This week Tom celebrates the return to restaurants with uplifting Southern Italian cuisine.
A bitter wind cuts through the Margate seafront, cruel as cold steel, slicing through scarves, gloves and hats alike. But as we wander down from the station, past shuttered amusement arcades, busy chippies and hibernating Chair-O-Planes, we don’t feel the cold. Because the skies are blue, the sun is beaming and we’re off for our first lunch in a real restaurant since the dark days of December.
Margate is a strange but endearing mixture of the hip and the hip replacement, a place where the whiff of stale lager is mixed with the scent of moustache wax. But there are some good restaurants here, Angela’s in particular. As well as Bottega Caruso, tucked away from the main drag, which specialises in the food of Campania in Southern Italy.
We sit outside, as per the regulations, but are sheltered from the worst of the wind. Get here early, as tables fill fast. There are home-marinated anchovies, garlic heavy, but silvery sweet. And chunks of octopus, soft as wine-splashed resolve, sitting atop a chunk of homemade sourdough and bathed in a tomato sauce with olives and capers that seems the very essence of Neapolitan delight.
Bread and tomatoes are big in the south. And big here. More bread is mixed with egg, herbs and parmesan and transformed into vast but ethereally light polpette, wallowing in more of that sauce. Or deep fried to a brittle crisp, and mixed in among the heartily sustaining beans and greens of verdura e fagioli.
Pasta is fresh made, and universally excellent; spaghetti with colatura di alici, a modern equivalent of the Roman garum or fish sauce. But it’s subtle, not strident, adding gentle umami depth to this most simple of chilli, garlic and cherry tomato-spiked sauces. Rather more rich and regal is lamb ragu, tenaciously clinging to beautifully silken pappardelle, with whispers of orange and saffron. An edible reminder of ancient conquerors.
The wine flows, the sun shines and all seems well. Which is exactly what good restaurants should always do. Lift the mood, put faith back in our fellow man, add joy and merriment to one’s day. Simple, unpretentious yet utterly confident in the quality of its ingredients and cooking, Bottega Caruso does just that. We need restaurants, as much as restaurants need us.
Bottega Caruso, 2-4 Broad Street, Margate; bottegacaruso.com.
Drinks: Olly’s BBQ zingers
I recently discovered Coffee BBQ Sauce at rbainbridge.co.uk. Strong flavours like these lead my wine choices when cooking on coals. A powerful marinade calls for reds with welly such as Malbec. And when the sun starts sizzling, pour refreshing whites such as Germany’s underrated gems, or Southern French rosé and British beer. My barbecue tip is to chill light reds to cope with changing flavours – as well as the weather.
WINE OF THE WEEK: VILLA BLANCHE PIQUEPOUL NOIR 2019 (12.5%), £8.49, Waitrose. Excellent fruity sleek red to chill for a BBQ. An all-round star.
NORTHERN MONK FAITH HAZY PALE ALE (5.4%), £2.40, Tesco. A tropical surge of cool refreshment that can handle the mightiest marinade.
BUENAS VIDES CRIOLLA GRANDE 2020 (13.5%), £5.99, Aldi. Bargain red to chill. Bright, refreshing – a cherry trapped in an ice cube!
WEISSBURGUNDER WEINGUT JÜLG 2019 (12.5%), £11.50, thewinesociety.com. An epic zinger that blows its price point sky high. Must-buy BBQ white.
COOLHURST CÔTES DEPROVENCE ROSÉ 2020 (12.5%), £14.99, coolhurstvineyards.com. My top rosé – a strawberry scented peachy bonanza!