By Fiona Sims
Theo Randall's Top 10 Places to Eat in Puglia
Trattoria Centro Storico, Locorotondo
I have only been for lunch once, but was mightily impressed by the local cuisine. The bresaola starter was a surprise. Instead of the usual air-dried meat, it was more like an un-minced version of steak tartare, with olive oil, garlic, rocket, lemon juice and shaved Parmesan – a superb dish and refreshing in the warm weather. All the other food was equally good. Very unpretentious, good service and full of locals.
Details Meals range from €22-€40 (Via Eroli di Dogali 6; 39 080 431 5473, ilcentrostorico.biz)
Al Ritrovo degli Amici, Martina Franca
This place on the chic main shopping street in Martina Franca has two eating areas, one rather old fashioned and eighties in style, the other brighter and more airy. Both are extremely pleasant and most importantly the food is of a high standard. Very well thought through local antipasti along with the usual primi risottos and pastas, with secondi such as Tuscan fillet of beef and Pugliese lamb.
Details Meals from €35-€40 (Corso Messapia 8; 39 080 483 9249)
Taverna di Santos, Torre Canne
Amongst all the myriad lidos and seaside bars and restaurants, this is just that bit different and definitely warrants a visit. The old fisherman's house has been set up like a beach side taverna and the food is excellent. I love the fritto misto and their pasta is simple but delicious. Try the potatoes fried in olive oil with fresh oregano and sea salt- very addictive. Wine is served in carafes from a wooden barrel – a great place for lunch.
Details Meals from €20-€30 (Strada Litoranea da Torre Canne per Savelletri; 39 080 393 336 1500, latavernadisantos.it)
Ravioli of cime di rape, ricotta and sage butter at Theo Randall at Intercontinental
Osteria Bell’Italia, Cisternino
Just 50 metres from the central Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle in the charming centro storico, Bell’Italia serves wonderful traditional food in unassuming surroundings at incredibly reasonable prices. The antipasti alone will probably suffice for most, being varied and dependent on what is fresh on the day. The fava bean puree is glorious and they have a very unusual spicy ricotta. Try the porcini risotto as a primi piatti - it is quite simply perfect. The wine list has some real Pugliese treasures.
Details Meals from €35 (Via Duca d’Aosta 29; 39 080 444 9036, osteriabellitalia.it)
Osteria Sant 'Anna, Cisternino
Situated on the edge of town opposite the little station, this is a complete move geographically for this reincarnation of a Cisternino favourite. The restored masseria provides an elegant dining room and the food is as good as it gets. You should try the stinco (shin of pork) - vast and meltingly delicious.
Details Meals from €35-€40, Viale Stazione 12; (39 080 444 7036, osteriasantanna.it)
Il Cucco, Cisternino
A very pleasant new cantineria just on the edge of the centro storico opposite Porta Piccola, which serves very good food. Try the sepia if they have it - the most succulent little cuttlefish skewers with a light breadcrumb and Parmesan crust. The wine list is one of the best in the whole area and their even newer enoteca right next door has about the most comprehensive list of Pugliese wines you’ll find. If they are not too busy, either Giuseppe, or his younger brother Giorgio will happily talk you through any of the wines on offer with real enthusiasm and knowledge.
Details Meals from €35 (Corso Umberto 1; 39 080 444 9064, enotecailcucco.com)
Il Capriccio, Cisternino
Absolutely local and original, this is a great recent find. A large indoors and outdoors seating area, it’s full of locals – and then you. The food is varied and dependent on the seasons. But beware, you won’t get a menu - they will fire the dishes at you in Italian. Everything is really good and fresh and the pastas are superb.
Details Meals from €35 (Via Monte Cutetto, 25; 39 080 444 2553 ristorante-ilcapriccio.com)
Taverna della Gelosia, Ostuni
Located on the seaward side of the old town, there are deep steps down to the terraces with lovely views and outside seating under an old sweet pepper tree, which wafts its pungent scent everywhere. It offers an interesting if simple menu with some interesting medieval Pugliese dishes, such as pasta with ruccola, fennel and spinach. At lunchtime, try to get there early enough to bag one of the more shaded tables.
Details Meals from €30 (Vicolo Tomaso Andriola 26 39 0831 334736, tavernadellagelosia.it)
Ristorante Acquasale, Ostuni
This is my favourite of all restaurants in the region. The tables are outside in the summer months in a beautiful courtyard with lemon trees and jasmine growing up the high walls. The antipasti is very generous so order two portions for four people and make sure you try the fish tartare – it’s delicious, and usually made with fresh tuna or snapper. Pasta here is particularly good with plenty of choice but my favourite is the pacceri frutti di mare served on huge plates. All the secondi are good but go for the whole fish roasted on potatoes with tomatoes, caper berries, olives, white wine and parsley. Great service and good wine selection.
Details Meals from €40 (Via Peppino Orlando 2; 39 0831 330302)
Masseria Cantone, Ostuni
This is a beautiful, relaxing restaurant with good food in an old manor house that dates back to the 18th century, surrounded by large oak trees and centuries-old olive groves. It also offers cooking lessons, where you can learn to master traditional dishes such as mashed broad beans with fried green peppers.
Details Meals from €35 (Contrada Fantese; 39 0804 446902)
And if you aren’t heading there, no worries – you can get a taste of Puglia at Theo’s regional showcase on 1-4 August at his London restaurant Theo Randall at InterContinental, which will feature a four-course menu focusing on its best dishes, at £50 per person. To book call 020 7318 8747, or go to theorandall.com. Little tip: choose a bottle of Don Chisciotte from Pierluigi Zampaglione – a stunning 100% Fiano made in the natural way from one of the first producers in southern Italy to farm organically.
It’s difficult. We sympathise. Despite being an entirely different shape and size we have an uncanny ability to turn up in the same outfit (usually black) and order the same dishes. We both wear glasses, swathe ourselves in scarves and fancy Daniel Craig.
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© 2015-18 Fiona Beckett & Fiona Sims (the2fionas.com), photography © Gary Latham, website by Scend