On a lovely sunny Tuesday, the waterfront places were busy with tourists and we spotted a very quiet place set away from the crowds up on a slight rise. We were first in and got the pick of the outside tables under an umbrella with a view over the water and the old town. Our waiter, "Whispering Jack" as we nicknamed him because he spoke so quietly we could barely hear him, was friendly and we managed to communicate reasonably well with his limited English and our far more limited Italian. The place slowly started to fill up but only the outside tables were populated. The interior looked charming and would be an attractive place to sit on a cooler day.
Complimentary prosecco was delivered along with complimentary tasters of toast with pesto and we ordered our meal. The fritti fantasy which she had ordered somehow became the entree for both of us and was a wonderful mix of seafood lightly fried with a crunchy dusting of flour. My entree of tagliatelle arragosta (lobster) was fantastic but was presented as my main course with her pork scallopine with lemon. I had also ordered the scallopine as my main course but that obviously got lost in translation. Thank goodness as it turned out because what we had was plenty. A bottle of chablis was a perfect accompaniment. We finished with panna cotta and limoncello. Two cups of coffee were the least worst of the coffee we had drunk so far in Italy but still required two glasses of sparkly red to be palatable. We had very little coffee for the remainder of our 5 weeks in Italy.
During the meal, Whispering Jack had come over with a jar of the restaurant's pesto for us. Thinking it was a gift because we had enjoyed their pesto so much and not understanding a word he whispered, we accepted it gracefully. Surprise, surprise, it appeared on the bill when I went inside to pay later (15 Euros). However, we'd had such an enjoyable time and our waiter was so charming that we didn't have the heart to make a fuss. That visit was the sublime bit.
The ridiculous bit came three days later on a Friday when we returned for another lunch.
The town was very busy with lots of walkers, many of whom seemed to require the assistance of ski poles to get around on the flat pavement. They looked ridiculous but that wasn't the ridiculous bit. The restaurant was empty outside but, inside the patio room was a quite large group. Whispering Jack delivered the complimentary prosecco and a very glamorous woman sashayed over with our pesto toasts and we settled in to watch the walkers and the locals going about their business.
We started with the Fantasio Fritti again and then both had the lemon scallopini with a side of roasted vegetables. Repetitive, yes but we'd enjoyed these so much earlier that we had to have them again. A bottle of chardonnay was even better than the chablis we'd had previously.
During this time, the restaurant had filled up, both inside and out and we noticed that, whilst we'd enjoyed our meal without delay, very few others were eating and the staff had disappeared. All of a sudden, the youngish female chef burst out of the restaurant and ran across the square in the direction of the Conado supermarket presumably in search of more supplies to feed the growing hordes. Well, that's what we thought she was doing. As it turned out, she was actually just running away and didn't come back.
Things began to deteriorate. The couple next to us had managed to get a plate of vegetables but the rest of their meal never arrived despite several visits inside to see what was happening. Rumours began to circulate about the staff having trouble with the group inside and their bill but there was still no sign of Whispering Jack or the glamorous one. Having finished our meal and still having some wine left, we settled in to watch the fun. Eventually, the glamour girl reappeared but was dressed in a far more workmanlike manner and appeared to have been doing some work in the kitchen. The troublesome group departed, every one of them lighting cigarettes as they went and there was a hint of expectation from the hungry assembly that matters might improve. They didn't. Whispering Jack eventually returned and we somehow managed to get our bill before he attended to others. We'd have liked to stay longer to see what happened but, with little likelihood of getting anything else to eat or drink, it was time to move on. We felt very sorry for a lovely family of locals who had obviously planned a birthday lunch for a very frail old grandfather which turned out to be a disaster. They had been gathered at their table for at least an hour and had nothing to show for it.
I guess every restaurant has a meltdown from time to time. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed both visits and would have no hesitation in recommending this restaurant. Just go there early if Portovenere is crowded.
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