So the first half of our honeymoon in southern Puglia was a bit of a damp squib. However, as we started to make our way back north something changed. The landscape went from sink-pot industrial to semi-industrial to antique olive groves. No longer was it regimented tanning beaches but 13th century towns like Trani (above). The food also went from tourist, to edible to revelatory.
Ostuni and Cielo restaurant
So where was the turning point? Where is the place you should avoid driving past on your tour of Italy? Well through bitter experience I can tell you it is Ostuni. Now Ostuni is a beautiful half historic/ half pushing into 1970s modernity hill town. It is reminiscent of Tuscan hill towns but with a bit more of an Andalusian white-washed vibe about it.
And joy of joys it has both a beautiful place to stay and a cutting edge place to eat. If you are near Ostuni I can only recommend you stay at La Sommità hotel. And the hotel restaurant just happens to be a 1* star Michelin called Cielo run by chef Sebastiano Lombardi who cooks slightly updated Pugliaese food.
Up until our meal at Cielo I was underwhelmed by Pugliese food as although it was centered around the sea which I love it seemed heavy or rather sloppy. I suppose we just managed skillfully managed to find every bad restaurant in the area. Cielo was something wholly different from this.
The food was clever, precise and repeatedly riffed off the humble ingredient of the broadbean pea as it was in season. Most importantly the seafood was cooked to that fine point that Cantonese chefs can manage so well. I can give no higher compliment than saying the lobster claw we had for one of the dishes would have been reckoned in Hong Kong.
Biomasseria Lama di Luna
And then things got better and better as the procession north continued. Our last night was spent in the find of the holiday: Biomasseria Lama di Luna. Now if a masseria is a traditional Italian farm house a biomasseria is the same kind of thing but eco’d to the max. Everything is recycled, carbon neutral and chosen with care.
And it shows, Lama di Luna is simply beautiful. The old communal farm house is structured around a central court yard and has been restored with a local eye. It is also owned by two wonderful people who will go out of their way to help you have a good time in the area. The male owner came and said hi as soon as we arrived and planned us an itinerary for the day which took us to Trani (top picture).
The female owner not only recommended that we go to Antichi Sapori (our meal of the trip) but also clambered through a farm house and building site in traditional Italian white jeans to show us a baby kitten. Just go there. We would for weekend trips if we lived in Europe. A lot.
Finally, Antichi Sapori and its chef Peitro Zito. Organic wow.
This was my meal of the holiday. Just below Lama di Luna is the town of Montegrosso which has a clutch of great restaurants. At a recommendation we pitched up to Antichi Sapori just before lunch expecting to easily get a seat. Outside there was already a queue of people all with reservations and with a strangely high percentage who appeared to be local policemen.
Fortuitously we squeezed in and so began a procession of rustic, simple joy. This was almost the reverse of Cielo. It was an artichoke lightly roasted with cheese on the top. It was a handmade orecchiette pasta with a basic tomato sauce. Every bloody dish sung.
At the end two remarkable things happened. The first was I was brought the bill. By that stage I was barely coherent. Food the like of which you simply cannot get in Asia had flooded by joy system. This was produce lightly cooked. Accompanied by bottle after bottle of wine. The bill was EUR 75 for two.
The second was the chef, Petiro Zito, came and showed us a picture of his garden. Where he grows everything he cooks. It shows.
So that is Puglia done. When it came time to write this review I had a look at the business cards of Lama di Luna, Peitro Zito to make sure I spelled the name of the places I loved so much correctly. And you know what the address read . . . Andria. Oh well.