Nor custom stale her infinite variety

During a longer than usual complaint about the collapse in quality of one my previously favoured restaurants my colleague stated that if you find a good eatery the best thing to do is dine 3 or 4 times and then never return so you cannot be disappointed. And I thought about this long and hard and decided it was a sound piece of reasoning.

Some examples; when I discovered the mixed grill at the Church Green Inn I started to visit approximately once per week. At first it was perfect, I even stopped long enough to take a panoramic “before” photo with lovely wifes pork belly in the background  . But slowly the rot crept in and perfection sagged; the egg was firm, the pork belly didn’t crackle, the rump was chewy, the lamb or the gammon dry, I asked for French mustard instead of Dijon (mea culpa). Finally I found myself chewing a lump of gristle hidden under a mound of watercress with a cold breeze on my neck and a warm beer in my hand. I took an “after” photo and vowed to change my order. or my restaurant.  

Likewise in Verona, we recently enjoyed a splendid night at my former 'favourite restaurant in the world' - Trattoria al Pompiere. The Pompiere meal was beautifully ‘parenthesised’ by stunning platters.  We start with wafer thin expertly prepared salumi; exotically spiced cooked shoulder - Spalla di San Secondo, creamy deeply flavoured cured back fat - Lardo di Lessinia, fatty soft yielding local salami - Sopressa Veneta, crunchy fatty bacon(-y?) cured throat of Sienna belted pigs - Guanciale di Cinta Senese and the customary centrepiece ham a sweet and perfectly balanced San Daniele but only because the Prosciutto di Cinta Senese (of which they have pictures in the loo) has run out (Black Mark Number 1 [BM No.1]).  Quickly moving on to fresh gnocchi in tomato sauce (‘off menu’ as always) they are too soft with new season potatoes [BM No.2]. Next up too-tough-too-fatty-not-enough [BM No.3-4-5] beef cheeks in Amarone with soft polenta. Then a small selection of cheeses; Robiolo with too crunchy [BM No. 6] Fennel seeds, sweaty [BM No.7] Toma and the faultless Monte Veronese Ubriaco. This is a ‘drunken’ cheese immersed in grape must for 30 days whose suggested origin is during the First World War when peasants were forced to hide their cheese in wine making tanks to keep them safe from raiding soldiers. On extraction from the tanks the release of salt and absorption of sugars had served to improve the flavour and a star was born.

We finish with a faultless dessert platter; pistachio semifreddo, millefoglie (only 5 sheets but the richest, yolkiest custard), chocolate cake with orange sauce and pistachio fresh cheese torte. Served on its own plate is the “world’s best” [they have a trophy] tiramisu. I eat the lot, washed down with a spanking reciotto della valpolicella.

However 7 black marks are unheard of, Pompiere is immediately demoted to No. 2 and my new favourite is announced; the rarely visited “Serena’s Terrace”. It’s where we used to go on holiday (to gorge on figs) before my daughter arrived and where we will go again and sit at the table outside our small apartment and eat amongst the vines regardless of the weather.  

The owners Alessandro and Serena (pictured with Porchetta) create a marvellous agri-bubble to sit in. He produces "rustic" wine/rocket fuel and surprisingly very nice olive oil from the various trees dotted around the farm. Serena chirns out pure and fantastic Tuscan food all the while explaining that the French appropriated the best Florentine recipes when Catherine de Medici took her chefs to France on marrying Henry II. Duck with orange, chicken livers with sage, fish quenelles, crepes, béchamel, choux pastry; the French may have taught the world to cook but the Italians taught them how to eat . I’m sitting here thinking that I shouldn’t return too often ‘lest the infinite variety is made stale by custom.’ 

I’m also thinking of the peppers I roasted in her pizza oven, yet another Jamie Oliver recipe; halve and deseed 2 red peppers and lightly season the inside. Fill a bowl with 2 handfuls of halved cherry tomatoes, a finely chopped chilli, 2 cloves of finely sliced garlic, a small handful of capers and a large one of stoned black or mixed olives. Season, dress with oil and vinegar and mix well; get your hands in and gently squash the tomatoes. Add some chopped basil (I know you’re meant to pick it by hand) and generously fill the peppers. Top with pancetta. Roast until really soft and saggy and charred at the edges. Serve on its own, better with bread, healthier with salad or more traditionally a piece of fish or meat. Lush. A bottle of Chianti at lunchtime and I'm the lush.