I'd only heard good things about Taste of Emilia. No, make that great things. How great can a delicatessen be? you might wonder. I was thinking the same thing, when myself and Ui Rathaile went there on a whim last Sunday night.
He was quite into it, but I'm unhappily aware of how the epidemic of Italian meat platters spread in the late Noughties. I can't tell you how often I've gone to pay a bill and discovered that we'd been fleeced by a brigade of greasy impostors, claiming to be salami, prosciutto and mortadella.
Thus I find myself stifling a yawn whenever I hear the word enoteca. Even Prosecco -- once so bright and bubbly -- has been spoiled by its own ubiquity. Of course, the problem lies in the fact that most of the Italian wine bars that sprung up around the town in the past decade were merely inspired by the real thing, rather than actually being it. Then, along comes Taste of Emilia at the tail end of a jaded trend and reveals itself to be uncompromisingly authentic.
"All our meats and cheeses are imported from Italy," the dog-eared menu boasts. And in particular from the Northern region of Emilia-Romagna. Their quality is certified by the DOP or POD (Protected Designation of Origin) and IGP or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) marks, assigned by the EU.
I'm all for sourcing top-notch grub, but the proof is in the partaking -- there is nothing more tedious than labouring over a menu that reads like an acronym-cluttered curriculum vitae. Kill the pig and bring us its bottom -- pronto. We don't need a Eurocrat to tell us how good it tastes.
So how good does it taste? Good enough to fill Taste of Emilia with expatriate Italians.
There is no kitchen, just a counter stocked with torpedo-sized salami, giant hams, blocks of cheese and jars of red and green condiments. Coffee cans are stacked in pyramids, aged balsamic vinegar comes in fancy boxes, shelved alongside packets of porcini mushrooms and arborio rice. Wines are sold by the glass, carafe and bottle. Ui Rathaile ordered two glasses of typically full bodied, but exceptionally smooth and luxuriant Amarone della Valpolicella. Not cheap at €9 apiece, but you'd want the lusty thirst of a sailor to take more than a few glasses of this beauty.
Friends who'd already eaten at ToE strongly advised us to order the bruschetta, and so we poured over that part of the menu. Ui Rathaile chose the Golosa, topped with tomato, cheese, artichoke cream and pancetta. Seized by greed and indecision, I couldn't make up my mind and we had to send the waitress away twice before I eventually settled on the Sole Mio -- same tomato and cheese base, but with garlic sauce, soleggiati (lightly sun-dried) tomatoes and rocket.
We called the waitress back, but an expression of profound tragedy crept over her face when we asked for bruschetta. "I 'ave just sold the last one," she confessed. How can there be a "last" bruschetta? Surely bruschetta is as infinite as bread. Where there is life, there is bruschetta. No, apparently, the only place to get bruschetta bread is from a baker in Emilia-Romagna, upon whose soul I placed an infernal hex. DOP my arse. "We 'ave more bruschetta on Tuesday," the waitress declared -- as if it was going to fall from the sky.
Ui Rathaile sided with the waitress. She was so nice, and I was so grumpy. "Where are you from?" he asked her -- to my intense irritation. "Emilia-Romagna," she replied. What a surprise! "Please, please," she said, "try a piadini. Very thin, crispy bread, typical of where I come from." So we did, and it was lovely -- a light alternative to the now unfashionable panini -- adding crunchy texture instead of bulk to the sandwich filling -- in this case speck, mozzarella and sauteed mushrooms.
From the extensive list of meat and cheese platters, Ui Rathaile chose a board of soft pale prosciutto, with texture like velvet and a subtle sweetness rarely found in these parts. There was, to one side, a rugged chunk of Parmesan drizzled with treacle-thick balsamic vinegar. My board was carpeted with delicately spiced bresaola -- unusually purple and tender, it was fantastic with a squeeze of lemon juice, a crop of peppery rocket and Parmesan shavings. Ui Rathaile hogged the grissini, noting that the bread wasn't quite rustic enough for his palate.
Another glass of the formidable Amarone and we were ready for coffee and dessert. Strong, smooth espresso with a perfect golden crest. There was a tussle over the dessert plate. We both loved the dark, sticky chocolate and coffee cake, which tasted of booze despite being alcohol free. Excellent, too, was a crumbly almond shortbread -- the only thing we weren't willing to fight over was the chocolate and hazelnut bar from Piedmonte.
There were many factors militating against my liking Taste of Emilia. The outdated soundtrack, the hard-ass high stools, the depleted bruschetta ... but the quality of the grub and the enthusiasm of the staff creeps up on you. They promised to have bruschetta next time. I told them I'd see them next Tuesday. Thankfully, some things are lost in translation.
Typical dish: Bruschetta
The damage: €71.50 for two platters, one piadini, four glasses of wine, one dessert plate and two coffees
On the stereo: Ambient 90s
At the table: Italians