I’m more of a beach bunny than a culture vulture so I thought I’d check out the nearest beach to Palermo at Mondello. Wouldn’t recommend it at the weekend, or anytime school is out, every teenager in Palermo will be there and finding a peaceful spot is impossible. However, if you have a half day in the week, it’s a really nice place to go. The 806 bus runs from Piazza Sturzo every half hour and it takes about 30 mins. You can buy tickets from the bus drivers’ kiosk in the square. Not sure what time the last bus is but I got the 806 at 11pm in the week. Best check though as it’s a long walk home!
A lot of the beach is public but there are a couple of private areas (the best one is just to the right of the ‘wedding cake’ construction halfway along the beach) where you can get a sun bed for €8. If you’re going at the weekend, you would need to get there before 10 to stand a chance of getting a place. If you arrive before 9 (when they open) you should put your name on the waiting list to avoid being jumped in the queue. The water was lovely and clear in May but I’m told it gets more polluted towards the end of the summer.
Mondello is also the place Palermitans come for seafood, both the following places are excellent.
Al Gabbiano (Intermediate A+), 1 Via Piano Gallo, Mondello Lido. (follow the main road to the far end of the bay where the old tower is, go past the boats and around the bend, the restaurant is on the right on the sea front). Tel: 091 450 313. GEM ALERT!
This is the sister restaurant of Biondo, the place I dissed to death in Palermo! The service was a little unfriendly again but the view and the food made up for it. Get there as soon as it opens at 7.30 (or reserve) and bag the far corner table on the terrace by the water. You get a fantastic view of Monte Pellegrino in the fading dusk, glimmering ferries leaving Palermo in the distance and the lapping of the waves is only disturbed by the occasional fishing boat chugging past. To start I had the Piato Mediterraneo which involved a raw oyster, marinaded anchovies and red prawns and a frittura of squid and larger prawns (A) for €15. The primo was Casarecce alla Cernia e Pomodorini (A), a sublime sauce of grouper and baby tomatoes on chunky pasta for €9. I washed this down with a bottle of wonderful, slightly sparkling Charme, a white from Paceo for €15. Make sure they give you an ice bucket (secchielo) to keep it chilled while you sip and meditate on the beautiful view. Total cost €48 with a Macedonia, but well worth it. A job affirming and blissful experience for me!
Went back in 2010 and found contentment once again with four oysters (B+), Spaghetti al Gabbiano (mussels and clams in tomato sauce (A) and Zuppa di Cozze (mussels in tomato sauce with four slices of fried bread) (B+) and a bottle of Leone white wine for €46. The service (different waiters at lunch?) was much friendlier this time.
Bye Bye Blues (Advanced A++), 23 Via del Garofolo, Valdesi Mondello. (Go up Via Margherita de Savoia (the main road back to Palermo) and take first right and follow Via Pater Dei to the end, past the church. The restaurant is in front of you on Via del Garofolo. You have to ring the bell). Tel: 091 684 1415. Opens at 8, probably best to reserve. Closed Tuesdays. GEM ALERT!
This Michelin recommended, backstreet place is on another level, one of the best seafood restaurants I have ever been to, with great staff and fantastic food. The waiters were actually running around when it got busy, and the kitchen was a frenetic hive of activity, broadcast via CCTV onto a screen in the dining room, making for fascinating foodie viewing. I felt obliged to go for the €50 Menu Degustazione (although many cheaper options are available) and a €15 bottle of the wonderful Leone IGT (Tasca d’Almerita ’08, a very famous brand). After an amuse bouche of cheese in a Trapani sauce and a goblet of vegtable soup, followed by two mini Sfincione, the Misto de Pesce Crudo arrived, consisting of raw seabass, yellowtail tuna and red prawns (B), which surprised me till I found out the head chef is Japanese. I was advised to put some Tenuta Rocchetta olive oil on it (one of the best Sicilian brands). Next came the Mosaico di Antipasti Siciliana (A/B) which included a sublime octopus in gazpacho (top combo), sardines in escabeche, and two other concoctions with bluefish and tuna. After that came the Spaghetti a la Ricci (sea urchins) (A) which I have never really appreciated in the past till I came here. The following dish was also pasta, Tagliatelle con Uova di Tonno (B) which I preferred to bottarga (dried tuna eggs as opposed to fresh in this case). The ‘secondo’ was Trancio di Tonno su Cipollata con Schima di Zabione e Salsa di Marsala (A), large flakes of tuna steak with sweet onions and egg in a marsala sauce, all nice individually but incredible when combined on the fork. The dessert was Semifreddo di Ricotta con Salsa di Arance Amare (A), a sponge with the same cream filling as canoli, washed down with an excellent Passito di Pantelleria (Bukkuram ’05, again “one of the best”). After all that, I could only manage a couple of the lovely complementary mini biscuits. Total cost €76, but worth every cent. Go on treat yourself!