There are only three restaurants that I feel I can recommend in Messina (and a street food place in the next post) and as coincidence would have it, one is very cheap, one is mid-range and one is Michelin-starred. There are also reviews of one place that I think is best avoided and three that have closed (but which I’ve kept in for diary purposes). You’ll find all of them on my map.
This first place is one of my most favourite places ever, for atmosphere and attitude…
Al Padrino (Elementary A+), 54/56 Via Santa Celia, closed Saturday evening and Sunday, GEM ALERT!
From the Hotel Liberty, turn right and right into Piazza Republica and go straight down Via Giuseppe la Farina. Via Santa Celia is the 9th left, it’s next to the white and red awning on the left as you turn the corner, about 10 mins walk.
For me, this is a brilliant must-visit place. The name translates as ‘At the Godfather’s’ and the staff t-shirts and menus bear the inscription ‘We make’a the food you canta refuse’!
Al Padrino is a simple but classic Sicilian trattoria, staffed by funny, shouty waiters. It’s family-run, with mum and aunties in the kitchen and dad and sons working the floor. They made me feel welcome straight away but don’t expect any niceties, Ugo the partriarchal owner likes shouting with his mouth full.
On my first visit in in (before I started taking photos), I wasn’t allowed to have the light lunch I wanted and was made to go the full four courses! (The spoken menu is fixed but you get three choices for each course). This involved six types of antipasti (most of which I couldn’t identify), a primo of fat stubby pasta in a zucchini sauce with prawns, followed by a secondo of stuffed squid and delicious fried fresh anchovy patties all washed down with half a bottle of the good house red (Salento IGT, charged by the glass). I finished off with two canolini and a glass of sweet Malvasia dessert wine (similar to Passito or Moscato) . They wanted to feed me more but showed mercy after I pleaded with them. Total cost €20. It doesn’t get better than this…
I revisited Il Padrino with my friends Nicky and Rachel a few months later in November 2009 and found it much the same in terms of food. Although Ugo seemed more subdued he was still doing his godfather growl. Our antipasti of bruschetta with tomatoes and oil was amazing (A+) and the other antipasti of Involtini di Melanzane with breadcrumbs, almonds, tomatoes (B+), sausage (B) were good but the mini-mozzarella wasn’t for me (C).
To be honest the Pasta e Fagioli was pretty horrible (D) and the tagliatelle with prawns and courgettes not much better (C) but the macaroni with tomatoes and peppers was okay (B). All the same, it might be an idea to give the pasta course a miss .
For our mains the squid stuffed with breadcrumbs and the octopus was great (A) and the raw fennel and lettuce, courgette and potato and another involitini were also good (B). Our Salento Chardonnay and Nero d’Avola were okay too (B) and we finished with Cassata Siciliana (a very sweet cake with a filling similar to canoli cream and covered with marzipan and decorated with candied peel) and a glass of Malvasia (B).
Considering that we had a bottle of wine each, the bill of €84 for three was very reasonable. Nicky even managed to get one of their highly coveted t-shirts thrown in for free!
I came back for lunch ten years later in 2019. Ugo and the older ladies in the kitchen were nowhere to be seen although they might well have been on the late shift. I recognised the two younger guys, presumably Ugo’s sons (one round and jovial, the other tall and surly), but the younger women in the kitchen were new to me.
I can recommend the Antipasti di Mare, a snip at €10.
A Fritto Misto di Pesce came as part of the antipasti.
And for my main, I enjoyed the Polpette al Ragù di Pomodoro.
The bottle of fizzy white house wine was only 5€. At only 11.5%, it removed the need for a bottle of water.
A tiny, unasked for Cannolini finished things off.
If anything the food was better than the previous time. Good to know they’re still on form. Looking forward to my fourth visit!
Osteria del Camponile (Intermediate A), 9 Via Loggia dei Mercanti, www.osteriadelcampanile.com, closed Monday
Another great place I went to in March 2009. Like Al Padrino, it’s informal but the atmosphere is more restrained. It has three rooms (one with a telly), pleasant service, excellent food, a fat chef, and it’s dirt cheap and very local, which meets most of my criteria. They also sell a very potable draft prosecco (rosé or white) for only €2 a 25ml carafe (same price for house red/white).
I had the bruschetta followed by Spaghetti dello Stretto (swordfish chunks with tomato sauce and olives). To finish I had their Cassata Siciliana which was delish! I accompanied it with a glass of one of my favourite digestivi, Vecchio Amaro di Capo.
Total cost was only €20, amazing value! This must also be a good place to try the famous Swordfish Ghiotta but sadly they only serve it on Fridays. There have a pizza menu too, and an antipasti buffet.
Ristorante Marina del Nettuno (Advanced B), Marina del Nettuno Yachting Club, Viale della Libertà, Batteria Masotto, www.ristorantemarinadelnettuno.com
Marina del Nettuno is Messina’s only Michelin star restaurant (in 2019), located on the lungomare, about twenty minutes’ walk from my hotel. Walk along Via Garibaldi till you get to the Fountain of Neptune (Fontana di Nettuno). Opposite the fountain on the waterfront you’ll see a small flight of stairs leading down to the marina with a gate at the bottom. Press the relevant button on the intercom by the gate and they’ll buzz you in.
Even if you don’t want to eat you could come and have a drink from their bar next door and sit outside to enjoy the excellent view of the marina, the statue of the Madonnina del Porto and the glittering lights of Villa San Giovani on the other side of the straits.
The decor is modern, elegant and minimalist and the food is creative with a focus on fish dishes. I had the six course Menu Degustazione which scored a B+ for presentation but only a B for flavour overall.
The most interesting was the Spaghetti Carubbu, pasta in a carob sauce with a parsley foam.
I spent slightly over 100€ which included a decent bottle of white wine and a glass of amaro, both local.
The desserts were beautifully presented.
An okay experience for the money I guess. I would go back but just to have a drink in a nice location.
AVERAGE BUT ACCEPTABLE:
La Tonnarella (Intermediate C), 28 Via S.M. Alemanna
A slightly pricey and formal seafood restaurant recommended by the hotel receptionists in March 2009. I had the Linguine ai Ricci (sea urchins) because I hadn’t had them before, and was very disappointed. The chef hadn’t washed them properly and they were full of sand, which tasted lovely as you can imagine. Pasta dishes were between €8 and €16. The house white was €3 for 500ml and was pretty horrible. Another colleague went in 2014 and enjoyed it so maybe it deserves another try.
Fratelli la Bufala (Intermediate C), 1 Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II
I was a bit disappointed the hotel sent me here in March 2009, but it was probably just because it’s very near. It’s basically a characterless steakhouse and pizzeria, part of a big chain that originated in Naples but now has branches nationally, as well as in London, Barcelona and Buenos Aires amongst many others. Service was pleasant enough but I hadn’t finished eating my starter (caprese salad of mediocre mozzarella with under ripe tomatoes) when the main course arrived (a rather chewy beefsteak sizzling on a griddle). The house Aglianico was palatable enough and the food was okay, I was just disappointed to be eating Campanian-style food in Sicily. Total cost €28 with cover and water.
Taverna San Paolo (Intermediate C-), 15 Via San Paolo dei Disciplinanti
Described as an authentic local trattoria by Culturetrip in 2019 but it’s actually a rather characterless, modern place that’s seen better days and which has very few local dishes on the menu. I came for Sunday lunch after my first two choices were full. There’s nowhere particularly nice to sit and it generally feels faded and worn despite having upmarket pretentsions. The cutlery was smeared as if the dishwasher water hadn’t been changed for a while and the food was edible but mediocre (C). On the positive side the lady proprietor did let me try two half portions of different kinds of lasagne.
Le Due Sorelle (Advanced A), 4 Piazza Municipio
Located in a nice square with beautiful gardens, this great little restaurant was a member of the Slow Food association and specialised in local and ethnic cuisine. In March 2009 I had some delectable raw longfin tuna (albacore) to start followed by a nice seafood and vegetable couscous. The Etna DOC white (‘Valcresia’ Vendemmia 2005) was the only decent white wine I have had in Sicily. I finished with the very highly regarded Grappa di Palari (Faro DOC 2000). Renato the friendly English-speaking owner is a lovely guy and a mine of information on Sicilian wine, he also runs an enoteca next door. He explained the only decent whites come from Etna as they need the altitude and changes in temperature, and also need to lie for a few years. I blew €60 here (half on drinks) but didn’t mind because I learned a lot and Renato deserved support. It was a big loss for the local dining scene when he closed.
Trattoria Lungomare da Mario (Intermediate B), 108 Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II
A local institution for 25 years and mentioned in both the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide, so I thought I’d better check it out on my first visit to Messina in March 2009. It’s popular, relatively modern and a bit posh. I had the €16 Menu Touristico, for which I got a choice of any primo (I had a simple but tasty seafood risotto) but only fried calamari and/or prawns for the secondo (the latter a bit boring and rubbery), as well as a contorno and a simple macedonia (fruit salad). The house white (an extra €4 for a mezzo) is uninspiring but drinkable. I finished with a Zibibbo (another dessert wine, similar but not as strong as Marsala?) which some local pour into the fruit salad.
Ristorante Tartaruga (Intermediate D), 51 Via Ugo Bassi
Run by a contact of my area manager who was a teacher at the local catering college, a group of us went after work in November 2009. It was pretty grim. Although the owner is nice enough, his wife seems to have no qualms about having a domestic in front of the customers! The luminous green paper tablecloths, bright lighting and the muppets on TV also did nothing for the ambience. The plain foccacia, made with ten different cereals was interesting (B). However, the Casarecci alla Norma, made with Ricotta Infornata (baked brown ricotta, found only in Sardinia, Catania and Messina, perhaps for good reason) was pretty unpleasant to my palate (C-). It’s one of those flavours you need to have eaten from childhood to appreciate I imagine. Neither could I eat the Alungu (?), a bottom feeder with a similar texture to tuna, which seemed to have the same sauce as the pasta with the addition of capers, olives and orange zest (D). Both dishes also had a strange cinnamon-like taste. The local teachers we were with opted for pizza so perhaps they knew something we didn’t! The sweet pizza of banana, pineapple and kiwi with a flaming sugar cube, although fulfilling my need for a sweet, didn’t really impress (C) but the accompanying Malvasia dessert wine went down well. It’s very cheap (€6 pasta, €7/8 mains, €4/6 pizza) and near the hotel, but if I had to go again I’d choose very carefully. The food for lunch at the catering college the next day was much better and included smoked swordfish wrapped round a vegetable and bread crumb filling which was delicious (A). A case of students surpassing their teacher perhaps? The fact that it’s closed now doesn’t surprise me in the least.
The next post is about Messina’s excellent street food and cafes…