Eating Bergamo part 1: Da Mimmo

‘They never mentioned it was this steep’, I thought, gasping for breath as I hauled my way up the hot hillside. The spaghetti-narrow street was sucking us up past the sunbaked houses with their terracotta roofs and well-tended gardens towards the city gates with gusto. I paused for a moment to catch my breath and admire the view amidst the Lombardy poplars. ‘Come on, it’ll be worth it’ Well-Fed panted, pushing on, whilst enthusiastically brandishing our prized possession, our gastromic guide to Bergamo.

We had arrived in Bergamo that morning, stopping briefly to drop off our things at an apartment in the lower part of the city, before setting off in search of scenery and sustenance. Our appetite for a weekend of fabulous Italian food and fun had been whetted by the restaurant recommendations of a famous Italian food lover, the chef Carluccio.

Only on closer inspection of the map did we realise that food heaven really was in the clouds in the upper part of the old city, but we decided to forgo the funicular and ascend to the Citta Alta by foot. Our thoughts were simple: la dolce vita may be sweet but – with dishes made delicious through a triple bypass of olive oil, butter and cheese – it’s also gonna be short. The exercise would do us good.

Well-fed and I were therefore feeling rather virtuous – if not a little sweaty – when we arrived for a late lunch at Da Mimmo. Our waitress guided us through the robust, classy-looking restaurant to a table in the lovely courtyard in the back, where we sat riveted to our menus. I plumped for the ‘€18 lunch deal’ of gnocchi in a sage and butter sauce, a fish dish and a glass of wine.  Well-fed also went for a dish of the day, a polenta dish topped with beef cooked in red wine but – not wanting to be outdone on the number of courses – he also ordered an ‘anchovie pie’ to start.

The pie, we quickly realised was not really a pie at all.  More like a dense fishcake, it had a subtle warm, earthy flavour, quite different from the strong oily taste of anchovies I was used to. My gnocchi was the star of the show with a pillowy-light, soft texture that gave way to the shameless simplicity of sage and butter. Grilled white fish arrived unadorned but for a wedge of lemon and was as simple a classic, as I could have hoped for.  Beef in red wine was a far richer beast, with fat juicy strips of meat generously heaped over a mound of polenta. Dessert was sadly beyond us.

‘Well’, I sighed contentedly to Well-Fed, ‘it was definitely worth it,’ to which he replied, ‘So, where’s for dinner?’…


Berlin al fresco: Clärchens Ballhaus and Bötzow Privat

Berlin lives out on its streets in summer – whether it’s clattered out on the pavement by some well-worn caff;  putting another wurst on the barbie; or perched on the balcony, taking it all in.  Ask any Berliner for their thoughts on summer (if your German is, like mine, somewhat limited to conversations about the weather and ordering off menus) and they get a dreamy look in their eyes and say: ‘Ah, I fall in love with Berlin in summer!’.

I say this on a Saturday, when it’s actually pretty chilly outdoors.  The weekdays have been maddeningly warm in comparison, which, for a city that knows its right from its left, probably serves us capitalist 9-5ers right.  But maybe i’m just bitter.

In any case, for those of you who happen upon Berlin in a sunnier disposition, here is where I would go to fall in love…

Clärchens Ballhaus – One of those ‘hidden gems’ that’s nonetheless recommended by all the guidebooks, this slightly decrepit old ballroom can still kick up its heels and sits, rather grandly, on August strasse in Mitte. Here you’re greeted by my favourite bit, the courtyard, punctuated by a disco ball and little tables where you can order drinks from waiters in white shirts and waistcoats.

If you can tear yourself away for food (and I would, the pizzas were so-so but you can do better than that) then you’re just a waltz away from Tucholsky strasse, home to the lovely Schwarzwaldstube.  Hands up, I haven’t actually eaten at this place yet – but I can vouch for the smell (mmm) and my jealousy as I sipped a rhubarb drink outside, whilst plates loaded with flammkuchen (a type of German pizza) and spargeln (white asparagus) wafted by. Looking beyond my nose, I caught a lovely the view of the synagogue south down the street.

A short stumble across the strasse and you’ll find Bötzow Privat.  Food here is all hearty berliner fare, thoughtfully presented with a modern twist (think typisch Deutsch but lose the Lederhosen). We took Well-Fed’s parents here for dinner and tucked into excellent boulettes (Berlin burgers that were originally brought over by the French). The fat, hand-made meat patties were pure flavour, no fuss – served with a dollop of creamy sharp mustard and washed down with a delicious Rothaus wheatbeer.

Ah, I fall in love with Berlin in summer!

Bergamo part 2: La Colombina

Away from the main action of the Citta Alta along a pretty lane lacing the hillside, La Colombina sets itself apart. 

The neat trattoria with its deep honey walls,  comely wooden furniture and hot-pink potted flowers looks like an idyllic Italian family home, complete with hustle-bustle and cat. But the real treat, passing through the dining room straight ahead to the balcony, is the view. 

We arrived there late into the evening after a hard day’s lunch and afternoon doze, once more assailing the climb up to the restaurant with all the vigour of a pair promised dinner. We had booked a spot on the balcony and felt very pleased with ourselves for doing so. The vision of the lower Alps green and sloping off into the distance was interrupted only by terracotta rooftops and the grand city ramparts below. Not a bad start, I thought.

And then came the food.. 

The menu was short and we ordered almost all of it.

Cured meats came first with slithers of bresaola, prosciutto, lardo and an oddish swirly one that looked a bit like a lollipop crossed with spam.  Bresaola is smoked beef and lardo is lard – the italian ‘o’ at the end hardly adds to the romance of the dish but Well-fed was keen on a brief affair with it.  ‘It tastes like lard’, was his verdict and sadly I’d have to agree.

Then came a ‘ricotta muffin’ – not the English or American muffin I half expected – but more an Italian orb of dense souffley deliciousness. 

Then came round two: the pasta course.  There’s something a bit obscene about a country where pasta is a course casually slipped in before the main. Though when my taglitelle arrived, thick with creamy taleggio and salsiccia, I soon dismissed all thoughts of that. Well Fed’s dish wasn’t as good as mine. The casoncelli, Bergamo’s ravioli, stuffed with sausagemeat and topped with a sage and butter sauce – which sounds mouthwatering enough – was deemed not that flavoursome.. rich, yes but without a distinct taste.

I gave him some of my taleggio to help him get over it.