Night falls in Bologna, as does the rain. Fortunately (mainly for my frizz prone hair which turns poodle at the first sight of a raindrop), we have the protection of the beautiful, meandering archways of Bologna. They lead us directly to the Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), where we meet up with our dates for the evening, the region's finest gourmands, Alessio and Raffaella.
Alessio hails from Bologna, and now lives in nearby Modena with his fabulous fiancee, Raffaella, who previously called Roma homa. Not only are they amazing hosts, providing a fun, fact filled insiders' walking tour of night time Bologna, but these guys really like to eat. No complaints from us.
No night out starts in Bologna without an apertivo or two. After some refreshing Aperol spritz and chatter at a bustling bar, paired up with Bologna's answer to England's salty crisps and greasy peanuts - some complementary chopped tomatoes in olive oil, chopped eggplant and bread (so simple, so good) - we are well oiled for the main event.
Trattoria Gianni - Dinner:
We follow our trusty guides through Bologna's labyrinth of alleyways until, tucked away in a darkened strip, we come upon Trattoria Gianni (via Clavature, 18). Clattering with locals, this rustic little hideaway is the perfect place to sample some of the region's local specialities.
We start with an antipasti platter which comes laden with local delights including Parma ham (Parma being a neighbouring city, north east of Bologna towards Milan), cheeses and a delicious spuma di mortadella - which is a mortadella mousse. Oh my. It's gorgeous. A new find which is quickly stashed away in the mental "little black book" of future food essentials.
Raffaella chooses the bollito misto (boiled meats) for her main course (which look more succulent to those TPG sampled at Ristorante Diana earlier in the day), while the rest of us decide to share 4 plates of pasta between 3 (of course).
They're all gratifyingly good and cooked to perfectly firm al dente.
Naturally, we can't come to Bologna without sampling some of the local bolognese. The tagliatelle ragu is a fine, silky form of tagliatelle with the perfect smattering of ragu - it clings to the porous pasta ribbons nicely, without smothering them. Tagliatelle is the traditional form of pasta to serve with this type of ragu. Spaghetti bolognese is unheard of here (spaghetti originated down south in Naples), and the thick tomatoey bolognese sauces known in many places outside Italy bear little resemblance to the drier mix of ground beef, pork and onions (and other bits and pieces) which is traditional to Bologna, the birth place of bolognese.
The tagliolini with prosciutto is gorgeous. Tagliolini is another traditional form of pasta hailing from this region, and is thinner and more cylindrical compared to the flatter tagliatelle.
The macaroni with prosciutto, butter and zucchini, and the farafelle with lamb ragu, are both scrumptious. We devour the lot with ease. There's no place for Atkins devotees here.
Dolce, dolce, dolce. TPG's favourite time has arrived. While Alessio confines himself to an espresso, Raffaella opens TPG's eyes to what is a whole new world of a creamy, custard-like marscapone with chocolate sauce. TPG polishes off his lovely creme caramel then happily tucks into Raffaella's dessert. Not sure if he'll be invited to dinner again. I opt for what I can only describe in my best Italian as a "black and white cake", which was moist and tasty with a pleasing amount of chocolate sauce.
We devour a couple of bottles of spicy Sangiovese before finally staggering out into the night to finish off with some cocktails. There's no 11pm "lights out" in Bologna.
Le Stanze - cocktail hour:
Our trusty gourmands escort us to Le Stanze (via Borgo di San Pietro, 1), a gothic bar in a converted 16th century chapel. It's stunning. The chapel is decorated with its original ceiling high frescoes which contrast with the modern cocktail bar and rooms of comfy Italian style furniture. A terrific place to make a night of it over some well made mixes.
We manage to keep some sort of lid on it, and arrange to meet up again tomorrow for lunch and a tour of Modena (home of the famous balsamic, as well as our wonderful hosts).
Ristorante I Savoia, Modena - Sunday Lunch:
Once we knew we were embarking on a Sunday lunch with 12 Italians at their local Italian seafood restaurant on the outskirts of Modena, it became clear we should cancel our dinner plans for Meloncello and let nature take its course.
After a tour past the Maserati and Lamborghini factories across the flat, grassy plains between Bologna and Modena, and a tour of the barrels of aromatic balsamic ageing in Alessio's parent's house, Alessio and Raffaella bring the car to a surprising halt outside what appears to be an abandoned pink building. Never has a facade been such an ingenious disguise of the gastronomic delights which lay awaiting inside.
Ristorante I Savoia (Via Ravarino Carpi, 104. Ph: 059 909 855) is beloved by the locals of Modena, and its focus on seafood is somewhat original for this inland region. The first sign of the intoxicating happiness that was to be ours over the next few hours was the delivery of 2 shiny magnums of Italian sparkling wine to our table. These would be the first of many - it's Sunday, who's counting? The Italians know how to have a good time.
In short, I lost count of the number of courses which comprised our Sunday lunch. Platter after bountiful platter of raw seafood came our way - scallops, prawns, sea bass, squid, scampi. All wonderfully fresh and simple, adorned at most by a generous splattering of local olive oil and pepper.
A succession of plates brimming with tasty giant cooked prawns, fried squid, and scallops with zucchini followed.
And then we were on to the obligatory pasta dishes - a rough cut papardelle with clams and funghi (an unusual combination, but it worked) and large pieces of penne with prawns and sundried tomatoes.
But there's more - indeed, we have barely begun. Two enormous plates of baked sea bass splashed with olive oil were succulent and mouthwatering - a high point in simplicity and deliciousness. These were accompanied by smaller plates heaving with a mixture of lightly battered fried octopus and prawns.
But this is Italy and we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we stopped there. My dessert of chocolate pudding, oozing with rich dark chocolate molten spilling from the core, was set in a pool of luscious marscapone. Fabulous. TPG's torrone was also lovely.
We finished off with an digestion aiding grappa and macchiatos all round. Alessio and Raffaella had meet us at midday - we stopped eating at around 5pm. Such a memorable, marathon of a meal. This, my friends, is the life.
We finished off our travels with a relaxing stroll around the beautiful city of Modena - a mini-Bologna, again with the archways and colourful, majestic buildings lining the cobbled promenades.
We stopped for a coffee on the main Piazza, before taking a 20 minute train trip back to collapse in our hotel room, with food exhaustion.
And there you have it. Bologna is a highly recommended weekend escape. With so many places to explore in Italy, I don't often plan to return to cities the moment I get back - but for Bologna, I'll make an exception. We've barely nibbled the tip of the culinary iceberg.
As always, such trips are always a thousand times more amazing with some local knowledge and, in Alessio and Raffaella, we had the best of the best at hand. We're already scheming about how to repay our generous Italian friends when they next come to London - there's going to have to be some serious eating involved. Bellissimo.
You can click here for Part 1 (Espresso and bombolone at Zanarini) and Part 2 (Food Shops & Lunch at Ristorante Diana) of my Bologna travels.