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The Lemurs are on a pre-Christmas mini break in Barcelona with the Crocodiles, and naturally eating is our top priority. Two months ago we booked a table at Ferran Adrià’s new venture Tickets and there has been much excitement and anticipation. On arrival, Tickets is studiously funky and laid back. There is a giant bank of Chinese wealth cats bobbing their golden paws in mechanical benediction around a video of the Adrià documentary. Waitstaff wear Michael Jackson / circus ringmaster t-shirts and every now and again an ice-cream cart goes by ringing a bell. It is undeniably atmospheric and more welcoming than austere Michelin-star style, but it is also a teensy bit precious. Humorous phrases are printed on the windows, among them ‘this is not a tapas bar’. Are you right now in your head singing this to the tune of ‘This is not America’? If so, then congratulations, you are me.

Our waiter suggested that the best thing to do is to let the kitchen bring food of their choice and, since we wanted the full Tickets experience we agreed. The thing is this: because is it, pace David Bowie, in fact a tapas bar, you’re not getting a tasting menu of seven or nine courses served to each diner but a procession of tiny dishes to share. Thus, we went through a lot of dishes and there are thus a lot of pictures. But bear with me, there is a lot of pretty pretty food to look at…
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romei-fresco

Everyone told us that we had to try salama while in Ferrara. You see them all over town hanging in meat shops: big sausages shaped like acorn squash. But although they look (and sound) like massively deformed salami, they are actually not the kind of cured sausage that you slice, but are spiced meat that is cooked and served with mashed potato. They’re famous, but we didn’t actually find them on a menu until our last night. I’ll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, I entertained myself with Ferrara’s historic palazzi. The fresco above is in the Casa Romei, a palazzo built for a medieval administrator but taken over after his death by a monastery. The result is layers of medieval and renaissance decoration, some secular, some religious. The docent who followed me around wouldn’t let me take photographs of the amazing frieze of animals, including wonderfully grotesque leopard-women, but I snuck a picture or two of these gorgeous frescoes. Read the rest of this entry »

tortelli-zucco

I just got back from a work trip to Ferrara, the beautiful medieval town in Emilia-Romagna. I know, sometimes life is tough. In my defence, I did have to sit through a conference that was almost entirely in Italian, so it was actually quite challenging. Still, it was no chore to meet lots of lovely people and be taken out for a series of delicious meals. Ferrara is famous for its tortelli alla zucca, or pasta stuffed with pumpkin and served with either a meat ragú or a butter sage sauce, and I ate this delicious combination at most every opportunity.

Ferrara-duomo

The city is just lovely, and with almost no tourists in December, it’s actually a rather nice time to visit Italy. I spent a pleasant spare afternoon checking out the duomo (disappointing on the inside, but with an impressive facade) and wandering the pretty old streets around the central piazza. The Christmas lights made it all especially magical.

Ferrara-piazza

But from the moment I arrived, food was a major focus. On my way into the conference, I grabbed a quick lunch with Lemur friend JD. He has a nose for good eateries in Italy, the kind of down-home place you can find in every town but only if you know where to look. As soon as we arrived, he sniffed out a cafe whose lunch specials were served on plastic plates – but with delicious food and neighbourhood-style friendly service. We shared a serving of melted scamorza cheese with grilled radicchio that was simplicity itself and yet so very nommable. (By the way, they split the plates. This is just my half!)

scamorza-lunch

Another JD find was Trattoria Il Sorpasso. We meant to go to Il Cucco for lunch, as it had been recommended in an Italian restaurant guide we looked up in the bookstore, but it was closed. Concerned that lunch service was over everywhere (yes, we get concerned about such things), we looked around for a local alternative. I didn’t necessarily think the outside of Il Sorpasso across the road was promising, but JD has the nose and in we went. It turned out to be the best meal we had in Ferrara.

sorpassa-ext

We started with a cavolo nero soup, which was hearty with long-simmered greens, tiny white beans and crispy garlicky croutons.

cavolo-nero-soup

For a secondo, I chose salsiccia con castagne, or sausage with chestnuts. I had expected a whole sausage but what came was more like sausage meat broken up like you would for a pasta sauce, with little nuggets of chestnut mixed into a rich ragú. It was at once sweet from the chestnuts, salty from the sausage and deeply umami and savoury from the sauce. It was insanely good.

salsiccia-castagne

As we digested our completely unnecessary but shockingly good desserts (tiramisu, chocolate cake and ricotta cream), one of the cooks came out to start making pasta dough for dinner. This is where the magic happens!

pasta-making

We did get to Il Cucco eventually, but I’ll leave that story for the next post…

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