a lot on the plane). Wine was a beautiful red at $44 a bottle, though this is somewhere you could splash out a lot more should you want to – they have a fine wine section that heads well into the hundreds. I’m disappointed we didn’t have room, or moreover the energy for dessert, as by 9.20pm I was falling asleep at the bar, the rich Italian food aiding my shift in time zone heavily, though for the equivalent of 4.20am my time, I think I did pretty well.

There are so many incredible restaurants in this vast city, but I wouldn’t be able to pass up experiencing this place again – although without jet lag next time so I can launch myself in fully. So without question Scopa Italian Roots would be on my hitlist whenever I return to LA. Do they even eat here? Whoever does eat here, eats God damn well.

2905 W Washington Blvd, Venice, CA 90292
+1 310-821-1100

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Forza Win

A well executed, comforting, flavoursome meal with a glass of wine or beer in London for a tenner? Stop it. Named Awesome Sauce, that’s exactly what you get at Forza Win. Wednesdays are crowded in this converted cash and carry space in a car park in Peckham, and understandably. The menu is simple: a different pasta dish every week, vegetarian or meat, with a glass of wine or a cold Birra Moretti. If you feel like you want to throw some extra pounds at your evening, there’s always a side on offer and the non negotiable addition of truly excellent garlic sourdough bread – the kind where you’re wiping butter dribbling from your lips with every bite.

For such a bargain, the quality is high, but then that comes when you concentrate on a couple of dishes – you can do them well. I’ve been twice now, inevitably starting out the evening at one of my favourite bars in London, Bar Story, for their excellent happy hour. The cocktails at Bar Story are VERY good, and with a 2 for 1 happy hour every day between 6 and 7pm, a dangerous start to any evening. Good job Forza Win is a 5 minute meander away to mop up the damage with some well earned carbs. Although if you need gluten free, or if you’re just on a health kick , you can swap out your pasta for courgetti for a mere quid.

My first visit served up a delicious beef shin ragu, and my last was pork and lemon ragu, which I would never have thought to put together, but was well balanced and moreish as usual. They also serve up a sweet, often tiramisu (around £4), and it’s easy to see why people lazily hang around for a while over a couple of more drinks; the prices are good, the atmosphere buzzing and importantly, the staff are so very friendly and always seem to be having a good time.

The rest of the time, Forza Win runs a kind of supper club on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the first sitting at 7pm followed by a second at 9.30pm. The menu is seasonal, with the Spring edition featuring a minestrone to start, a primo course of pasta – linguine alla vongola this month, followed by lemon sole with blackened leeks, pecorino and olive oil for main and culminating in a blood orange and chocolate semifredo to finish. All this for £25, plus a well stocked bar available on the night featuring good Italian wines, beer and strong cocktails to boot. Sounds like one to add to The List if you ask me.

4.1, 133 Copeland Rd, London SE15 3SN
+4420 7732 9012

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