Columnist Lesley Brain on the pitfalls, and delights, of dining out

I CRIED in Jamie Oliver's in Bath.

I was on my own, having a shopping day and wishing to have a 'ladies who lunch' break.

A warm chicken salad and glass of cold sauvignon blanc, I thought.

The chicken was cold and the wine was hot.

The meat, in my opinion, was not well cooked on the inside and charred on the outside.

Seldom has a plate of food encompassed the divide between expectation and reality. The manageress, seeing the tear silently trickle from my cheek, asked if everything was all right. In a way that showed she couldn't have cared less. I paid and left, never to return.

For very different reasons I felt like crying last week.

An Italian evening in a private house – the dinner cooked by Elena Canuto, who is establishing quite a reputation for bringing the best of Italian cooking to the Cotswolds, is Piedmontese with cooking in her DNA.

I come from a background and generation that was a stranger to food fads. I still look askance at 'intolerances'.

We ate what we were given and little thought was given to whether we enjoyed it or not, dead dog and trough of beans being my mother's cookery ethos.

So to eat food that is made lovingly, to make people happy, is a sheer delight.

Our hostess, never one to hold back, decked the halls and herself with red, white and green, chilled Asti was offered and dishes laden with gorgeous hors d'eouvres dazzled.

I thought of Jay Rayner, the food critic and a man who doesn't let his knowledge and cleverness get in the way of pleasure, who is one of my fantasy dinner guests. I think he would have loved it.

It all looked good, smelt good and tasted wonderful. I would be sad for those not there... except you can be.

For Elena, with her wide repertoire of amazing dishes, will cook for you and you will see the difference between her skill and what passes for Italian from supermarkets or certain restaurants.

I remembered when we were travelling back from Croatia in 1996, at the height of the civil war, and no decent feed for a year.

In Ancona an Italian lady placed a plate before us. Slivers of beef, olives, home-made bread and oil. I cried then, too, with joy.