What a cute place, we thought as we entered our cosy little apartment at 43 Via Anfiteatro, in the pretty little town of Lucca, where we were to spend 16 nights. It was past noon, we were starving after our train trip from Verona, so wandered out about 30 steps to a traditional-looking Italian trattoria with vacant tables laid with bright red check cloths flapping in the autumn breeze. A well-spoken Italian girl came out to beckon us to one of the outside tables. It was good to sit with a vino in hand and watch the sights of Lucca unfold before us as we tucked into our first of many meals at this spot. As we soaked up the Lucchese ambience we noticed the eatery was called ‘Ubaldos’.
We sat there and just ‘people-watched’ in the afternoon sun for a long time, during which a rough craggy-looking guy dressed from top to toe in black, with almost every inch of his exposed skin brightly adorned with a variety of tattoos, kept sauntering in and out of the trattoria with a smouldering cigarette limply hanging from the side of his mouth. His Italian banter with other diners intrigued us and kept us highly amused as we sat trying to work out if he and others lunching were guests, or perhaps he was ‘doin deals’ with cohorts beyond the myriad of red checked tables. He looked mischievous in what he might have been up to, although each time he came out into the autumn sunshine he directed a gentle to smile to us as he rubbed his face with his tattooed hands, which were heavily weighed down by huge silver knuckle duster rings on each of his fingers. He looked like he wanted to stop and say something to us as he walked around the tables while speaking fluent Italian to the others sitting there eating. However he didn’t say a word to us, just gave us a smiley nod. To him, we obviously looked like a couple of Aussie/English/New Zealand non-speaking Italians, hence the smile only. As we sat and enjoyed our meal we deduced he was a local who probably knew workers at the café and although he looked really scary, he was probably really quite harmless.
We enjoyed our meal and the vibe of the ‘Trattoria da Ubaldo’ in the middle of the day, and thought we would go again.
We returned a couple of evenings later and, although pretty early for Italian diners, there were many tables already occupied. However, we were warmly welcomed by Jaya, who sat us down and quickly returned with some drinks – closely followed by the tattooed bikie. He smiled at us and spoke in his quiet Italian to Jaya, who then relayed his words to us. We very swiftly found out this brightly decorated guy was the owner. He was Ubaldo Buralli. We smiled broadly. He smiled and extended his ringed hand in friendship while we continued to exchange pleasantries with our ‘piccola’ Italian and his very limited English. We learned that he had created this trattoria after waiting tables in his sibling’s establishment on the other side of town.
It was the first time we had entered the cave-like trattoria in the evening and as we entered we noticed it was decorated for the upcoming Amercian Halloween celebrations. There was also myriad unrelated paraphernalia adorning all the shelves and wall space of this very eclectic place. The choice of music was fabulous too – not too loud, easy to talk over, familiar tunes all enhancing the great vibe of this very colourful place.
We were left alone to enjoy our meal and be entertained by the assortment of diners coming and going, many of whom were obviously locals and friends of Ubaldo. When it was time to leave, Ubaldo waved us on our way.
We had several meals at Ubaldo’s during our stay this first time around, and when we chose to sit outside it was really interesting to watch other prospective first time diners react to the appearance of this most interesting gentleman.
‘Go on, sit down, out or in. You won’t be disappointed,’ we were both tempted to shout out those first few times. After that we did make a point of smiling at undecided tourists, who would then often ask questions. We simply told each and every one to do themselves a favour and enjoy this very special dining establishment in the heart of Lucca, which was owned by a guy with a heart of gold. We were sure they would be like us and find the experience an enhancement of their stay in this amazing part of Tuscany.
Although we are pretty sure every town has an eatery like this, we know there is only one Ubaldo. He is one of a kind – a real gem. His staff are pretty special too.