Getting the best of eating out in Italy: Ten Tips
With the weather, whilst remaining clear blue skies, turns a little chillier, Lucca Curated’s thoughts move to more indoor pursuits and the compulsion to find cosy, hearty scenes of sitting by fires with glasses of red wine. Naturally the mind then wanders to food….
No doubt one of Italy’s most famous exports is it’s food. Its philosophy of using the simplest and freshest local ingredients and food as something ‘sociable’ is really chiming with the current trends of a post-materialistic world where people want experiences over possessions, local over global and austerity is still front of mind… Lucca Curated loves the fact that each region of the country is so focused on its own specialities within Italian cuisine- making the best use of what’s grown and lives locally on the land. When living in Italy, there is no doubt the simple, freshest hand-made pasta with a local cheese, local olive oil (has to be the year it was picked and bottled) and fresh herbs from the garden lovingly made by a chef that’s made the same dish for 30 years- perfecting it till it the subtleties of the contents all mix to perfection is as good as it gets as a signature Italian experience….
The difficulty though in Italy is finding such locations. Because the experience of restaurants in Italy can be very hit and miss. If Lucca Curated had a euro for every trattoria went into with the usual bottles on shelves all over the walls, dark wood everywhere, sticky table cloths and olive oil holders, stale bread, over-priced wine and really really average dishes…. For every chef described above (the one that has perfected their craft, kept it simple but tried and innovated to keep things fresh and up to date) there are probably four that have settled into ‘default average Italian experience’. Because Italy has always had tourists, restaurant owners have been allowed to become complacent… find a location right by a tourist attraction and you will have tourists in that will only come once. You don’t need to up your game, you don’t need their repeat business… why worry about the quality of your bread or be competitive on pricing. Why go off-piste from staple stereotypical dishes.. why perfect the craft….
So we at Lucca Curated have noticed some trends when it comes to weeding out the best restaurants… we've painstakingly researched, tried and tested these lessons, often curating these 10 pieces of advice as we sit in a restaurant getting served stale bread, overpriced wine and eating distinctly average food:
1) Try to avoid restaurants right by tourist attractions – if they look good value they will be very average. If they are really really really expensive, you've found the top restaurants in the city (they often overlook the postcard views which is why they are the top restaurant) and am amazed you've been able to get a table there and then…
2) Do your research before going to the city by reading the quality lifestyle guides, articles about the city etc. Not Trip Advisor. Its better to have a plan, jump in a taxi, get to what you know will be good rather than hoping to ‘stumble upon’ something exceptional
3) If you get there and don’t feel the love, the atmosphere doesn't feel right, the waiter is rude and harassed. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses and leave
4) Restaurants that serve the latest and freshest Tuscan olive oil tend to be good. If you look and the olive oil is dated 3 years ago… it’s not a good sign
5) Check out the restaurant website. If they use great images, it looks modern in its marketing: the owners have invested time in it, they will have probably invested time in getting the food and service right too
6) Try going to a neighbourhood nearby rather than the city centre. The neighbourhood restaurants generally get their trade from locals and to survive they have to work harder- the locals know better
7) If it's full of locals it’s a good sign. If it’s full of tourists, it’s usually a ‘tourist trappo’ and you are going to get an average experience
8) A good restaurant doesn't usually need a pushy owner or someone outside trying to get you in. It's desperate and there’s probably a reason they are having to shout at you to get you in the door
9) Taxi drivers and concierges definitely don’t know best. They often go into ‘default mode’ also and won’t necessarily been on a culinary quest recently to find the cities’ best so why would they know?
10) Decide what you want- if it's pizza then read up on the city’s best pizza, same with pasta, fish etc. This can be the same for panini, focaccia, gelato etc etc. It’s easier to hunt down ‘best’ of one thing rather than try to magically discover something a few roads off a landmark…