Tuscany? Pah! Like, so last season. Any discerning globe-trotting gourmand knows that Puglia is now the go-to, on-trend foodie destination Italiano. The heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia benefits from over 800km of coastline so you can expect seafood galore and a whole host of uniquely indigenous treats like their orecchiette (‘little ear’) pasta and their famed ricci di mare (sea urchins) eaten raw straight from the sea. And let’s not overlook the vinos; primitovos, negroamaros and chardonnays all reign supreme in Puglia.
From upscale, imaginative cuisine to classic regional flavours, here’s our curation of the best Puglian restaurants.
Ostuni closer resembles a Greek town than Italian one, all whitewashed houses rising high from the hillside, and it’s not surprise given its close proximity to the neighbouring country. Located in Ostuni’s oldest part, Cielo is located up a steep, meandering pathway, hidden down an alley. Part of the 5* La Sommita hotel, it comes with a pedigree by way of a Michelin star.
The swish, elegant eatery features witty n’ whimsical, Heston-eque dishes at pleasingly affordable prices. Diners can opt for a 10,12 or 14 course tasting menu or a shorter ‘from the land’ or ‘from the water’ menu, basically a greatest hits selection. Highlights include lightly tempura-ed prawns in a garden of pretty pansies, pesto-injected gnocchi and lamb tortellini.
The wow-factor amuse-bouches (exploding olives!) and zany desserts like ‘Egg & Flour’ – a creme-Catalan filled caramel egg shell arranged in a flour pasta well made from sugary-sweet powder, will not fail to put a smile on your face.
Formerly a palace occupied by one of Italy’s most powerful families, the Tolomei, Giardino dei Tolomei’s locale is as heavenly as its food. In the heart of Racale, a small village dating back to Roman times, the grand building and its surrounding garden are picture-postcard beautiful.
Their menu stars seasonal, traditional Italian dishes but with a contemporary flourish. Think expectational local cheeses accompanied by a cheeky chocolate and date relish, the finest tortelloni pasta stuffed with delicious meats, and indulgently rich desserts. All washed down with a fragrant complimentary grappa (or two). Tip: dine on the upper terrace for supreme views.
Situated just outside of Puglia’s capital Lecce, Malcandrino is a subterranean restaurant occupying the site of a former quarry which later became a wine cellar. Cavernous and show-stopping with vaulted high-ceilings, giant wine barrels line the restaurant’s walls.
Expect local antipasto galore, like wafer-thin slivers of capocollo pork from nearby Martina Franca and stuffed rice cannolo. Primi dishes include aubergine-packed ravioli swimming in the most beautiful light tomato consume or casserole pasta with basil, samphire and guincata cheese. On a secondi tip, try the beef fillet with peach an chicory or tuna with herbs, sesame and roast leek. For desserts? Their deconstructed, modern remix of a tiramisu is something to behold: a work of art and taste.
Malcandrino’s (mostly all Puglian) wine list is fabulously exhaustive with plenty of primitovos and negroamanos to compliment your dinner.
Enterning Cantina Don Carlo hits you like a sledgehammer: situated in the tiny, almost ghost-town of San Pietro in Lama, the gigantic, super-busy restaurant is at paradox to its virtually deserted surroundings. It’s safe to say the place is a locals’ in-the-know secret, it’s certainly off the tourist radar.
Like the restaurant, the menu is vast – everything from fresh seafood (lobster, crab, sea urchins) direct from their tanks, every pasta dish you can think of and delicious pizzas served up by the 1/2 meter. In fact the latter is something of a house signature dish. Large-scale banqueting is the order of the day so expect to dine shoulder-to-shoulder with many-a jovial famiglia gathering.