The Hippo chefs take Bologna

We sent four of our Hippo chefs out to Bologna in Italy to get inspired for our new winter menus. Read Executive Chef Stan’s account of a few foodie fuelled days in Bologna.

At the end of September myself, George, Xav and James were given the wonderful opportunity to sample the foodie delights of Bologna, on a mission from Rupert to see what we could add to the Hippo Inns menu moving into the winter months. It was a more than cosy affair, with the four of us sharing four single beds in one room! The chorus of loud snores must have kept the locals ‘entertained’ until the early hours…..

The focus was to eat like locals for two days, breakfast lunch and dinner. And eat we did…..Amongst the wonderful architecture and bustling ancient streets we found beautiful markets, fantastic little cafes selling homemade pastries and sandwiches, wonderful shops displaying hanging hams and huge wheels of parmesan cheese, traditional Trattorias, and windows with tray after tray of freshly made pasta.   With all this at our doorstep, we couldn’t help but find inspiration. It soon became very clear what made Bologna tick, and what that could bring to our pubs.

What did we find/ what stood out?
The markets were fantastic – ‘Mercato delle Erbe’ and ‘Mercato di Mezzo’ the clear winners. One was an ancient market with fantastic eye catching displays of fish, meat and veg interwoven with small cafes, bars and restaurants. The other was an indoor market with slightly more upmarket stalls. Attached to either side of the market were two huge covered wings with various food offerings and central communal dining areas.

‘La Biata’ was the standout delicatessen, with just about every type of Italian meat and cheese under the sun, all displayed beautifully. What was so great about our lunch was its simplicity. Perfectly presented but without all the useless garnish and ‘add-ons’. The quality of the product spoke for itself. Boards of meats and cheeses with little pouches of warm bread and pots of rosemary lardo, ground parmesan and local honey – delicious.

Osteria dell’ Orsa was by far our top choice for lunch. Serving the hungry students of Bologna – we had to wait to get a table it was so packed. It offered a set menu, with starters including tortellini in brodo, and the classic Tagliatelle con ragu alla Bolognese. Again the simplicity in these dishes was what stood out. The huge confidence in the product didn’t need to be dressed up or garnished with anything. The kitchen was open, and you could see the huge bratt pan full of ragu simmering in the corner – the smell was amazing and you could see the chefs stirring it slowly with a huge wooden paddle. Portions were perfectly controlled – not a huge dollop of ragu on top of ‘naked’ pasta. They used no more than a hundred grams per portion, and dressed the pasta with the sauce so the flavour ran through the whole of the dish and didn’t just sit on top. That was it. Fresh egg Tagliatelle and ragu. No need for a sprig of basil or piles of cheese. The dish spoke for itself.
‘Osteria del Sole’ was the stand out bar and one of the oldest in Bologna. What we loved is that with every drink we ordered, a snack would be offered free of charge. It’s never expected that a customer should drink alcohol without being offered a snack to line the stomach. The snacks came in all forms, sometimes tortillas and salsa, occasionally mini ham and cheese flatbreads, or even as simple as homemade crisps. It doesn’t make much to make you feel valued – and the ones we liked we went back to.