The night we arrived in Conversano, our hotel had booked us into the gorgeous little rooftop restaurant for an introduction into Italian (and Apulian) cuisine. Having spent most of the afternoon travelling and learning to drive on the wrong (right) side of the road, we were in need of some Italian hospitality and boy, were we not disappointed. Over a romantic, candlelit table for two (mum and I), plate upon plate of ridiculously amazing food was set in front of us and we ended up so full I could barely shuffle back to the room afterwards.
They kicked off the fare with two platters of typical Puglian appetisers. On one, a gorgeous swordfish ceviche with tangy fresh lime juice and tart red peppercorns; a pearl barley and cucumber salad; and a fresh seafood salad of prawns and octopus served in a clamshell and squeezed with lemon. The second, deep fried courgette flowers; a cheese souffle; and aubergine stuffed with minced pork and vinegary slices of red onion, all drizzled with local balsamic vinegar. Following this, in typical Italian form, was a primi of pasta - handmade orrecchiette pasta in a fresh tomato sauce made with the tastiest olive oil - small bites stuffed with softly roasted warming cherry tomatoes. Then for the secondi, we had grilled sea bream instead of the veal and after that, vanilla pannacotta with tangy blackberries and fruit coulis.
We coupled this with a dry Apulian red and lashings of self-congratulation. And a reduced appetite for the rest of the holiday.
Taverna dei Duellanti
We discovered this little place whilst making like the locals and 'promenading' late at night. It was belting out some great funk music and people were pulling up as many chairs to tables as they could, with kids scattering around as their parents sat back and ordered more wine, more food, more everything. There was a very limited pizza menu and I went for the pizza with crudo, stracciatella and lemon but I could have chosen everything on it, the toppings and flavour combinations were to die for. The light and creamy coolness of the cheese mixed with the salty meat and the citrus tang teamed up to make the best pizza I've ever tasted. Finished off with a shot of limoncello, this was one achingly understated but perfect little late night meal.
Osteria del Porto
One thing that we'd been craving whilst in Italy was fish. The Adriatic Sea was constantly within our eyeline yet we were surprised that, despite being only a few kilometres from the coast, restaurants serving fish in Conversano were a little thin on the ground. When we moved hotels on my birthday and were even closer to the coast, we knew we had to do something about it and after a quick bit of Trip Advisor searching, I chose the Osteria del Porto in Savelletri for my birthday meal. We managed to book a table and a taxi to take us down and were greeted by a little nautical-themed, harbourside restaurant teeming with local customers and really friendly staff. We ordered a bottle of Verdeca (a sparkling Apulian white that we'd learnt about during a casual bit of wine tasting) and decided to forgo the four course tradition with some cleverly chosen dishes instead.
Mum went for the classic Caprese - fresh twists of mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil with grilled bread to mop it all up with - whilst I started with the plate of bresaola and grana padano cheese. We then had to have the gamberetti al brace (grilled king prawns) that came in a steaming buttery bowl of garlic, chilli and fresh herbs. Searingly hot to tear into it, they were the sweetest prawns I've tasted in a very long time and we eagerly mopped up every last morsel, sad to see the end of them. So sad, that I ordered another portion just because you don't turn 25 in Italy with prawns every day, right? After that, we each ordered tartufos (pistachio for mum, chocolate/amaretto for me) and a shot of Disaronno each, as the waiters buzzed around us with whole fish baked in salt and live lobsters. Much to my embarrassment, Mum told them it was my birthday so they very sweetly brought out an amaretti ice cream with 'happy birthday' looped around the edge. Thankfully there was no singing but we were very sad to leave what was one of the best meals of the holiday behind.