Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant, Beijing 01-2010

During the entire China trip, the only real food venue I researched was the famous Peking duck. Naturally its home is in Beijing and so I read a few online articles before settling upon a place. What struck me about Li Qun was that the setting is more discreet, amongst the hutongs of Beijing away from the crowds, and it had been recommended by a few people online including Kylie Kwong (who was probably the only Chinese-style celebrity chef I knew of back then).

On a freezing January evening, I braved the cold and dark to find this place. Armed with my Lonely Planet map and a whole lot of clothing, I eventually found the wall inscriptions showing me the way.

This quiet night had me and one other small table as guests. The host attempted in vain to communicate in Mandarin. Eventually she spoke a simple English phrase - "1 person, 1 duck". I nodded my agreement for the approximately $30 course. The ducks were hanging in a brick oven with woodfire licking their skins. One came to my table and was carved and set down alongside wraps, spring onion and hoisin sauce.

I had previously read the traditional Peking way was to eat almost exclusively skin, but this was nicely balanced between skin and tender flesh. In the end I struggled my way heroically through an entire duck before waddling out. In hindsight it was a nice experience, although I can't put any duck in front of the glorious samples from HKK in London (

In any case if I ever make it back to Beijing, I'll come here and try another place, to see how my tastes may have changed.

Momus, Milan 07-2012

On a small street opposite a Punto supermarket (which stocks an enormous packet of chips) is Momus. It isn't much to look at but has reputation for pizza, pasta and risotto. For the last meal on this extraordinary Italy trip, taking things back to basics seemed like a fitting farewell.

- Risotto with black squid ink;
- Linguine allo scoglio (with seafood);
- Ravioli ai crostacei in salsa reale (shellfish ravioli with grouper, crab meat & shrimps) - very rich decadent creamy dish topped with crab roe.

After this was a pleasant walk back, a trip to the airport, and Ryanair luxury back to Stansted. Until next time Italy.

Trattoria da Abele Temperanza, Milan 07-2012

Whilst living in London I subscribed to one magazine only - The Lonely Planet. Even though I'm not a big fan of LP guidebooks (as I much prefer Rough Guide to travel with and annotated personally from internet research), the magazine is one of the best in the world for a reason. The stories, photos and travel lust it inspires is better than almost any I've seen, and more budget friendly for typical European travel (as opposed to me other favourite Travel & Leisure which is much more flashpacker or hotel style).

The LP magazine once had a short travel card for Milan where it recommended Temperanza as *the* place for risotto, with dozens of varieties, of which only a certain few will make the menu each day. It's a generalisation that north Italy is more rice based than middle and south which are more pasta based. It didn't take much convincing to trek all the way up far north-east Milan to visit here.

- Risotto ragu di cervo e porcini (deer ragout with cep mushrooms);
- Risotto calamaretti, trevisana e bacon (squids, trevisan red chicory & smoked bacon);
- Umido di cinghiale con uva passa (boar stew with raisins);
- Insalata con verdure saltate (vegetable salad withescarole, baby spinach, soy sprouts, radishes, peppers, marrows, tofu, ginger, sesame).

The risotto was perfectly cooked and the flavour combinations were different. I'm not sure I'd say they are the best risotto flavour combinations I've eaten (probably because I prefer strong seafood flavours) but the creativity is certainly there. The menu reads like a gourmet dream with dishes I didn't see anywhere else in Italy. Definitely worth a visit.

Panzerotti Luini, Milan 07-2012

There were only two food destinations within central Milan that made it on my list. One was a relatively expensive but nice looking foodhall called Peck, and the other was a famous bakery called Luini.

This place is perfect for a snack or you can load up and turn it into a meal. It specialised in panzerotti, which are stuffed deepfried folded over pastries filled with assorted meats, vegetables and cheeses.

I opted for the fried spinach and ricotta cheese version. For the health conscious, they also have oven baked. But why skimp on flavour when on holiday?

Trattoria All'Antica, Milan 07-2012

A decent walk away down to the quieter streets of Milan's south-east takes you through the city, the trams, past a park and to All'Antica. It seems most of the recommended food places in Milan aren't in the middle of town.

The reputation here was for typical Milanese dishes and also osso buco. On this occasion they didn't have osso available, but there were plenty of other dishes to make up for it. The food is a little more expensive than your typical, and the setting is finer. I wouldn't imagine there aren't many non-Italians that come here (or to this part of town).

- Spaghetti con gamberi di Mazaza e riccio (with prawns from Mazzara & sea urchin) - wet pasta dish with a subtle flavour of sea urchin in the sauce;
- recommended simple salad of greens and fresh cherry tomatoes;
- Galletto alla diavola (cockerel in the oven with herbs) - splayed out roasted chicken;
- Cotoletta alla Milanese (Milanese cutlet breaded & fried) - tender tasty veal cutlet.

Next door is a massage place. It was tempting to go in, but after a huge meal probably not the best idea. That, and the place looks like it may be a dirty massage.

Trattoria da Sandro, Vernazza 07-2012

One of the first restaurants you come across walking downhill from the Vernazza train station into the main hub is Trattoria da Sandro. It's always the rule that you don't walk into the first restaurant you come across, especially on the main road. But after wandering around the town, it seemed as safe a place to eat as any and we happily settled on the wooden platform out the front, and watched the world walk by.

- Spaghetti seafood;
- Baked potatoes topped with anchovies & tomato.

Trattoria Da Piva, Vernazza 07-2012

Despite the high tourist traffic through Cinque Terre, it was surprisingly difficult to find many places recommended online. It could be because most people (especially tourists who use English websites) stay in the much bigger town of Monterosso. Or perhaps Cinque Terre is still relatively unspoilt enough such that anywhere is fine.

Da Piva had some appeal in being off the central road in Vernazza. I had read mixed reviews online but the seafood risotto had been mentioned a few times as worth getting. I'm glad I tried it.

- Grilled octopus;
- Seafood risotto - this delicious pot held a nice array of seafood in a much wetter than typical risotto. It was much more of a seafood stew with rice, and a great one at that. I wish I could have finished it but it was too large;
- Spaghetti seafood.

Il Grottino, Riomaggiore 07-2012

One of the quintessential Cinque Terre walks is the via dell'Amore between Manarola and Riomaggiore. This lovers' walk is most pleasant at sunset and it is easily to stroll the short 1km or so whilst enjoying the weather (in summer), ocean scenery, and general beauty. Access to the trails between cities costs, but after 8pm all the check points close meaning they are free. In the midst of summer the sun may not have set at 8pm making this the ideal time to go. However of course you need to buy (maybe not "need") a train ticket to get back to your city of choice (Vernazza for me).

Before the walk there was time for dinner. For no particular reason I chose to from Riomaggiore to Manarola. I'd recommend this way again as you walk towards the sunset (on my evening at least) rather than away from it.

I didn't have any particular food places in Riomaggiore, so after a short look around, there were several good looking options. I opted for somewhere that didn't have the ocean and beach views.

- Tagliolini al nero di seppia al tocco di scorfano, capperi ed olive Liguri Taggiasche - Tagliolini pasta cooked with cuttlefish ink with a dash of scorpion fish sauce, capers & Ligurian "Taggiasche" olives;
- Calamari e seppie fresch alla griglia - grilled fresh squids & cuttlefish;
- Zuppi di frutti di mare in polpa di pomodoro, rosamarino, olio extravergine di oliva - typical local specialty shellfish soup with tomato pulp, red pepper & rosemary sauce;
- Spaghetti al mare di Liguria (con frutti di mare di Giornata, pomodoro fresco, prezzemolo ed olio extravergine di oliva) - Ligurian seafood spaghetti with mixed seafood, fresh tomatoes, parsley and extra virgin olive oil.

The food was as delicious as it looked. I was happy to be able to try some of the local Ligurian specialty dishes.

Looking at the menu again, next time I'd try the local specialty pasta of Acciugata spaghetti with fresh anchovies from Monterosso, capers and oregano. The flavour combination sounds right up my alley.

Trattoria Zaza, Florence 07-2012

Around the corner from Trattoria Mario is Zaza. Within this quite busy piazza Mercato Centrale, the food options are plentiful. I generally try to avoid food recommendations from LP and RG, unless I have read online things about them that interest me. My brother really wanted to eat here countering that their recommendation in LP and RG might mean they are actually good and not just full of tourists. I suppose the other thing that deterred me was the enormous sign board menu outside.

Every single other food place in Italy was selected by me so I let him have this one. We trundled there for our final dinner in Florence.

The setting is actually quite nice, with a large outdoor area that is perfect for the July summer evenings. For that reason I didn't even see the inside other than to approach to get a table.

- Insalata Campagnola - salad with proscuitto, pear and cheese;
- Spaghetti allo scoglie;
- Fettuccine alla bolognese;
- Risotto zafferano, zucchine, gamberi e tartufo fresco - saffron risotto with fresh shaved black truffles.

Overall the food was excellent. I can't say that about every place I'm hesitant about, but I was wrong about this one.

Pizzeria Dante, Florence 07-2012

I don't find that much to do in Florence. After visiting David, considering a trip inside Uffizi, seeing the street sculptures and roaming about Ponte Vecchio, there's only really outlet shopping left. Perhaps this will change on my next return after recently reading Dan Brown's Inferno. Crossing over to the other side of the bridges is probably something I should look more into. On this one occasion the journey over had the purpose of eating on the other side. Surprisingly not many places on the main cityside took my interest.

I wanted to eat bistecca alla Fiorentina. On my list Trattoria Sostanza sounded interesting because it had this dish but also a particularly well reputed buttered chicken. Unfortunately it is closed on weekends so I had to look elsewhere.

Trattoria Dante met the criteria for across the bridge, exploration and also reputation for pasta (for my brother) and steak (for me). I was surprised to find the name of the place Pizzeria Dante, although the official title still says ristorante trattoria pizzeria. It's a much more upmarket place than the standard trattorias or pizzerias, so be aware the clientele and setting is quieter.

- bread - we didn't order this but as is Italian restaurant tradition, it was served. Considering the pizzeria reputation, this was exceptional bread. I imagine their pizzas would be fantastic;
- Insalata di mare caldo (calamari, gamberetti) - seafood salad with squid, shrimps;
- Spaghetti ai frutti di mare (calamari, cozze, vongole e gamberetti) - rich with calamari, clams, mussells and shrimps;
- Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (wild boar sauce);
- Bistecca alla Fiorentina - Tuscan beef T-bone served perfectly seared into rare. The meat was lovely and tender but could have used extra seasoning.

Overall it was a little too much food for two people. But it didn't stop me from having impromptu gelato down the road at La Carraia.