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Ostuni: Osteria La Madonnina

Vico A. Fratti, 8 , Phone: 339.7890414

Reviewed by: Jonathan Morgan from UK, review #2694

When: 2007

Our favourite budget eatery in Ostuni: excellent grilled fish.

Directions: In a little alleyway towards the top end of Corso Cavour.

Grigliata di mare, photo by Jonathan

This is now our favourite place in Ostuni for a simple meal. We ate there twice during our stay in August '07: both meals were excellent. There's a little outside balcony, and a courtyard garden below, both well shaded, and about half a dozen tables inside.

The real bargain is their set menu at €15, for primo, secondo and ¼ l. wine. But there's a limited choice of both courses for this price, and Philippa and I were keen to try the Cavatelli Fagioli e Cozze (praised by Judith in a previous review), and some grilled fish. The pasta beans & mussels were indeed excellent, the flavour much more than the sum of its parts.

We had two other very good primi on our second visit: fave e verdure (a Pugliese classic: a purée of dried fava beans and sautéed bitter greens) and gnocchi al tiesto (I've not met this before: a creamy sauce with a gentle taste of blue cheese, topped with flaked almonds).

I was interested to try their grilled orata. This is a favourite of mine in Venetian restaurants, and I've noticed in the Rialto market that the orate are often labelled 'di Puglia'. When served, the orata looked burnt: a very charred head, and a side fin which flaked off as ash. But their grilling technique is well under control: the flesh under the crispy skin was moist and perfectly cooked, the flavour deliciously fresh. The cavity was filled with a couple of pomodorini and olives. P had a slice of pesce spada: again, perfectly grilled. Both fish were served very simply, with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkling of parsley, and a wedge of lemon.

On our second visit there we both had the Grigliata di mare. Half a circle of swordfish, some beautifully tender octopus (the tentacle ends lovely and crispy from the grill), a whole seppia, a scampi (sweet and delicious), and 2 gamberoni. See photo.

The insalata mista is fine; the house wine is just €6 a litre, and perfectly OK. The fish secondi at both our meals pushed the prices up to more than Judith's meal: we paid €44 and €46 for 2 meals for 2, including ½L of house wine both times.

Reviewed by: Decobabe from Italy, review #2372

When: 2006

All in all, la Maddonina was a winning choice, a place I would happily go again at any time.

Menu Cover and Back Page, photo by Judith Greenwood

Armando walked us up the street to la Maddonina. At first sight it seemed he'd led us to exactly the kind of place we said we didn't want. It was tiny and done up cute. The menu was laminated in plastic, and the waiter spoke a little English. We explained to him that we wanted to taste all of Puglia in three days, and he was still standing after the explanation.

After surveying the menu, we ordered three things that seemed utterly local, although from the description of Orecchiette la Maddonina I knew to expect something like pasta alla sorrentina, but with orecchiette. The other two first courses were cavatelli, fagioli e cozze , a combination of a short folded pasta, beans and mussels. I had my doubts, but I was there to try. Rigatoni all salsa di porri was the last choice. I wanted to see how it compared to my various leek pastas.

We had the good sense not to order a second course, having lunched on sandwiches of mozzarella bufala and tomatoes at around one. We ordered half a liter of a house wine, were given a choice and I think we chose the Primitivo.

While waited for our three first courses, the waiter brought us an assortment of antipasto dishes, as if we might fade away without sustenance. If we had known then what we learned Sunday, we might have ordered only the antipasto! Pugliesi have made an art form of the antipasto, and most people who are not male and in their teens can't go on with a meal following the antipasto of the house.

The dishes arrived. They were all good, although I swear I have no reason to alter my leek pastas. Theirs was good, but I think mine are great. Pat pat. The cavatelli, fagioli e cozze, however, made a dish which should be embroidered onto the Italian flag. It was stupendous.

I've found a recipe and I will be cooking it until I get it right and then I will tell you how to do it. It's not only absolutely delicious, but it would be cheap to make in these days of abundant farmed mussels. We wiped that dish clean to the glaze on the china.

It's unfair, really, to the other two dishes, because in other company, you'd love those, too. Unfortunately, the Monica Belucciness of the mussel dish made the others seem a bit Goldie Hawnish.

We ordered coffee, and we were served a homemade amaro, or digestive, and it was also a star. Alison may remember better than I what was supposed to be in it. All in all, la Maddonina was a winning choice, a place I would happily go again at any time. And what did all this splendor and discovery cost? €26.50 for two.

This review is the opinion of a Slow Travel member and not of slowtrav.com.

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