Sicily – Ragusa Ibla – the best restaurant in Sicily?

Once a year for my birthday I like to treat myself to a spot of fine dining. Unfortunately, for my 57th in 2023, logistics didn’t allow this to happen on the actual date of my birth (see my Marzamemi post). However I made up for it a week later when I came to Ragusa, hometown of Ciccio Sultano and his flagship Duomo Ristorante which, according to some at least, is the best restaurant in Sicily.

Whether it is actually the best is of course highly subjective, but Michelin have given it two stars, and the word on food scene is that it is slightly better than the other two double-starred restaurants in Sicily, as well as having been around the longest. Personally I really enjoyed myself and would totally recommend going for a special occasion.

The restaurant is located in the wonderful Palazzo La Rocca (see my coming post on Baroque architecture in Ragusa), down a side street next to San Giorgio cathedral (the duomo).

Sultano’s philosophy is to apply contemporary techniques to traditional Sicilian ingredients and the best way to experience his cuisine is via one of the tasting menus. As it was a special occasion, I went for the longest one, the eight-course €178 ‘Stupor Mundi’ degustation, with the €85 ‘Movimento’ wine tasting add on. I could have had the €200 ‘I Sacri’ matching, showcasing a mixed assortment of wines from around the world, but I only wanted to have Sicilian wines. I began with a glass of fizz, the super dry Cusumano Brut from Tenuzza Ficuzza.

This came with three kinds of delicious grissini made from ‘ancient rare grains’. I was starving, having skipped lunch in preparation, so these lasted about two minutes.

Then began the Benevento della Cucina (‘welcome from the kitchen’) with some unremarkable red balls of something. The ceramic plate was interesting though, as it celebrated the famous Sicilian red coral.

I’m rarely impressed by amuse bouches and the next round of pretty goblets, whatever they were, also failed to move me.

However I did quite like the Volevo essere Fritto (‘I wanted to be fried’), a small cannolo (canolino) made with cow’s milk ricotta, caviar and one of the famous red prawns from Mazzara del Vallo. Prawns are one of my favourite things in life, closely followed by caviar, so I was easily won over.

Next came a small loaf of warm bread from the restaurant’s own bakery, which staved off starvation a little longer.

A bowl of organic Re Olio was provided for dipping. It was from the Montei Iblei Gulfi DOP, around the town of Chiramonte Gulfi, the same area where another favourite restaurant, La Cialoma in Marzamemi, also gets its oil from. I later bought a bottle from Sultano’s bistro and shop, I Banchi (see my coming restaurant post), but you can also get it online.

Then came a delicious and very pretty appetiser, unmentioned on the menu, that involved warm ricotta, caviar, micro herbs, and another kind of sweet prawn called ‘gobetti‘.

Following this, ‘Alalunga, croccante marino, dashi di bottarga di tonno rosso’ (albacore tuna, crispy seafood, bluefin tuna roe with dashi).

Afterwards, ‘Animella, gambero rosso, salsa di mais’ (sweetbreads, red prawn, corn sauce). I love sweetbreads so this was a winner.

This was served with a glass of white, Maria Paola by Tenute Paratore, which was the first wine to actually blow me away, which it should do at €200 a bottle.

After this came the (for me overly fussy) Lasagna di s-foglie di carne vegetale (vegetable meat s-leaf lasagna); a lasagna of sanapo leaves (mustard leaves that had been brushed with oil and dried in the oven before being attached to a sheet of rice paper) combined with a vegetarian ragù (onion, celery, carrots), tomato “strattu” (triple concentrate tomato paste) and béchamel. Without any meat in it, it’s not really worth all the effort in my opinion, but if you’re interested you can find the recipe here.

However I absolutely loved the following dish; Cappidduzzu, Ostrice, Caviale, Salsa al The Nero e Tallisker 11 Anni, once more a visually stunning presentation of some of my favourite ingredients.

The dish is composed of fresh handmade ‘Cappiduzzu’ pasta with oysters, topped tableside by the waiter with caviar and anointed with a sauce of black tea and Tallisker 11-year-old whisky.

This was served with a wonderful 2019 white called Catarratto Beleda by Cantina Rallo which retails at around €15 (bargain alert!).

Following on, Bottoni di Ceci, Acciuga e Zucca Gialla; chickpea buttons with anchovies served with a yellow pumpkin sauce.

This was served in another beautiful ceramic dish, from Germany I was told.

I’d love to know how they made the buttons.

I also enjoyed the Rombo sull’osso, Asparagi Bianchi, Clementine Candite, Bottarga di Tonno, or turbot on the bone with white asparagus, candied clementines and tuna bottarga.

Next a sweet-savory interlude to prepare the palate for the following dishes; Gelato al Tartufo, ice cream with Maldon salt (why not Marsala I wonder?!), extra virgin olive oil and crunchy wafers, topped with white truffle shavings, which was simply sublime.

Next the meat course I’d been craving, Pluma di Maiale (the feather cut from the neck end of the pork loin, presumably from Nebrodi black pigs), served with more white truffle.

And then on to the desserts, about which little information was provided. Not sure what else was in the creamy Latte, but no doubt it involved ricotta in some way, and it was topped with puffed rice, which made for a satisfying contrast.

This was served with a shot of their in-house Per Cento amaro, mixed not too unpleasantly, with green tea.

The ingredients of the amaro are a kitchen secret (not even the sommelier knows!) but I could certainly taste the blood orange peel in it (another favourite flavour of mine).

I persuaded the amenable sommelier to part with a second glass of unadulterated amaro, so I could fully appreciate it. I liked it so much I tried to buy some from I Banchi later, but it’s not for sale!

The next dessert was simply called Pistachio, the nut being present in all the components, of which my favourite was of course the gelato.

And finally a round of petit fours and another dessert called Peche (peach) which I can tell you little about as I’d started to lose the plot by this time!

After an espresso and paying the bill (just under €300 without tip), I popped next door for a nightcap at Sultano’s bar and wine store.

The friendly bartender made my Negroni with a local red vermouth I’d never had before. It made a nice change.

He also tried to give me a complementary double round of more petit fours, but I couldn’t manage another thing!

And that was the end of a very pleasant evening. You can find the restaurant on my map. I’d advise getting an AirBnB within staggering distance!

More about the Ragusa Ibla restaurant scene next…

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