I first started hearing about Bina Ristorante a while ago; the (Italian) word on the street was that it was refined and stylish and well worth a visit, with ‘e poi si mangia bene’- you also eat well, as an after thought. I didn’t feel compelled to rush over there. It is difficult to eat badly in Puglia, and Italians in general go crazy for anything new which ticks the ‘stylish’ box, whatever the current definition of stylish happens to be. Suffice it to say that the fairy story of the emperor’s new clothes is not widely known here, nor the expression ‘all that glisters is not gold’.
Then Bina ‘liked’ my Facebook page, facebook.com/perfectpuglia, out of courtesy I visited, and genuinely liked, theirs. And , yes, judging by the photos, the restaurant was stylish but the March menu drew my attention more… The mere fact of having a March menu was encouraging, the fact that I wanted to eat almost everything on it even more so. I made arrangements to go and try it
My first impression, on walking in, was how the predominant use of white as a colour, the whitewashing of the vaulted stone ceilings and the clever use of uplighters compensated entirely for the lack of natural light.
No trendy minimalism here though; there were also a wealth of personal touches and little details everywhere you looked from the decorative jars filled with home made taralli, to the local pottery from Grottaglie, still white but highly glazed , very detailed, very much of the place. The overall effect is welcoming, you feel like you are in someone’s, elegant, home.
Bina, the lady of the house, partner in the business (with her husband and son) and, as it turned out, wizard in the kitchen, came out to greet us. She explained how it had always been dream of hers to have her own restaurant, how she spends time every day sourcing ingredients and with her suppliers… Despite her unassuming, softly spoken manner her passion for everything to do with food, cooking but also hospitality shone through. Passion combined with perfectionism, always a good combination…..My spirits, but also expectations, were rising but the proof of the pudding,as they say, is in the eating.
We took our seats, and were asked if we would like a glass of prosecco and then some antipasti – a rhetorical question in my case, and I sipped happily while nibbling on some extremely good olives and handmade taralli.
The antipasti started arriving.. First was a beautifully presented plate of local cheeses and capocollo. I am not a great fan of ricotta, but this was the best ricotta I have ever tasted, creamy rather than cotton wool- like and with a subtle tang. Burrata I love anyway, but the mini burrata served here was the best of its kind, and the spoonful of, perhaps quince, jam set off the flavour of the local hard cheese to perfection. Bina’s time with her suppliers is clearly well spent…
Next up were tiny slivers of chargrilled zucchini stuffed with ricotta, again gorgeous, and then the perfect ‘tortina’ of eggplant/aubergine topped with tomato sauce and basil. One of my favorites generally but this one was exceptionally light which is unusual – all of the robust flavours with none of the heaviness this dish can have.
By this point we had swopped our prosecco for an excellent Negroamaro from Cantina due Palme which was everything a Negroamaro should be, and were feeling both relaxed and wowed by the offerings so far. I therefore happily went along with the charming waitresses’s tentative suggestion that we left the choice of what came next up to Bina.
Interestingly enough what we got isn’t at all what I would have ordered. I am not much of a meat eater and, as a primo, or first course, would have probably opted for the artisan made fresh spaghetti with cream of ricotta, sundried tomatoes and wild chicory. Instead we had fresh pasta with sausage meat, cardoncelli mushrooms and tomatoes which was undeniably tasty none the less.
Similarly I often don’t have a secondo or main course, unless I eat fish, but was curious to see what was coming next.. Often the meat course here in Puglia, as elsewhere in Italy, is really just a piece of chargrilled or maybe pan fried meat. On it’s own, on a plate. Not here – our secondo arrived in the form of wild rabbit with herbs, rosemary potatoes and an aromatic sauce all beautifully arranged and featuring, I was thrilled to note, dill – a herb I love, and have never seen here before.
Our dolce was a slice of both the jam crostata, or tart, and the ricotta crostata I had admired earlier displayed in the restaurant. The pastry of both was wonderfully light and the perfect texture but the jam in the first one, mulberry at a guess, wasn’t tart enough for me, I prefer the sharper cherry version. The ricotta one however was paradise on a plate… light pastry, slightly but not too creamy filling, delicately flavoured with orange. Mmmmmm.
A selection of home made liqueurs completed the meal, the alloro (bay leaf) one a particularly beautiful green… I wasn’t in need of its much vaunted qualities as an aid to digestion however. The portion sizes of everything were just right, Bina’s lightness of touch pervaded every dish and I came away feeling deliciously satisfied rather than uncomfortably over fed, despite having worked our way through four courses.
Our meal would have come to around 40 euros a head without wine – worth every penny – I will definitely be back…..