I qualify the statement simply because there are a couple of other extraordinary restaurants that I know and love, and would not want to make a definitive statement like “The Best” without causing opprobrium. Among them are Pheasant's Tears in Sighnaghi, Georgia, and The Creel in St. Margret’s Hope, Orkney (now sadly closed) and the Roca Sao Joao dos Angolares in São Tomé. There are others, wonderful restaurants all of them, but few make it to my top table, and let me tell you why.
To me, a restaurant is a combination of elements. The food, of course, has to be perfect; it also has to be “honest” and straightforward. The ambience must be comfortable and it must fit its surroundings; service needs to be attentive and professional but not overwhelming and finally the whole meal must feel honest; a curious word, I will agree, but one that upon reflection you will understand.
The Trattoria di Via Serra fits all of these requirements and more. Bologna is Italy’s “Food City”, and yet, among this fierce competition, the Trattoria remains (according to TripAdvisor) number 1 or 2 out of over 1,700 restaurants. This is no mean feat with only fifteen tables. It is in a curious location “off-piste”, and has a very challenging menu, one that is determined by the season, by the month, the week and simply the morning’s trip to the market.
The chef, Tommaso Maio, is quite simply a wizard; a category of chef that I have only before bestowed upon Gia Rokashvili at Pheasants’ Tears. His ability to take simple food and create a masterpiece is second to none, and tonight was no exception. Flavio Benassi, the front-of-house “face” of the Trattoria is another masterpiece; his knowledge of the food, its provenance and its culture is second to none, and his welcome is absolute.
And this partnership, of Flavio and Tommaso, is the first key ingredient.
The second is the food. It is, quite simply and without exaggeration, superb. It is fresh, locally sourced, perfectly cooked and exquisitely presented. This evening, I indulged, and had the (almost) complete meal; I fell at the final hurdle and had no dessert.
It started with a delicious pork sausage. The details remain a little unclear, but the meat came from some Hungarian Hairy Pigs who ran free by a volcanic caldera in central Italy. They tasted wonderful, seasoned as they were with fresh thyme and curiously, just a hint of orange, and I let the matter of their birthplace and upbringing slip. Then came the sweetbreads, grilled to perfection and served on a bed of puntarelle Romano, a slightly bitter green vegetable whose tartness was offset by a slightly sweet reduction that obviously included honey.
The pasta was delightful; a light strataccelli (described as the off cuts of pasta disguised as bow ties) with a cunningly simple Parma ham and pea sauce. Just like Flavio’s mother made it, apparently, but not a bit like my own mother’s cooking.
The fine dinner at the Trattoria
Finally, not wishing to appear churlish or full, I embraced the Main Course; the roast rabbit wrapped in yet more Parma ham was the piece de resistance, and darn good it was too. Simple, fresh, tasty and utterly delightful; I simply can’t imagine a better meal; light, elegant, delicious and interesting … all of the above, and boxes ticked in every category.
I could go on, and I will.
The restaurant is brilliant; apparently a solo diner, who I had watched suspiciously from the start, had (after he finished) flourished a Michelin card, and advised that he was “on the look out”, or words to that effect. Flavio was uninterested and a touch nervous; they were full all of the time already and what more could a star do but offer stress?
I agreed, and tucked into a second, or possibly third glass of Nocino; a digestif derived from green walnuts, syrup, patience and magic. What more could the restaurant want? What more could it deliver?
When it is perfect, it is best to keep it that way.
Reservations are, of course, recommended; and they need be made by telephone and no more than thirty days before the required date. To avoid disappointment, I would recommend calling a month before you want to dine there. I do.