Sicily, November 2009
For atmosphere and great food, head straight for the island of Ortigia, in old Siracusa.
Lungolanotte, 23 Lungo Mare Alfeo, Ortigia, Tel. 0931 64200.
A nice candlelit place for an aperitivo, right on the waterfront in the beautiful old town. We had an excellent glass of red here, they do food too but we were there just for drinks. This was the only place open in November, you would probably need to reserve a table in the summer.
Osteria da Mariano (A+), 9 vicolo Zuccola, Ortigia, Tel. 0931 67444
Had one of the best meals here that I have ever had in ten years of eating out in Italy. As well as being mentioned in several guides, my workshop participants also said this local institution has people travelling miles for their pasta. Other places nearby look fancier but it was the delicious smell that finally convinced us to come in. On closer inspection the plain decor is offset by well-chosen objets d’art and quirky items such as cuckoo clocks and pink curtains with flower ties which hinted at the proprietor’s proclivities.
As soon as we were seated, Mariano came to greet us and tell us what was on the menu that evening. Simultaneously the first dish of hot bruschetta drizzled with oil and oregano and a plate of fantastically fresh ricotta sprinkled with pistachio, arrived at the table, both totally delicious (A+). Next came the antipasti proper, which included caponata, spicy salami (both A), an egg and potato frittata (like a tortilla) and a slice of rolled omelette filled with ricotta (both B).
Mariano scorned my fumbling choices from his spoken selection and said I would just get something special. This turned out to be two types of pasta (both A); penne with ricotta and cream, and spaghetti with sundried tomatoes and breadcrumbs (capaulata in dialect?), a speciality of Ragusa where Mariano is from, simple but delicious. A bowl of grated almonds was provided for sprinkling on both.
Nicki had fried cakes of bianchetti (tiny sardines) accompanied by an orange salad with chilli, Rachel the stewed rabbit with olives, celery and carrots, and I had the mixed grill of pork and lamb chops and sage flavoured sausage with spinach and peperoncino on the side (all A).
Whilst waiting for our unneeded desserts we were offered sesame seed biscuits and candied ginger (both B), and later some raw ginger which Mariano sliced at the table himself for each customer whilst pontificating on its aphrodisiac qualities, although it was probably intended as a palate cleanser. To finish, a deliciously exotic tiramisu (A) which we accompanied with a glass of sweet Zibibbo (A).
It wasn’t our intention to eat so much but it would have been rude to refuse. I mislaid the bill but it was really cheap, about €32 each, an incredible price for incredible food. The parting gift from Mariano was a piece of ginger pressed into my hand! Really want to go back but don’t think I can by myself.
Vecchio Pub, 9 via delle Vergini, Ortiga
As the name suggests, this is the oldest pub in Siracusa, lots of character and friendly staff, deep in the old town and good for a digestivo. I had a Vecchio Romana Riserva brandy for €4 which was pretty good (B) considering the Italians don’t really do brandy.
I love this town!