Having recently moved south from Milan, it dawned on me that I've been fortunate enough to visit several regions of Italy already this year. That's significant because food, like many things in Italy, are regional - not necessarily national. Take one of my favourite Italian dishes - Anolini. This is well known in Parma but I'd imagine much less so and even unheard of in much of the rest of Italy. I sill have the fondest memories of my Nonna and Mother making this back in our old home in Clevedon.
Earlier this year I was in the region of Lazio (Rome) before moving south to Campania (Naples/Amalfi). Flying into Milan saw me return to the region of my family - Emilia Romagna. Right now I find myself situated between Genoa and La Spezia in the region known as Liguria in the glorious Sestri Levante and tomorrow I will be in Tuscany (Pisa). Still, without question the two main tourist attractions on the Italian Riveria are the Monaco-of-Italy, Portofino, and the widely-acclaimed, said-to-be immensely beautiful, Cinque Terra. That said Sestri is becoming more and more popular with both locals and tourists and it's really very easy to see why. In fact, it's rather beautiful here and I'm sure my parents would agree....?
As I have flight in less than 48 hours I'm not going to be able to visit Portofino again nor am I going to reach Cinque Terra which both saddens and frustrates me. Between you and I though, back in 2010 I had an afternoon in Portofino and I mention this only because it brings with it a quick tale...
Within 30 minutes of being in the town, a lady with a very small dog and several entourage emerge out of nowhere and in reasonably close proximity to where I was standing. Before she entered her chosen shop and before I watched it temporarily close to all others and exclusive to her (yes that really does (and did) happen), I managed to give her an instinctive 'Hello Paris' to which she kindly turned around and returned this 'Hi' back and gave a light wave.
That was Paris Hilton. Lol.
Anyway back to the present. I'm in Sestri for one reason and one reason only - to visit a family member. As it happens, this would conveniently and kindly bring with it a rather special 'perk' in the form of fine dining.
Firstly though, does he look familiar? Regular readers might believe he has come over from Switzerland to see me. View the image HERE.
Ha, don't be fooled, this is not Uncle Roberto but in fact his twin-brother Giuliano - also a chef would you believe.
Giuliano's credentials are unquestionable. Before he was a chef, he studied and practised for five years as a Sommelier and then later became a restaurant manager at a very, very exclusive place. Can you guess where?
Portofino of course.
And what does Portofino attract?
Celebrities of course.
To save you squinting, bottom right in the first image is Giuliano with a member of staff and.... Michael Caine.
My favourite though is the middle image of the second photo - that's the One and only Denzel Washington!
It would be accurate to say that he has been in and around five star cuisine in one form or another for the last 20 years. These days (and for quite some time now) he runs his own high-end restaurant on the front of Sestri Levante and it was here I was invited to be his guest. What an honour. What an experience. He also put me up the night at his and the next day I enjoyed some brief time with his immediate family including his really lovely Wife and their really sweet Son.
I'm glad they did as Sestri doesn't do hostels.
If you think telling you about my fine dining experience is all I have to show you in Sestri, you'd be very mistaken. I'm shortly going to provide you some images that I took over the course of just a few hours from two consecutive afternoons that I hope will do the talking and make you want to visit this peaceful and picturesque village and it's bay; Baia del Silenzio (The Bay of Silence) - also known as Portobello (not to be confused with Portofino).
But first of course I'm gonna wanna share with you some of the best food I've enjoyed for a long, long while :-) Considering this entire evening was a treat from Uncle Giuliano, naturally I felt like a King for these 2 very special hours whilst I, the backpacker from Clevedon, sat amongst some high-earners with their fancy Italian footwear.
As most of you will know, it's unfortunately not in my nature to take things for free so naturally I slipped a 'thank you' 20E under the till.
And to start....without doubt the best Scallop's I've ever had!
A glass of locally produced wine from Liguria followed with Linguine and a home made Pesto sauce that doesn't repeat on you or give you that strong after taste you would normally associate with Pesto.
I have to admit it was pretty special. How can I ever go back to supermarket pesto now!? Darn it!
Genuinely at that point I thought that was that and I snuggled back in my chair to rest.
Well that was until the waiter brings out another dish of a Fillet of Beef. Once the shock of 'wow, that's another dish' dissipated, I had a few moments of thought considering I used to be a 'well-done' steak man before seeing the light and moving to 'medium'. It was now time to listen to what the professionals say and have it how it was cooked at the Chef's discretion; rare. Gulp.
What, I was gonna turn it away!? Hell no.
Would you? In fact, don't answer that... :-)
Heaven? Pretty close.
Giuliano's restaurant, Balin Cuisine, can be found on Facebook and Instagram.
And now, here are plenty of pictures as to why you good people back home with regular incomes should treat your other half to a long weekend on the Italian Riviera. You know the area is going to be beautiful when I start the show with images of buildings!!! These buildings on the promenade are stunning but that's not too surprising considering an artist is appointed to 'draw' for want of a better word, their façades.
Here are just a few that show some level of detail but close up and in the flesh, you can't help but stop and stare.
And now, time to wander the coastline...
Convinced? I certainly hope so....
Now, who fancies living out here with me? We can sort the all important fine details out another time :-)