THERE is a menu outside. It is not what you are supposed to follow, just like you are not supposed to eat the giant pumpkin in the hallway. It is just a guide. You could equally order from the fish slab. I mention this because there is a lot on TripAdviser in southern Italy of people who obviously don’t get this personal approach and get upset by it.
There are many Italian restaurants in Bari, TA lists a staggering 984, which is a lot of spaghetti, but most of them are cheap street food eats, lots of pizzeria for takeout and grazing, but real restaurants are fewer just like the locals don’t tend to wear the Prada and Max Mara in the shops. Mama Bari might disapprove. Number one has just two reviews and the number two is a focaccia bar. Ai is rated only 58 but it is the real swank. The fish counter as you go in says as much. It is the local fish couture.
As you sit down the bowl of crudités arrives. And the bread basket. And then the pizza and the panette. With coffee comes a Ritz style tower of biscuits and a plate of the local pastry cups drizzled with a sweet must. Your three euro cover charge goes a long, long way.
There are a lot of waiters. They hover. Their job is the menu. This is good today etc. Take their advice. The party of six at the next table had a superlative conveyor belt of antipasto followed by a spectacular frutti de mari and had not got as far as the pasta by the time I had left.
We are backward in terms of names for different foods in English. Here cicorelli was translated as chicory which I would take to mean Belgian endive but there are many Italian declensions behind the word chicory and this was the bitter spinach-like wilted summer greens – served with the local staple of pureed fava beans – Wiki lists more than 11 different interpretations of the fava – poshed up a little with a chilli pepper, toasts and red onion to the side. The waiter poured the olive oil on top. I love this dish. It is an Apullian staple that goes way back.
Next, and it does not look so good in the photo – avert your gaze and scroll quickly if you are squeamish – was the squid ink risotto made with proper fish stock, laced with the squid itself and a few redundant cherry tomatoes. Classic.
The atmosphere pivots on who is in and when they turn the awful music down. Bob Marley, I am sorry, you do not wanna hear this. (By way of aside the caffe at the end of the fishermen’s pier nearby is dedicated to you, Bob.)
At the other end of the spectrum in Bari, if you want atmosphere and spaghetti with lobster for eight euros or a margarita pizza for four, try Paolo on the via sepia 13/a tel 080 521 1662. It was heaving at lunch.
Ai 2 Ghiottoni, via nicolo putignani 11/b Bari 70121
Tel: 080 5232240