'Are you enjoying your meal?' asked Victor.
'Yes - I am. I really am,' came my slightly tipsy reply. 'I've had a cr@p day at work, perhaps the cr@ppiest ever. But this meal is making up for it beautifully, thank you.'
Victor looked at me. He doesn't know me from Adam but I was quite clearly telling the truth. So he decided to take pity on me.
'Well, seeing as it's been that bad... What do you prefer? Red or white?'
'Uuuurm. Red' (I said I was a bit tipsy - it took a little longer than usual to remember.)
At this point, I was digging my way happily through dessert - a large slab of cassata siciliana, a sponge cake/ricotta/dried fruit combination, soaked in Maraschino liqueur (you'd think I'd had enough alcohol, but no) and topped off with bright green marzipan and creme fraiche on the side. It satisfied both my love of kitsch (bright green marzipan? c'mon...) and delicious puddings.
Back came Victor from the bar with a glass containing what has to be the best red dessert wine I have ever tasted in my life. Although that wouldn't take much. Red dessert wine normally means port and that's a bit too heavy for me, so I tend to avoid it. But this stuff...
'It tastes like raisins... Or cherries! It's so smooth! What is it?' (That's about as Jilly Goulden as I get.)
The wine that was dancing around on my tastebuds (Casa Roma - Rabosa Piave) turned out to have been produced by the Peruzzetto brothers in the Piave region of Italy - and they're one of the very few left who use that particular grape (rabosa nero). It's been aged in oak for a couple of years, which means that the tanins have mellowed out (according to Victor) and given it that smooth, rounded taste. If you're a wine buff then this won't be news but it really was the first time that I 'got' what that last sentence means.
The brothers Peruzzetto mainly supply America and just one restaurant in the UK - the one I was sitting in.
Centotre opened on George Street, Edinburgh a couple of years ago and has been busy ever since to much acclaim. Victor is Victor Contini, who you'll usually find chatting away to old friends and strangers alike, making everyone feel welcome and comfortable. He runs the place with his wife Carina, and together they set out to provide Italian food made from the best possible produce. They're so committed to doing it properly that they take a weekly delivery of goods from Milan and they know all their producers well. It probably also helps that they're part of the family which runs the famous Valvona and Crolla delicatessen on Leith Walk. They know their onions. They know their pasta. And they certainly know how to run a successful restaurant.
So the quality of that dessert wine and the support of the small producer was no suprise - it completely fits in with the Contini ethos that runs through everything they do. But it's not about swanky pretentious 'oooh daaaarling, you must simply try this fabulous little wine I picked up in the Veneto, very exclusive'. It's about 'there you go, try this - we think you'll like it because it tastes good.' And if you ask where it came from, they'll tell you, without any faff or snobbery. I'm so glad I asked. It turns out Luigi Peruzzetto is more than happy to show visitors around his vineyard, if you're in the area. Personally, that's unlikely to be any time soon but I'm filing that information away under 'one day when I win the lottery'.
I realise I've completely ignored my starter and main course so far, which isn't right as they were both excellent. Bruschetta with a winning combination of creamy mozzarella, salty/spiky anchovies and peppery rocket. I wolfed that down in a very unlady-like way - but rocket is very difficult to eat politely, so I just got stuck in. Toothsome orecchiette pasta with peppercorn-studded Italian sausage, broccoli, Provola di Bufula, chillies and garlic. Simple ingredients put together with little fuss. What's not to like?
Rolling home happily starched-up and sated, I found out that Victor and Carina are going to open another Edinburgh restaurant soon - Zanzero in the New Town - thank you trusty eating and drinking guide from The List. Apparently, it's going to be up and running in late May 2007. Hmmmm. Hope I get a chance to try it before moving to Ireland... If not, what a great excuse to come back.