Many people know Italy’s Portofino as the playground for the rich and famous and fabulously wealthy who moor their huge ships and yachts in its deep waters close to the waterfront. Many seafood restaurants vie for the tourist euro here and cater to the hordes who wish to see and be seen.
But right around a couple of bends in the coast road, is the town of Santa Margherita Ligure whose heyday I am told was in the 1900’s but now it is a laid back town lobster fishing town enjoyed by its residents and Italian tourists who do not need the inflated prices of Portofino. We enjoyed wandering its back streets which brought us many rewards, we admired the beautiful painted facades on the buildings and our sticky beaking habits rendered a reward in excellent food shops and a restaurant.
It is not on the busy coastal road or facing the waterfront, it is behind the main road. We did not have the benefit of a food guide, we simply liked the look of it from outside, and made a booking for that evening and read on if you love good food surprises like we do.
On arrival we were baffled that we were not offered a menu and wondered what was taking them so long. The waiter brought a starter, of squeaky fresh peas in the shell, sliced local salami, pecorino cheese and a perfect green fig. We began and decided to relax saying to each other, ‘we’re on holidays’ the menu will arrive.
Another course turned up and we caught on, there was no menu! We did not know what we were going to get and of course we were no wiser about the likely cost.
So we sat back and took the leap of faith that many taste travelers have to undertake.
Our next course was a salad of finely sliced octopus (only just brought to the boil then sliced) sprigs of the tiny leaf Ligurian basil, olives and capers. Each time a course came out, the waiter took it to a central table and gave it an extra lashing of Extra Virgin ‘Ligurian’ olive oil.
Next up was a mixed plate of lightly fried sardines, crisply fried prawns, fried fish balls and fried zucchini flowers.
Another course of seafood appeared, this time the components were simply blanched but served hot – squid, prawns, mussels, and then as if that was not enough to satisfy us, another plate was set down of two fresh anchovies that had been filled, flattened and interleaved with ricotta cheese before being baked in the oven and sprinkled with fresh marjoram. We were up to dish number five at this stage.
There always has to be pasta, so the pasta course was served with fresh asparagus and more Ligurian olive oil. This course was the first time we were offered a choice and we went with the fresh asparagus.
For our Secondi, a generous plate of scampi, they are large prawns to you and I, and still more to this course, fillets of white fish with a creamy piquant sauce. I liked the touch of providing slices of dry baked bread to mop up the sauce.
We went on to change tack after this course – the waiter handed us a plate of whole walnuts and a nutcracker and parmesan cheese levered out from the wheel in chunks.
Of course it could have ended there but we were served again, this time copious amounts of fresh fruit that consisted of watermelon, rockmelon, pineapple and lots of strawberries.
We were discussing how we would cancel our luncheon the next day and how there was no room for anything else for at least 24 hours, until I sighted coming our way, four different tarts, walnut, cheese and marmalade. We could not be considered worthy of their respect unless we ate some and there was definitely no way we could refuse the Ligurian grappa. The whole bottle was left on the table to drink as much as we considered necessary.
I just checked and it still appears to be operating but it is a family concern and has its own following so hasn’t found the need to create a website. At the time we ate there the price came to about $50AUD for two and that included a couple of decent bottles of Vernazza and Vermentino wines from the Cinque Terre. Expect to pay double now but it will be worth it if the same family are at the helm.
I have never written about this before but a couple of years back I passed this information on to Queensland writer Ann Rickard and she was impressed enough to write about it in one of her books on Italy.
via Mameli 2/C
Tel +39 0185 286 059