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24 June 2005

Da Tuccino ***

We arrived in Polignano a Mare to be greeted by a bishop in full flowing cassocks, leading a group of choir boys, down the main street and into the middle of what seemed to be a festival.  The streets were mobbed with Italians in their finest threads eyeing up each other and the tat being sold on the stalls by the side of the road.  The air was filled with scent of too much aftershave and grilling meat, as all the macelleria were getting ready for their nights business.

Da_tuccinoHaving had no luck in finding Da Tuccino, a helpful concierge told us it was about half a mile down the coast road, out of town.  When we got there a confusing car park attendent had us doing all sorts of acrobatics before we could park.  When we did park, our Avis rental Ford Focus looked somewhat out of place next to the latest Range Rovers and Jeeps.  It was quite obvious that unlike other areas of Puglia, this was a place to be seen - and frankly the food reflected that.

Da Tuccino seemed to be something of an institution, it had the air of knowing just how good it was and seemed to rest slightly on those laurels.  It also had the air of being in Cap Ferrat, rather than Puglia and was a little bit too haughty for its own good.  The restaurant is famous for its fish which is unusual in this part of the World as Pugliese cuisine includes very little fish, despite the lengthy coastline.  Why there's not more fish in the diet I can't explain, but by focusing on fish Da Tuccino is relatively unusual.  Given that, I'll skip any details on our starter (I can't remember what we ate anyway) and I'll move on to our seabass in salt. 

When the waiter brought over the fish for us to inspect before it was cooked, the thing I noticed most was the strong fishy smell and I thought that the freshest fish doesn't smell?   Go in to my favourite fishmonger, Steve Hatt on Essex Road and his seawater fish doesn't smell fishy, it smells salty, so I was slightly concerned.  Anyway, ignoring those concerns I waited for the fish to arrive, it was duly delivered in its saline crust which was removed with great ceremony.  But frankly, when I ate it I was underwhelmed - it didn't do anything for me.  I've had much better versions of the same dish at Locanda Locatelli and Sardo.  I can't even really explain what it was about it that I didn't like, it just wasn't very special.

Frankly, I think that Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of The River Cafe fame, were wrong when they recommended Da Tuccino's as one of the 10 best restaurants in Italy, in a recent Conde Nast article.  It's a good restaurant with excellent staff, but there are much better in the region, Del Tempo Perso and Alle due Corti being examples of this.  If one's in the area or particularly keen to see Puglia's finest dressers, then it might be worth a trip, otherwise, head for the hills.

Da Tuccino, via Santa Caterina 69/F, Polignano a Mare, 7044, Italy
Tel: +39 0804 241 560
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