It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot go wrong with a food recommendation from a local, and after some of the top restaurants on my Bologna hit list turned out to be closed without warning for summer holidays (sob), I was lucky to have some extra tips to explore from my lovely Air BnB host, Marco.
Ideally, one of these recommendations happened to be right opposite my apartment in Mercato delle Erbe, the grocery market favoured with locals that dates back to 1910. The market has an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fresh handmade pasta, and also has several food stalls and cafes where locals flock to for lunch and dinner, tucked away to the side of the market stalls in the wings of the old building. If you saw Rick Stein’s Long Weekend in Bologna, Mercato delle Erbe may ring a bell: the market featured on the tv show and was home to the location where Rick tried stuffed squid at Banco 32 – another restaurant also recommended by Marco, though I opted for his other tip in the market: Altro?
Altro? was the spot for my first meal in Italy on this trip, and what better way to start a weekend of eating your way around an Italian city than with a steaming bowl of tagliatelle al ragu (€10) and a couple of glasses of Sangiovese? Seeing as I came to Bologna specifically to eat, there was a lot riding on this first meal to live up to the high expectations I’d built up around the food of Bologna, and I wasn’t disappointed. Altro? served up one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had: the pasta fresh and perfectly cooked al dente (and you should hope so in the land of pasta), the ragu rich and plentiful. Parmesan served in a shaker on the table allows you to keep piling on the good stuff as you make your way through your meal as you go, something I appreciate over posher establishments where the waiter is in charge of your cheese distribution.
I was actually so impressed with Altro’s version of the most traditional of Bolognese dishes that I returned a few days later for another go at it. This time around I started with the burrata (€10), which hands down overtook what I thought was the best burrata I’ve had. Sitting in the cream sauce of two varieties of tomato, Altro’s was ‘eyes rolling to the back of your head’ good, particularly mopped up with the bowl of fresh sourdough brought over to me at the start of the meal. If you’re even the slightest fan of burrata, this dish is unmissable. Pleasingly, the tagliatelle al ragu that followed kept up the high calibre of a few days previous.
Whilst dishes here can be slightly higher in price than those in many of Bologna’s trattorias, the quality is clearly worth it. The food excelled, and I would happily return to try many of the other dishes on the menu. In hindsight I was particularly disappointed in myself to have not found room to try the desserts they had on offer. I would love to return in the evening in order to take longer over my meal and enjoy the atmosphere around Via Belvedere afterwards. In the evening, the restaurants of Mercato delle Erbe and the surrounding bars spill out onto the pedestrian street, animated with scores of young professionals drinking aperitivo into the night. The night time atmosphere is wonderful on this stretch, even in the quiet of August, and Altro is the perfect place to eat before settling into a night of Aperol in the balmy air. Returning to a restaurant in the relatively short space of a long weekend is something I never usually do, keen as I am to try many different places to eat as possible. In a city of unfailingly good food such as Bologna, it is the highest of accolades.
Mercato delle Erbe, Via Ugo Bassi, 23 – 25, 40121 Bologna, Italy
+39 351 014 4191
Open every day 8am – 12am except Sundays