- Food & Drink
Genova isn’t a conventional choice for a minibreak. A grubby port city whose glory days slipped past sometime in the 14th century, Genova funnels squeaky-suited business travellers and cruise ship escapees through its narrow alleyways, but rarely hosts holiday-makers who simply can’t leave Italy without seeing the home of pesto.
Their absence was my gain and the taxi containing me, Evil and Nojo sped along the sopraelevata, the brutalist flyover that impassively threads its way between palaces and portside cranes, without stopping for traffic once. We were meeting Leonard and The Enigmatic Mr S in Ugo’s and we were clock-watching. The restaurant wasn’t wild about us turning up after 1.30pm and our flight had been late.
At 1.45pm we fell through the doors into the wrought iron and white plaster dining room. Leonard and Mr S were sat in a corner, dipping into the first 1/2 litre of house wine and, happily, the waitresses had recognised Leonard from previous visits. We weren’t going to be cast back out onto the cobbles without lunch.
I’ve never seen a menu at Ugo’s, but then the dishes always stay the same. Our waitress reeled off a familiar list, which Leonard translated, but I’d already decided what I was eating before I got through passport control: pasta pesto followed by baby squid.
The pesto came with springy strips of Leprechaun-hued fettuccine, flakes of floury potato and firm green beans hidden at the bottom of the bowl. The pesto was a silvery, sewery green and tasted herbaceous and peppery. The glow-in-the-dark fettuccine was bouncy and appropriately difficult for my Anglo pasta skills. A good spattering of sauce hit the tablemat and my t-shirt.
Halfway through ordering I’d abandoned my desire for cute baby squid and been tempted by the grown-up grilled octopus. A plate of potatoes that just about held themselves together arrived liberally topped with chopped tentacles. Lemon wedges and olive oil were provided on the side, and so I mixed up my own potato and octopus salad.
The octopus was tenderly cooked and moreishly chewable, while the potatoes provided a stodgy carpet that bulked out the meal. It hadn’t been seasoned and a pinch of salt was needed to perk up the blander qualities of the dish, but like the fettuccine it was a dish of textures backed up by subtle, appealing flavours. The physical pleasure of eating it, feeling the octopus spring against my teeth and the potatoes collapse and coat my tongue, was high.
I don’t normally order desserts in Italy – I’ve yet to eat a good one – but the 11/2 litres of house red we’d consumed had left me feeling expansive. They only made 1 of their desserts in-house; a softly set vanilla mousse covered in grainy chocolate sauce. It tasted like the sort of thing that comes in brightly coloured pots for children who find swallowing a bit of hassle.
Draining the dregs of our blackberryish, tannic wine, we ordered grappas and espressos and considered the afternoon stroll around the carrugi that awaited us. The bill came to €118 for 5 starters, 5 main courses, 2 puddings, 11/2 litres wine, 3 grappas, 2 Amaros and 3 espressos. I have a feeling it’s impossible to spend more than €25 a head, no matter what you order.
I love Ugo’s. It’s a comfortable bastion of reliability in a world that hankers after novelty. It looks the same, the menu stays the same and while the food might not light up every joy receptor in your brain, it does provide the edible equivalent of a warm, knitted scarf. A cosy and reassuringly ordinary pleasure.