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22 June 2005

Osteria del Tempo Perso ****

It has to be said that despite the rave reviews I'd heard about the food in Puglia, some of it was appalling.  One dinner in particular I was thorougly peeved about.  We were in Ostuni, having already eaten once at Osteria del Tempo Perso and thought we'd try somewhere different.  This was a big mistake.  Instead of a delicious meal of simple ingredients of the best quality put together with care, we were served tourist pap that centred around a medieval theme.  I am ashamed to be so open here about this experience, especially when I mention that apart from the menu in Italian they also had one in French (although thankfully not in German or English).  In my defence the French menu and the medieval theme were not advertised, or obvious when we walked in.  Anyway, suffice to say this was deeply disappointing, especially when we knew that del Tempo Perso was less than 100m away.

Osteria_del_tempo_perso_cartoonOur one and only meal at del Tempo Perso was on our second night in Italy (the first night's dinner being a late-night pizza in Fasano) and I was ready to taste Italy's finest.  Because it had been Shavuot the previous two days, we needed to wait until Yom Tov was out and therefore we didn't get out until late and being still on stuck-up British time, we couldn't face a full meal at 10pm so opted for two courses.  Along with never having done a PhD, I regret this. 

The 15-dish antipasti menu looked astounding, the Polpette di Pane e Menta or Fiori di Zucca fritti in Pastella ensured much mouth watering.  But with cozze (mussels) included in the antipasti, we thought we'd better stick to the slightly less treyf primi piatti. Seeing bits and bobs of the 15 antipasti coming out to tables only compounded my conviction that I was to be the only visitor ever to Puglia not to have a decent meal.  Thankfully, at about that point our Maccheroncini freschi alla Crudaiola con Ricotta Salata and Fazzoletti di Ricotta con Pomodoro fresco e Basilico arrived at the table. 

Neither dish is that hard to translate, but you would be sorely incorrect if you mistook the former for mac 'n cheese. Crudaiola is basically chopped raw vegetables (think crudites) and in this case was simply sliced cherry tomatoes and some garlic. This dish was sublime. The tomatoes were so sweet, the garlic adding a bit of depth and the ricotta providing a contrast in textures. I would have been happy to have eaten that every meal for the rest of the holiday. The fazoletti was a bit like cannelloni, but frankly this does them a disservice. The were stuffed full with the mildest, crumbliest ricotta and the tomato sauce was fresher and zestier than Bill Clinton with a Cohiba.

The fantastic food is all well and good, but I shouldn't forget about the room. I did find the wall hangings of agricultural equipment and religious icons slightly incongruous, but possibly they were there to remind you of the dual binds in this part of Italy. The other strange thing is that in fact there are two Osteria del Tempo Perso's, one either side of the kitchen. I'm not sure what the significance is of which dining room one is in, we simply walked into the one we first came upon. Anyway, the food comes out of the same kitchen so there shouldn't be too much of an issue.

The restaurant itself is located in the back streets of the beautiful Ostuni, which with its wiggling streets and dim street lighting reminded me of Venice (although being several hundred metres above sea level it lacks the lido and canals). You do need to keep your eyes open when walking to the restaurant as there are signs and without them you'll be lost in the Labyrinth and might well come across the Minotaur.

Back to the food. For dessert we asked for a bowl of the cherries that we'd spotted sitting in an enormous bowl. We also had a plate of Pecorino semistagionato di Masseria, which for those with a lingual bent will know is an aged Pecorina (di Masseria, meaning “of the masseria/farm”). This was served with a fantastic, zingy orange marmalade. The cherries, were slightly disappointing, not as sweet as I'd hoped, I've just had some from M&S that dare I say it tasted better. The cheese was another matter, it was sufficiently stinky on the nose but subtle on the tongue. The marmalade added a bit of freshness and made it all a bit lighter.

Overall a great meal that set the bar particularly high for the rest of the holiday. It was a shame that not all of the meals lived up to it, but those that did were something special. The only reason I've given it a four, rather than five-star rating is because I was miffed that the antipasti was so long and therefore ruled it out for us, but frankly this was our fault for being up-tight Brits rather than getting into the Italian groove a bit earlier in our holiday.

Osteria del Tempo Perso, via Gaetano Tanzarella Vitale 47, Ostuni, 72017, Italy
Tel: +39 0831 303 320

What others think
Conde Nast Traveller - Even they rub in the fact I didn't have the antipasti
The Independent - Yet more on the pleasures of the antipasti


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