Sicily – Siracusa – eating and drinking well in Ortigia

As I mentioned in my previous post, I ate at the same restaurant in Ortigia in 2009 and in 2019 because I liked it so much the first time. You’ll find reviews of both visits below, along with suggestions for two bars, one for an aperitivo and the other for a digestivo. All the places are on my map.

Lungolanotte (Intermediate A), 23 Lungo Mare Alfeo,

A nice candlelit place for an aperitivo, with a terrace that looks out over the harbour. They do food too but Nicky, Rachel and I were there just for drinks. We were given an excellent glass of red although I don’t recall what it was, probably Nero d’Avola. This was the only place open in November, and due to the atmospheric location, I guess you’d probably need to reserve a table in the summer.

Vecchio Pub (Intermediate B), 9 Via Delle Vergini,

As the name suggests, this is the oldest pub in Siracusa, deep in the old town. Although as I recall it was just a big room with no terrace, it has lots of character and the staff are friendly. I had a Vecchio Romana Riserva brandy for a digestivo, which was pretty good (B), given that the Italians don’t really do brandy.

Osteria da Mariano (Intermediate A+), 9 Vicolo Zuccalà,
From 2009:

I had one of the best meals here that I’ve ever had in ten years of eating out in Italy. As well as being mentioned in several guides, my local workshop participants also said that this local institution has people travelling for miles to eat their pasta. Other places nearby look fancier but it was the delicious aroma that finally convinced us to come in. Inside the plain decor is offset by well-chosen objets d’art and quirky items such as cuckoo clocks and pink curtains with flower ties, small hints as to 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. At the same time, the first dishes arrived at the table; one of hot bruschetta drizzled with oil and oregano and another of fantastically fresh ricotta sprinkled with pistachio. Both were totally delicious (A+). Next came the antipasti proper, which included caponata (a Sicilian veg stew), 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; penne with ricotta and cream and, I think, Pasta c’Anciuova e Muddica Atturrata, which translates from dialect to ‘pasta with anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs’, a speciality of Ragusa where Mariano is from. A bowl of grated almonds was provided for sprinkling. Both were simple but delicious (A). Nicky 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 a serving of spinach and peperoncino on the side (all A).

While waiting for our frankly unnecessary 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 proclaiming its aphrodisiac qualities, although it was probably intended as a palate cleanser. To finish things off, 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 I think, an incredible price for incredible food. The parting gift from Mariano was a piece of ginger pressed into my hand! I really want to go back but I don’t think I can by myself!

2019 review:

So ten years later (and no longer a Spring chicken!) I came back for lunch and had a bit of a different experience. The food was still very good, but the service was lacking. My waiter was very brusque and unhelpful but I paid him no mind and just enjoyed the food. Mariano was around but wasn’t interacting with his customers that day.

No fresh ricotta or pistachios at the table this time, just the toasted bread with oregano and olive oil, which was fine but a bit of a disappointment (B).

My pasta course was Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia with grated pecorino…

… which was excellent (A).

I’m always on the lookout for new things to try, such as the Insalata di Arance Siciliane e Cipolla, a salad of Sicilian oranges and onion (one of Nicky’s 2009 choices?). Itwas simple but very nice thanks to the quality of the ingredients (B+).

For my main, Polpette di Gianchetti alla Griglia (see first pic) which the menu translated as ‘fish balls newborn grilled’ but which are perhaps better described as ‘grilled whitebait fishcakes’. Served with citrus and salad, they were very good (B+) and reading back, I think they were also similar to what my friend Nicky had in 2009. I had some grilled aubergine on the side as well (B).

I learned from writing this that whitebait simply means the small fry of any edible fish species, which will vary by country. In Italy, gianchetti (or bianchetti) are from Pesce Azurro, so typically sardines or anchovies.

I was too full for dessert but they wouldn’t let me go without something so a plate of biscotti, the same sesame seed biscuits and candied ginger as last time and a glass of dessert wine in a plastic cup to go with it (all B).

Great food as per, but it might be more fun and atmospheric to go in the evening, especially if Mariano is serving you.

No doubt there are heaps of other good restaurants in Siracusa, but Mariano’s must surely still be one of the best.

Holidays over! Back to work in Messina next!

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