Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Taverna di San Guiseppe

Sat 4 Aug 2007

If you're thinking there's been a paucity of posts recently you'd be right: I've just spent the last 10 days or so in Italy. It was an eating and drinking marathon, and I'll be writing about it all in reverse order so there should be some regular posts while I catch up!

Saturday found us in Siena, a city that I've not visited before and which everyone said I would love. Everyone was right. It's a beautiful (if somewhat hilly!) city, with the famous Campo (which plays host to the Palio) and Mangia Tower.

Anyway, after walking around all day, it was time to eat, which involved more walking around as we sussed out a selection of restaurants. We ended up deciding on La Taverna di San Guiseppe, which is tucked away up a (steep) street that runs off the Campo.

We started with glasses of prosecco and pre-dinner beers before rodering a bottle of chianti (of course). The waiter originally suggested a €70 bottle but we exercised some moderation and opted for the Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2005. It was a rather blind choice, but proved to tick all the boxes and some subsequent research suggests that it's not a shabby wine at all (it's always so nice to have one's taste vindicated!).

First of all - the bread. I have to confess that I found bread in Italy to be OK. It was erratic and generally, I thought, under-salted. The bread at San Guiseppe was fantastic. We were given three types: a plain white, a walnut bread and a slightly fruity bread. They were all dense, tasty breads with good crusts.

We started the meal proper by sharing two starters: a platter of mixed meats and the old Tuscan-style chicken livers. Both were excellent, and the generous sauce on the chicken livers gave us plenty of opportunity to gobble up the remainder of the bread. The mixed meats weren't for the garlic averse and were delicious too.

The main courses were where the excitement really lay. I had ordered from the special truffle menu. At €15 I was worried that my spinach and ricotta dumplings with truffle sauce would be an over-priced disappointment. I could not have been more wrong. The dumplings were lovely, light and tasty and the sauce was laden with truffle. As the dish came out of the kitchen the whole restaurant knew, and there were truffle shavings through the sauce and all over the plate. I'd already started eating when our waiter appeared with black truffle in hand (it was huge!) and cheerfully covered my food in even more truffle shavings! €15 well spent!

Other main courses included a pork steak with a rosemary sauce and an accompaniment of mushrooms, pasta with a pumpkin and leek sauce and a mixed grill (also very generous for €15). Everyone was very happy. We also ordered a green salad, a mixed salad, extra roast potatoes and some mixed grilled vegetables. The only disappointment was the mixed salad which contained hard boiled eggs and sweetcorn.

After all of that, we couldn't be rude and not sample anything from the dessert menu, and no trip to Italy would be complete without tiramisu. The waiter assured us it was the best tiramisu in Italy - I don't know about that but I'm quite certain it was the best tiramisu I've ever had. It was made with an incredibly rich, sweet custard and it was very, very good.

The only slight slip up of the evening was that the waiting staff started to clear our plates while I was still in the (slow) process of tidying up some grilled vegetables. I didn't notice it but apparently the head waiter winced noticeably when he realised I was still eating, so all is forgiven.

The Taverna di San Guiseppe is mentioned in the latest Michelin Guide, so I can't lay claim to an undiscovered gem. However, we had an amazing meal and came out having spent just over €50 a head. Not ludicrously cheap, but we didn't skimp from the prosecco aperitif through to the grappa digestif.

1. Taverna di San Guiseppe, Via Giovanni Duprè 132, 53100, Siena, Italy, phone: +39 0577 42286

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