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Bologna's best seafood restaurants
Best Of | Food | Restaurants
Fish is rapidly gaining in popularity throughout Italy and Europe and Bologna is no exception. Although the internationally popular local gastronomic traditions are largely reliant on meat and other animal products, there's ample room for everyone within the city's vast and ever-evolving foodie scene and the range and quality of seafood restaurants in Bologna has never been better.
The fishing ports of the Adriatic are easily reached so fresh fish is readily available on a daily basis and thanks to the diverse nature of the local population, talented chefs from all over Italy and indeed the world, settle here readily to delight both visitors and locals with their seafood creations.
Here are three of Bologna's best tried and tested seafood restaurants.
DA MARO – mouthwatering Mediterranean cuisine
This cosy and welcoming trattoria first opened soon after WWII, when the Tuscan proprietor Adelmaro (aka Maro) provided hearty meals at low prices for local students. Nowadays, while the atmosphere is still friendly and informal and the interior continues to conjure up a feeling of bygone times, with dark wood furniture, a warm yellow colour scheme with honey-toned beams and an intriguing collection of posters from the past, the menu has changed out of all recognition. Sumptuous Sicilian seafood specialities have led the way ever since Luca Romano, who hails from Syracuse on the south-eastern coast of Sicily, took the helm over 20 years ago in 1996.
Although the menu varies daily, depending on what chef Cristian Salas finds that's fresh and fragrant at the market each morning, certain Sicilian favourites are always available such as pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines, pine nuts, raisins and almonds) and maccheroncini alla Norma (pasta with aubergines and salted ricotta), one of several vegetarian options. Other tasty pasta dishes that might be on the menu include ricotta gnocchi with a spicy mixed seafood sauce or pasta with tuna, swordfish, cherry tomatoes, black olives, capers and pistachio pesto.
Thanks to a deep-rooted knowledge of his ingredients, many of which, including the almonds, pistachios and fragrant oregano, are sourced in Sicily, Cristian is constantly making delicious and new variations on a theme - arancini (rice balls) with a filling of seafood rather than the traditional ragout for example – and perfectly-pitched flavour combinations such as sea bass with a shrimp and ginger sauce or roast scallops with a ricotta mousse – and everything is cooked to perfection. Such is the freshness and quality of the seafood, there's always a selection of raw fish dishes on the menu too, like red tuna tartare with crunchy courgettes or the more delicate sea bream tartare with slivers of fresh peach.
A characterful Sicilian wine makes an ideal match for such sublime dishes and the wine-list includes a good selection of both whites – try the organic, dry yet intense Cataratto – and reds particularly from the Mount Etna area. There's also a choice of sparkling wines including Prosecco and Franciacorta from northern Italy.
Much of the bread as well as all of the fresh pasta and desserts are home made. Sicilian wonders such as crunchy cannoli with a smooth and creamy ricotta filling topped by a smattering of pistachio flakes and served with a glass of chilled zibibbo dessert wine make a memorable conclusion to a highly enjoyable dining experience.
Via Broccaindosso 71B
BANCO 32 – eat at the market
A vibrant, cheery and informal marketplace atmosphere, fast and friendly service and above all exquisitely prepared and reasonably priced fresh seafood – this is what Banco 32 is about.
The first of the eateries to open among the stalls of Mercato delle Erbe – central Bologna's most authentic historic food market - Banco 32 has been hugely popular ever since it was inaugurated back in 2014. “We were stunned at first,” says Breton head chef Lionel Joubaud “and had to take on extra staff.” One of these is Matteo Cortese who now runs a tight ship, front-of-house.
Thanks to its position facing Andrea Tinarelli's fish-stall, the eatery is able to take first pick of the prime quality fresh seafood which comes in each day, “Andrea knows what we like and he buys the best specifically for us during his early morning trips to the fish-markets on the Adriatic.
Banco 32 (literally counter 32) once housed another fish-stall and the marble counter is original, while the fresh and functional white and turquoise décor has been made contemporary with simple yet stylish bar-stools, tables and lamps; there's also a small veranda in summer.
Lunchtimes see a regular clientele and an ever-changing menu drawn up each morning according to what inspires Joubaud and his team at the market during their daily shopping rounds. The dishes on offer might include such delicious combinations as pasta with swordfish, lime and ginger, prawn and radicchio risotto or spelt and seafood salad, and there's always something vegetarian on the menu such as courgette and sun-dried tomato risotto or pasta with rocket and hazelnut pesto.
“The set-up changes in the evening,” explains the chef, “we propose a selection of tapas-style raw and cooked seafood”. Clients can order a series of different dishes to make a variegated and original dinner, just one thing to accompany a glass wine or make up their mind as the evening progresses. Choices might include tuna carpaccio with a zingy orange and mint vinaigrette, a paper cone of fried melt-in-the-mouth calamari, a tasty octopus salad or a mini fishburger served in a scrumptious home-made bun. “When there's an 'R' in the month, that is from September to April, we have Cancale oysters on the menu too and many people come especially for them,” adds Joubaud, referring to the seafood speciality he has brought over from his native Brittany.
While the evening tapas menu doesn't list vegetarian options, there's always something available, such as a fresh and fragrant gazpacho, aubergine and pine-nut fritters that are as soft on the inside as they are crisp on the outside or a sublimely smooth and spicy chick-pea hummus.
A selection of choice wines from all over Italy together with a few French labels and some tempting desserts complete the experience at Banco 32. An experience that once tried will surely be repeated, time and time again.
Mercato delle Erbe,
Via Ugo Bassi 23/Via San Gervasio 3A
OSTERIA BARTOLINI - a taste of the Adriatic
Deliciously crisp fried seafood that literally melts in the mouth, accompanied by a glass of fresh and characterful local white Pignoletto, appealing surroundings and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere – Osteria Bartolini has all the ingredients for a highly memorable mealtime.
For those already familiar with the Bartolini family this comes as no surprise: the central Bologna seafood osteria is the fifth restaurant in their portfolio which includes the Michelin-starred La Buca in their native Cesenatico - a stunning coastal town about an hour's drive from Bologna – as well as two other informal seafood hostelries, one at Cesenatico and the other nearby at Milano Marittima, where they also have a gourmet fish restaurant right over the sea.
Nowadays, while Stefano oversees La Buca, his son Andrea is in charge of the day-to-day running of the other eateries, zipping from one to another on a regular basis so as to maintain the all-important family element. Andrea is also a qualified architect and he's behind the design of the interiors.
The two-floor Bologna premises was originally the mews of the grand Palazzo Dondini Ghiselli, with a wide raised terrace dominated by a huge plane tree which acts as a natural canopy for summertime diners. “The building had been used as a bank,” explains Andrea, “and transforming it was a mammoth job; our aim has been to evoke the atmosphere of the coast in subtle ways, with pale grey-blues, stylised copper lamps designed to recall traditional fishing lamps, and natural materials including jute ropes and oxidised beechwood tables – you won't find any fake seashells or fishing nets here!”
The menu is a simple one: the series of dishes listed on the place-mat menus alongside the ever-popular fried seafood includes octopus with potato salad and fish risotto, one of several recipes handed down from Stefano's father Marcello, who was both a fisherman and chef. There's always a selection of seasonal specials too, which may include mussels, seabass or pilchards with piadina. Although the menu is almost exclusively seafood-based, the chef always keeps something in store to cater for die-hard meat-eaters, vegans or vegetarians – the pesto spaghetti for one is delicious, while the fragrant, wafer-thin chips will appeal to all.
“Quality ingredients are fundamental,” says Andrea, “we use the same first-class local suppliers for all our restaurants and it's our Michelin-starred chef, Gregorio Grippo – who's been with the family since training with nonno Marcello – who selects the fish at the market in Cesenatico each day for all five restaurants.” All the pasta and bread served is home-made, as are the desserts – glorious concoctions such as cream of gelato with orange-peel and caramel and fresh fruit sorbets worth leaving room for.
Piazza Malpighi 16
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