Tuesday, October 04, 2022

70th Birthday meal - Il Cucco

Cisternino, Puglia, Italy. Tuesday 20-September-2022.

I have a habit of celebrating the decades with a big birthday party. Previous birthdays:

  • 30th birthday - a restaurant somewhere in central London, almost certainly jointly with Denise, a friend whose birthday was close to mine.
  • 40th birthday - black tie do in a function room above a pub in South Wimbledon, black tie gave ladies the opportunity to wear their posh frocks. Catering by our friend Sue.
  • 50th birthday - meal for 40 guests in Somerley House, a stately home close to where we lived.
  • 60th birthday - multiple parties including a large gathering in Puglia, hosted Carole and Mino, and London.

This year I decided I would hold it in Puglia as that is where we normally are on my birthday. We investigated various possible venues but ended up with Il Cucco, one of our favourite restaurants in Cisternino. It is normally closed on a Tuesday but when we had a chat with the owner he agreed to open up just for us so we could have the party on the day itself.

It is one of the best restaurants in town but for years it was very small with no outside space. Then the house next door came up for sale with a large garden. They bought it, went through the wall and restructured turning it into a brilliant venue.

I gave everybody a heads up earlier in the year as they might want to plan their holidays around the date. It turned out that many did indeed seize the opportunity. I was very flattered at how many people made the effort to come over from the UK for the occasion. It does help that it is a lovely part of the world to visit for a holiday.

Normally at a party the host doesn’t get to spend much time with individual guests as there are so many of them. Here we were fortunate enough to be able to meet up with people beforehand and have a decent long chat: Bron and Maggie on the Tuesday before, Siobhan and Paul on the Saturday before, Mary's family and the Penrith Four on the Sunday when they arrived.

Mary then organised for pizza on the Monday night before which turned into a mass booking for 37 people at Doppio Zero. We also went to Birrorosteria 72014, a Fornello Pronto aka Meat Feast, on the Wednesday after. That way I had ample opportunity to get to chat to everyone. On the day itself there were 59 guests, 35 from the UK and the rest a mixture of people who are semi-resident like us and Italians.

We held the party in the garden with the back-up plan of retreating indoors if the weather was poor. Thanks to Mary’s sister, Sandra, and family for the poster and hand drawn lettering on the bunting (and especially to Sandra for the colouring in).

A selection of photos of the garden and guests. Photo credit and thanks to Will Carpenter. 

A glass of local fizz beforehand.

Not wanting to number the tables, possibly suggesting a hierarchy, Mary came up with the idea of using local town names linked to someone on each table.

Looks I’m getting or giving advice with my brother Ian.

We had some thoughts about the menu and when we went to chat to the owner he basically proposed the same as what we had in mind: 

  • Assorted antipasti
  • Two primi
    • strascinate with rabbit (one of our favourite dishes) 
    • risotto with porcini (suitable for vegetarians)
  • Two secondi
    • beef 
    • lamb
  • Fruit
  • Cake

The plan had been to have antipasti and primi served and then a buffet to encourage people to move and mingle. As it turned out it started raining halfway through the primi and we had to retreat indoors so the restaurant served everything at the table.

Many ended up on different tables so weather did the mingling for us which meant people got to talk to strangers. Several people commented what nice friends I had and of course they are, they wouldn't be my friends if they weren't!

Some ended up on a table in the enoteca (wine shop) which is part of the restaurant.

Back outside for cake cutting as the weather had eased.

A speech was requested...

...but I kept it short.

The thankful audience.

Cutting the cake.

Cheers! Now to start thinking about my 80th!

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