As you walk through the door of Al Pompiere in Verona you could easily be back in the '70s. A timbered ceiling, checked table cloths, walls lined with pictures of guests through the ages, it’s every inch the traditional trat. In one corner where hams line the shelves and hang from the ceiling an elderly chef in a toque is slicing ham and other salumi to order with a large, impressively flashy machine. If you think it’s old-fashioned though take a look at their website - the retro feel is deliberate but they’re linked to all the social media.
I was taken there by Mateja Gravner of Bertani, one of the best known producers of Valpolicella and Amarone, who had sensibly decided we should have a classic Veronese experience rather than a high-end gastronomic one. Although it’s well featured on Trip Advisor it’s still very much a place for locals who easily outnumbered tourists on the night we were there.
No wonder - the food is amazing. We naturally had to kick off with the ham which included a local prosciutto, cooked shoulder, salami cured with Valpolicella, coppa and some great fresh pickles, perfect with Bertani’s fresh, full-flavoured 2011 Soave Sereole. We thought we’d also agreed to share subsequent courses but each had our own, starting with a helping of the best pasta e fagioli I’ve ever eaten, made from rich earthy borlotti beans, cooked to a silky puree and served with offcuts of fresh pasta - a frugal yet beautiful dish.
There was a pasta of the day - tagliatelle with artichoke hearts that I suspect had been par-boiled then slowly cooked with oil and butter, served simply with parmesan - a revelation with Bertani’s Secco Valpolicella Valpantena 2010, which is made in the ‘ripasso’ style.
Artichokes and red wine are normally a complete no-no, making the wine taste oddly sweet but with the existing touch of sweetness in the wine that didn’t happen.
Next, a dish of ‘capel del prete’ a large chunky sausage with lentils with the 2007 Ognisanti a single vineyard Valpolicella from the Villa Novare estate, a deeply savoury wine made from late-picked grapes. That was followed by a dish of veal cheek cooked in amarone served with 1972 and 1964 vintages of the Bertani Amarone Classico. The 1972 vintage had lost it, developing unattractively bitter dark leafy flavours but the 1964 was magnificent - delicate and sweet with a haunting aroma of dried red rose petals. 48 years old! It certainly didn't taste it.
We finished off with cheese - a Monte Veronese Ubriaco, a local parmesan-like cheese immersed for several days in grape must, which came with a sweet red onion marmalade and a Gorgonzola served with honey and fig and nut bread. Both defeated the dry wines and needed Bertani's sweet recioto 2009 to offset their sharpness and strength.
There is also an amazing winelist at the restaurant with pages of other valpolicellas and amarones. The ideal environment to learn about both wines.
Oh and by the way the equally unreconstructed hotel we stayed in, theHotel Accademia in Via Scala, 12, is perfectly situated in the middle of Verona - ideal for exploring the town. Don't miss the cakes at breakfast!
I ate in the restaurant and stayed in Verona as a guest of Bertani.