Ladies don’t lunch
Dining in style at a quirky and captivating roadside osteria in Italy’s Balkan borderlands
This article is taken from the July 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Of all the things that hold women back in this world — the Kardashians, Femail, randomly having your rights reduced to those of a domestic animal by the pusillanimous reverses of Western governments — insufficient attention has been paid to lunch. Lunch is a crime against women, even when we don’t have to cook it.
The work lunch: mugging yourself up and getting there blows off your morning, then you have to trudge through the small talk before choosing the moment to discuss whatever you’re there for before haring back to the office to do the work you could have done while you were at lunch.
Social lunch: morning wasted as above but the food is delicious, so why not have a glass of wine, seems a shame not to, then it’s 5pm, you’re bilious and resentful and can’t even look forward to the blissful squeeze of a popping cork.
Continental lunch: “isn’t it lovely the way all the family gets together for a proper lunch every day that’s why the Europeans live longer you know.” No. We are bored by our own children, let alone other people’s, and it means that all the shops are shut while everyone eats their delightful multi-generational lunch so you can’t get your shopping done in your own precious lunch hour and you have to wait for them to finish their charmingly traditional siesta before you can buy a pair of tights to wear to tomorrow’s sodding lunch.
Unless you are unemployed and have servants, lunch is a pointless imposition which continues to strangle the 50 per cent of the human race who have been conditioned to feel self-conscious about napping at their desks until 4pm.
Osteria la Preda is not somewhere you would stop if you didn’t know what you were looking for
Or perhaps the world simply divides into lunchers and diners. Lunchers are relaxed about the future, fearless of the twilight slump, serene in their entitlement to prandial pleasure, whilst diners need boundaries, the worthy division between night and day. Confessionally, diners are gastronomical Protestants, which is why Deirdre refused to countenance a birthday lunch and insisted we drive to Slovenia for the evening. The Collio region between Gorizia and Brda encompasses a culture far older than the redrawn national boundaries which have been expanding and contracting it across the centuries; it’s technically in Italy but as you come from the flat plain of the Veneto the vowels disappear from the road signs, the hills loom abruptly in shaggy cloaks of forest and the air smells mysterious and ancient and suddenly Balkan.
The food is bilingual here, as are the people, and the imposing countryside reflects its inhabitants’ reputation for being chiuse e scontrose, a forbidding exterior hiding i cuori generosi — welcoming hearts.
True to type, Osteria la Preda is not somewhere you would stop if you didn’t know what you were looking for; a modest roadside restaurant with a few wooden tables outside. Behind the shutters, the Sirk family, who have run the property since the Eighties, have created a fairytale: not in the twee sense but captivating and a little bit witchy.
You have to love the confidence of a restaurant which greets its guests with a taxidermy diorama of a wedding, stag and doe as bride and groom, a badger in a red beret taking photos and a stuffed bear in white tie on the clarinet. One of the first items on the menu is carpaccio of venison. Given that, when we were offered prosciutto di Osvaldo as an antipasto we thought there was a fair chance Osvaldo was the pig.
He turned out to be the butcher from the village and his prosciutto kept up the paradoxes. Delicate and translucent as a slice of a Tiepolo sunset, the flavour was deep acorn and moss, so improbably bosky we had to order two more plates to work out how he did it.
Mlinci, a Collio cornmeal pasta, came next with a white meat sauce and a courgette reduction, juicily verdant and satisfyingly chewy, then a slice of frico Friuli, another traditional local dish (basically a cheese and potato pancake, golden and crusty on the outside, gloriously gooey within), but again elevated with a compote of pressed apple, forest honey and vinegar from Subida’s own distillery.
Delicate and translucent as a slice of a Tiepolo sunset, the flavour was deep acorn and moss
Deirdre took pork neck with more vinegar as a main course, a pentagram of crisp-skinned meat, its richness set off with pickled endive. I can’t say exactly what it tasted like as she wouldn’t let me have any but if it was anything like as good as my beef tartare with smoked butter, horseradish toasts and candied carrots I can’t say I blame her. Puddings were a take on sachertorte, steamed and pressed into extremely satisfying individual kilner jars and a trippy, improbably purple blueberry ice cream.
Alongside the Osteria, the Subida property features its Michelin-starred sister restaurant Al Cacciatore, guest cabins, stables, gardens, a pool and a wine shop. Guests are provided with bicycles, picnic baskets and hand drawn maps for forest adventures. I wish we had never left, especially as the motorway from Trieste was closed and the return journey took five hours. “It’s your fault,” said Deirdre. “We should have gone for lunch.”
Osteria la Preda, via Subida 52, Cormons, 34071, Italy
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