Sugo Pasta Kitchen, Manchester

We were a little tipsy by the time we reached Sugo Pasta Kitchen. I know this because my bank statement tells me so. That one drink we intended to have in Wolf At The Door turned into five apiece, and we sauntered down to the road to Ancoats via a plant shop for a hanging plant we don’t need and a record shop for vinyl to be played on a record player we don’t yet own. This isn’t a bad thing; morning drinking is great fun at the best of times. It happens to be even better when you’re in the best bar in the Northern Quarter, requesting off-menu equal pours of strawberry daiquiri and pina colada to make a Miami Vice – the world’s second greatest drink. Ordering the first – the Negroni, of course – is the first thing I do when I get to Sugo.

So forgive me if the details of this lunch are glazed, or if I approach this with an air of reminiscence that adds a saccharine taste over my usual bitterness. Sugo had been on our radar for an age, and it pretty much ticked the boxes in the flesh. We get sat on a communal table with a young couple and their baby, a scenerio that we are far happier about than they are. We could have ordered starters, but when you call yourself a pasta kitchen it’s important to test the fundamentals out. We order three pasta dishes between two, an order which was at least one and a half bowls of pasta too many.

The food is comforting and rustic and basically everything that you want from a bowl of pasta. There is orrechiettie with a loose ragu of beef, pork, and ‘nduja that nestles in the pasta indentations, and it’s longer sibling, strascinati, with sausage that pops with anise, porcini, and thyme. Two huge bowls of pasta that work because the flavours coming off them are as big as the bowl they rest in. The only time it slips is their take on the classic pomodoro. The tomato and basil sauce gets watered down by the cream heavy burratta. It’s nice, but the choice if cheese is misplaced: often burrata is a welcome upgrade to mozzarella. Not here.

Service is swift and we’re in and out within 45 minutes £70 lighter than when we arrived. I appreciate that from your perspective it would have been nice to have read what the starters are like, or how boozy the tiramasu is, but frankly we came here to eat pasta and that we did. It’s no great secret that Birmingham is short of great pasta options; Laghi’s and Legna aside there is nowhere else that I could reccomend. Sugo seems a perfect fit to a burgeoning Brum restaurant scene. I would love to see them here.

8/10

The Village, Moseley

I’ve lived next to The Village pub in Moseley for five years without ever writing about it. I guess I felt the same way as I did with the other places I drank in, which has something to do with the old saying involving doorsteps and turds and the golden advice which goes with it. I don’t want to upset the pub I live next to, in the same way I don’t particularly want them fawning up next to me whilst I’m trying to have a quiet pint because I said something nice.

But I’ve moved as of a week ago, back to Harborne where all the bitter food writers go to rot away. I can say what I want about The Village now and nobody can stop me. Nobody. Well except my girlfriend who proof reads everything before I post it. You know what? I liked it. I liked the refurb they’ve just finished with the low hanging lights, monochrome palette and clean lines. I like that the staff are drilled at checking whether you’re enjoying the food once you’ve actually started eating it and know not to harass you every single minute. I like that they’ve looked at the small detail and worked at making it all better.

After a well-made negroni we start with lamb kofta, tightly packed, almost like a merguez on a stick, a plate squiggle of something simultaneously spicy and cooling, and a properly-dressed salad. Simple things, but simple things done well. Then gently cooked prawns under a dusting of parsely and chilli, rolled about in plenty of garlic and a little ginger. There is bread on the side to pile it on to should you wish, or you could do the right thing and use it to soak up the juices from the bottom of the cast iron pan. I know what I did.

The main course is defined by the quality of the battered halloumi that replaces the more coventional fish. The chips need a bit of work, and the mushy peas need salt, but that halloumi is worth the niggly details. Soft and moreish, the cheese is essentially steamed within a batter that cracks and shatters in the right places. A more than competent tartare is all the acidity it needs. It’s oddly priced at 50p more than the pescetarian equivalent which means they either need to look at their suppliers, or revisit pricing.

Courses are on the large side and we have no room for dessert, though plenty of room for more wine. As the evening rolls out the bar fills up; first with suits, then with those who dip into Moseley for weekend drinks. The old village hall deserves to be a focal point of the community, and with the recent refit they are once again on the right path. I spent five years of my life looking at this building with only the ocasional desire to wandering inside. I won’t make the same mistake now that I’ve moved out of the area.

7/10

I’ll need an A2B to get here in future

Jazz Roast @ 1000 Trades

The point of arrival was the precise moment my head went from sceptic to believer for the Sunday roast at 1000 Trades. I’ve become bored of the gentrification of the roast, with the smears and the clean lines; the plate with too many empty voids between the two slices of meat, the lonely potato and its inflated Yorkshire pal, backed up the endless stream of side dishes and part-players, rolled-out like a Pierre Gagnierre course. Right in front of our eyes the roast has done a Paul Potts: we fell in love with its wobbly silhouette and imperfections only to be given a new slender version that hums the same tune through pearly white veneers. But not here. This is a roast that your mother and her mother would be proud of, layered up like a winter outfit and crammed in tight like a replacement bus service. This is how a roast should be done.

The fundamentals are here. A billowy Yorkshire pudding, chunks of potato that have been boiled, then allowed to steam, dry out, tussled, and then roasted until the edges sharpen. There are thick batons of parsnip and carrot, a coiffured scoop of mash potato, tenderstem broccoli, a celeriac puree, red cabbage, and a puddle of gravy that demands donning wellington boots and jumping into. Those ordering protein are rewarded with generosity and pretty much perfect cooking, whether that be the chicken supreme with delicate flesh, or the cannon of sirloin cooked to a spot-on medium rare. The latter might look strong at £17 on paper, but there are restaurants in this city (I’m looking at you, Gaucho) charging almost double that for a lone cut of cow nowhere near this good. Toss a coin between this and a place in Digbeth for bragging rights as to the title of Best Sunday Roast in Brum.

With this we get cauliflower cheese, that turns out to be an entire cauliflower bathing in molten cheddar whilst wearing a shower cap of breadcrumbs and thus completely defeats us. Bloody tasty though. And prior we have a sharing board to start; with smoked chicken, smoked salmon, smoked duck breast and was the mackerel smoked? It must have been. It’s the nicotine replacement service for the gentile; a plume of delicate proteins each with their own acidic accompaniment. Eating this will dent your chances of finishing the roast, but don’t let that stop you from ordering it. Like everything else we ate it was pretty much faultless.

They had a tarte tatin which had my name on it (not literally, though this is a wonderful idea that I would gladly endorse), but I was too replete and margainly too hungover to entertain it. Instead I pay the bill and head back home for a deserved snooze. I should probably take this moment to point out that 1000 Trades recently won big in The Guardian’s annual OFM awards. It’s a testament that every detail is looked at, analysed, and then perfected, from the rotating kitchen to the ever-changing beers, the natural wines, the upstairs cocktail bar, and this, Birmingham’s most wholesome Sunday lunch.

If there were an award for best taxi, A2B would have it in the bag

Gino D’Acampo My Restaurant, Birmingham

Convicted burglar Gino D’Acampo has opened a restaurant in Birmingham. He is so keen on you knowing this that he has not only stuck his name above the door, but also emphasised that it is his restaurant, just on the off-chance you think his name might be used to endorse another restaurant that he also won’t be cooking in. The ego doesn’t stop there; inside is a shrine to D’Acampo, with pictures of him posing with various celebs gracing the decor that is presumably based on his favourite airport departure lounge, right down to the padded stools at the bar knocking out the most acerbic of Prosecco. Just in case you need reminding of his credentials outside of chewing on a kangaroo bollock live on TV, the menu is there to remind you at all times. Dishes are gathered from Gino’s TV shows and cook books, and those cook books are of course available to purchase in the restaurant. Everything has it’s own soundbite description from Gino just on the off-chance that you forget you are in his restaurant, eating food cooked by a chef who has probably never met him. It’s like they decided that the primary reason to visit is to experience the pastiche life of the chef, rather than to actually eat food. A notion they have successfully carried over onto the plate.

The food itself goes from good, to lacklustre, to downright awful. To their credit, the front-of-house remove the plates that haven’t been eaten from the bill without being asked, which softens the experience just enough for me to say that if you were ever in the area and Oyster Club, The Ivy, Fumo, San Carlo, Adams, Pint Shop, Pure Craft, Pieminister, Gusto, Rudy’s, Indian Streatery, Chung Ying Central, and Hotel du Vin were all shut I could probably recommend a dish to eat here. That dish is the bruschetta, the first and best thing I ate all afternoon. The tomatoes are carefully dressed with a lick of vinegar, I think a touch of sugar, and lots of salt. It’s simple and effective. I just wish I could say the same about the rest.

The recipe for the paté can be found on page 18 of ‘A Taste of The Sun’ which I implore you never disgrace your kitchen shelves with. It should never have left the kitchen. Freezer cold, the butter on top had to be cracked apart with a knife. The paté underneath grey and granular from overcooked livers, whilst the promised addition of masala is replaced with a backnote of iodine. When asked what he thought of the dish my dining companion noted to staff that ‘the ratio of bread to paté was good’, which is more barbaric than anything I have to say.

From main courses we get seabass that is a little overcooked, but at least servicable, with lentils that are undercooked and tragically underseasoned. A bowl of cavolo nero and tuscan cabbage might look like the remains of a heavy night on the booze but at least has decent flavour. The last dish is pasta and ragu – the acid test for any Italian restaurant worth its salt, and this was once again lacking salt. The pasta is fettucine; the thicker, more clumbersome Roman sibling of the tagliatelle, which was passable despite not being my personal choice to sit with the watery ragu that has the blunt metallic notes of concentrated tomato that hasn’t been cooked out long enough. It’s twelve pounds of misery, enough to make the staunchest of remainers vote to leave the EU. This isn’t Italian food. The accent is faked, the gesticulations purely for show. I’ll leave you to work out where I’m heading with this.

We have the sense not to order dessert, though if you do you could be treated to tiramisu, or rum baba, or chocolate torte; all lovingly made by Gino on TV and then recreated by his kitchen using the recipes from his cookbooks. As previously mentioned our bill wasn’t much because the excellent front-of-house removed the bad bits, but does that make it acceptable? Absolutely not. We ordered four dishes, two of which were sent back. I ate that very afternoon to put some food in my stomach. With its city centre location and celebrity association no doubt punters will flock here to see what it’s about. To make them come back is a entirely different scenerio and they are going to have to be much better. Fantastico it is not.

4/10

Wanna know what is fantastico? A2B Radio Cars

The Backyard Cafe, October 2019

At the turn of this year I creamed my pants about The Backyard Café. It was, I said, the best place for breakfast / brunch / lunch in Birmingham, despite not actually being in Birmingham. I stand by that statement. It is worth the detour, the Saturday morning hop on the bus to Kingswinford, or the lazy Sunday morning drive. It is worth arriving famished so that you can eat multiple plates, and cancelling the afternoon and evening meals to enjoy the cakes you’ll inevitably take away. The Backyard Café do it better than everyone else.

I insist we go this time to eat The McYard; their take on the ubiquitous breakfast bap from everyone’s favourite child fattening multi-national. It is familiar in structure and flavour profile, but that is where the comparison ends; this is a McMuffin on steroids, the Backyard’s Hulk to their David Banner. The sausage patty is robustly seasoned and light in texture, with a glazed rarebit (utter filth), fried egg (total filth) and crispy onions (not filthy enough), sandwiched between a halved muffin because that’s how Hamburglar demands it. It’s too much and yet never enough as I mourn it’s demise whilst wondering how I’ll waddle to the car to get home. They even get the Full English right; good quality bangers, bacon with crisp fat, creamy scrambled eggs, a kind of leftover veg hash, beans, black pudding, roast tomatoes and mushroom, toast. It’s £7.75. I’m sure someone, somewhere, thinks that is expensive but lets be real; I’ve paid three times that for a lot worse. I don’t come here enough so we also get the confit duck leg with mac and cheese. At first I thought the citrus glaze on the bird clashed with the cheesey pasta though it grew on me like the mole I should really see the doctor about. By the time we finished it I wanted more.

I know what you’re thinking. What you’re thinking is “get me off this rollercoaster of food excitement. I can’t take anymore”, but no, hold on, because we’ve got one last run left. We take home two cakes; a textbook custart tart with a light dusting of nutmeg, and a toffee, rum, and chocolate donut. I will repeat. A toffee, rum, and chocolate donut. I eat it whilst watching Landscape Artist of The Year, the boozy filling dribbling down my chin and onto my t-shirt. It is here, from the sanctuary of my sofa, I decide that we need to live much closer to The Backyard Cafe.

I probably should have got an A2B here

Laghi’s Deli, 2019

At 5.45pm on a cold Wednesday evening, Laghi’s Deli is rammed. There are people in the bar area discussing work over large glass domes filled with red wine, whilst the restaurant area is packed with those elbows deep in plates of pasta. It’s great to see: some two years after I first stepped foot into here it appears that Laghi’s has reached it’s full potential, one where it has correctly cemented itself as the true authentic Italian in Birmingham. Sure there are others that rely on the same identikit menu with the same tricks and over reliance on a giant pepper grinder, but for real Italian food, for it’s silky pasta, it’s heart, it’s familiarity, you come to Laghi’s.

I’ve been coming fairly solidly since I first wrote about it. The food has got stronger and stronger, with the kitchen cooking more regional dishes from Bologna over what we are told that British will enjoy. This is not the place for spaghetti with your bolognese, nor cream with your carbonara, though if you are the kind of person who expects the above perhaps you’re reading the wrong Birmingham restaurant blog.

On a visit we take full advantage of a recent delivery of truffles from Tuscany. We have little crostinis topped with scrambled egg and black truffle, and taglioni with a lightly smoked cheese sauce and white truffles; a dish that seems very popular in the room, perhaps due to it’s perfume, or the extremely fair price of £30 to try the most prized of ingredients. There are sticks of fried pasta dough to dip into an arrabbiata sauce the right side of fiery, and deep fried bits of cardoon and artichoke, the quality of which are really quite something. I’m told that Luca personally picks the veg via skype from a buyer in Milan’s vegetable market. The mass consumerism of Bella Italia this is not.

The real stand-out moments here are with the pasta. A dish with porcini and coarse sausage meat is dressed in a sauce that contains a touch of cream that bites with lots of black pepper. The rolled pasta has integrity amongst such great company, being the texture it needs to bring every together en masse. Even better is the white crab meat wrapped in a ravioli of jet black squid ink, with onion jam, and a scamorza sauce that threatened to over but actually just gently lifted everything. This is a killer dish; the work of a chef not afraid to play the bold and delicate together, showing a skilled touch at balancing flavours. It might just be my favourite dish on the menu.

I returned again last week for a Sicilian wine dinner, where the kitchen showed they are far more than capable of turning their hand to an entirely different style of cooking. The food was mostly reminiscent of what we ate a couple of months back, with lightly fried panelle, oily fleshed sardines with plump sultanas and pine nuts, and ricotta frittas that leak soft cheese with every mouthful. When it is good – like the perkily dressed octupus salad, or the mussels gratin – it is very, very good indeed. We finish on cannoli better than any we personally ate in Sicily, including those from the reveered Pasticceria Maria Grammitico in Erice. The wine too was superb. But then it was handpicked from the Tenuta estate so it would be.

Now the disclosure bit. I’ve gotten to know Luca since he opened the restaurant and consider him a friend. We’ve been for lunch together and shared a glass of wine on numerous occasions. I say this because I have no need to hide it; we’re friends because because we share a mutual passion and when I eat at his restaurant my card always leaves my wallet. And the reason why I eat at Laghi’s as much as anywhere else in the city is not because he owns it, but because it is the first place I think of when I think of the rustic and bold cooking of Northern Italy.

Take an A2B and treat yo’self

Bar (0121) at Carters, Moseley

Carters launched a bar menu last week. Repeat. Carters launched a bar menu last week. I’m not sure there is anything more I need to add to that statement. We swung by to collect a book and decided to give it a whirl, despite Claire still wearing her gym clothes and me nursing one of those hangovers which grows with every waking breath. It’s as excellent as you think it would be, a bar spot at one of the best restuarants we have, with a small menu of ever-changing items priced around £6-12.

Keeping it short, we eat a cheese custard with balls of pickled squash, then bread – which seems to have noticably improved – with pork fat spread, and a pate of the best bits of pig and preserved dates to pile inch-thick on to. Chicken liver cereal will be recognisable to anyone who has eaten at the restaurant in the last few years and is now purchasable as a stand-alone, which gave Claire wet dreams about having it for breakfast on the regular. A fillet of dover sole comes with brown shrimps and a buttermilk sauce spiked with wild fennel. This is glorious. Like as good as anything you’ll get anywhere in Brum.

We eat this on the Saturday goverment is voting on the Brexit deal, so it feels right to be eating ‘scallop brex-o’; his piss-take on the shambles. The scallop is barely warm; meaty and fresher than the Prince of Bel-Air. The condiment is a riff on XO with ingriediants found entirely on these shores; the funk of dried crustacean, some serious heat from chillis grown especially for him at Westlands, garlic, some more garlic, sherry and probably a thousand other things that may, or may not be garlic. I vote to let this motion pass, which my arse was only too happy to oblidge to the following morning. And then there is the pasta, which could well be the best way to spend £12 in the entire city. Tagliatelle with plenty of bite, an umami packed sauce of Old Winchester cheese and dulse and a healthy amount of truffle. Seriously. I could eat this every day and never get bored. Unbelievable tekkers, whatever that means.

We finish with white chocolate acid smiley faces because Brad is an absolute legend who has it tattoo’d on his arm. They are delicious. Of course they are. But kids don’t do drugs, it’s not cool. Give them to me instead. Given that the bar only sits four at a time and it’s a first-come-first-serve operation, I toyed with the idea of not writing about this in order to give myself a better chance of grabbing a seat, but that would be a dickish move by these rather large dickish standards. (0121) is a snapshot of my favourite restuarant without the procession of a tasting menu. The food is unmistakingly Carters; sharp and precise, and now very affordable. We leave Moseley in two weeks and it is here that we have chosen to eat our final meal in the village. Whilst we are eating the full menu sat down, I expect to see you perched on a stool at the bar, tucking in to that pasta.

I’ll need A2B to get me here soon.

Butlers Arms, Sutton

The Butlers Arms have been in business for fifteen years. I’m told. Shamefully my laziness meant I’d never been there prior to this visit, despite the various people who go regularly and tell me that the food is worth the trip, and the friends who say stuff like ‘I can’t believe that you are supposed to be a food blogger and you still haven’t been to The Butlers Arms’, to which I dip my eyebrows and ask them to not call me a blogger if they really value me as a friend. Anyway, I make plans to go for lunch there with a very nice Italian gentleman called Luca, meeting him for a pre-drink at his Italian restaurant before boarding the train for a few stops to Butlers Lane, walking the two minute walk and, oh, that is far closer to Birmingham city centre than I thought it was.

I’m an idiot for not getting here sooner, I wholeheartedly mean that. From the eclectic interior with its lairy wallpaper, to the choice of furniture that occasionally pulls up hairdressing salon chairs, it’s quirky and unashamedly camp in the cheeriest of ways. The family affair of father and daughter, with mother in the kitchen is clearly working; tables are being turned on the Saturday afternoon we are here. The pace is relaxed; everyone appears to be having a good time.

The food is generous and comforting and far too cheap, with little twists and turns to keep you on your toes in the way that good grub should. From the multiple starters we try a punchily seasoned chicken liver parfait comes dressed in a port jelly with brioche toast to work onto, whilst I almost missed the addition of miso in amongst the buttery breadcrumbs which kiss the scallop with just enough acidity. Some beautifully ripe figs take centre stage in a salad of walnuts, rocket and pomegranate, before we move on to a gratin of crab that contains both the white meat and the best meat. Everything is ramped up to the maximum flavour it can be without ever deviating from what is ultimately pub food, but bloody good pub food at that. We wash these down with the lovely Riesling Calcaire 2012 from a page on the wine list that features a small stock priced either around or under its present retail price.

Smoked haddock with mash was perfect for the bitter conditions outside, an oozy poached egg and properly cheesey mornay sauce lifting it to a level well above the norm. The mash containing no lumps unlike the two seasoned diners eating it. That mash returns on another main – this time given umph by mustard – alongside the pork belly and apple sauce. This is a seriously good bit of cooking and a bargain to boot at under fifteen quid. The pig is braised and then roasted so that the layers of meat and fat amalgamate, the removed skin turned into a shard of crackling more perfect than many of the starred restaurants can manage. It’s finished with a puddle of something so piggy tasting I automatically assume it’s the reduced cooking liqueur, though I’m probably wrong. We wash this down with Vina Pomal 2004 Rioja. And if I’m mentioning the wine a little more specifically than usual, it’s because the list is a wine lover’s joy.

Dessert is so good. Like good enough to travel for by itself, maybe even from another continent. I say maybe because by now I’m two negronis, a G&T, two bottles of wine, a glass of Chardonnay, and now a glass of port down, so if you do board a flight from Asia (I’m massive in Asia. Massive. Mostly because they are all tiny) purely based on this blog, then how much money do you have? You should be sponsoring me. But that dessert, a sticky ginger flavoured sponge with a big backnote of booze is so very good. Like really good. Worth travelling from Eastern Europe for, but maybe no further afield.

I don’t remember leaving, nor do I recall what the precise bill was, though the food is very reasonable indeed. Just maybe drink less than we did. The Butlers Arms is one of those pubs you wish were on your doorstep; warm and friendly, with humble cooking that occasionally blows your socks off, backed-up by one of the best wine lists I can remember seeing in a pub. Sutton, so often accused of being slow to react to the dining trends seen elsewhere, has somewhere that it can be truly proud of, knocking out it’s own tune to its own, unique, beat. It’s a joy. I can’t wait to go back.

8/10

Don’t fancy the train? A2B have got you

Chilango, Birmingham

I own two copies of Chilango’s ‘Burrito Bible’. It’s a very good cookbook and one that I’d highly recommend, though one copy is probably enough. Within those pages are recipes for braised bits of meat, sauces and salsas, pickles, and ways to make rice taste less like rice. There are sections on different types of chilli pepper, yet no mention of Anthony Kiedis, and the whole thing speaks of an understanding of Mexican food in a jittery, colourful way. Loving meat and rice wrapped tightly with a flour tortilla as much as I do, I keep my Burrito Bible next to my bed, reading a passage a night.

For the none of you thinking ‘how does a man acquire two of the same cookbook’, let me tell you. The second copy came in the goody bag of the opening of the Birmingham branch a few months back. I swung by for an hour, necked some frozen margaritas and had a brief chat with the group’s owner. I also tried some food. It was okay. I thought I’d give it some time before trying it properly, and err, if anything it’s gotten slightly worse. The portions are meagre; half a spoon of meat, half a spoon of rice, but loads of chalky black beans. The hottest salsa lacking any punch. All rolled-up in such an amateurish way that my last mouthful contains too much tin foil for my liking. A burrito bowl is similarly miserable. I bulk out the order with lukewarm pinto beans with cold sour cream and a bag of corn tortillas that are every bit as unappetising as they sound.

This answers the question of why it’s never seemingly busy. A part of me initially thought that maybe burritos were a fading commodity, given that the last twelve months have also seen both Mission Burritos shut. The hard truth is that Chilango just isn’t good enough; the queues at Tortilla keep going strong because they have better food and far greater generosity. A week later I’m working in London and have a quick dinner at Benitos Hat. The experience is a world away; the fillings are vibrant, thought-out and above all tasty. Sorry Chilango, that is the burrito chain we need in Birmingham.

4/10

A2B never let me down

Some Things I Ate in Sicily

I wasn’t going to write anything about Sicily. Why should I? It’s my holiday and I went to escape you lot, not pack you into my suitcase and have you steal our fun when it’s us that dropped the mortgage deposit on a holiday, not you. But I’m home alone with a cold and I’m bored and Question Time doesn’t start for an hour so here you go, here are the best bits of what we ate with no mention of the rubbish bits because I don’t want to share my side of the bed with a horses head:

Street food in Palermo.

Friggitoria Chiluzzo

They don’t have a Digbeth Dining Club in Palermo which was disappointing, but they have a street food history going back hundreds of years which is nearly as good. The pick by a country mile is Friggitoria Chiluzzo, a little spot by the harbour full of locals. It’s the panelle sandwich they all come for – chickpea flour fritter and potato croquette sandwiched between two slices of bread. Carb cubed, morish and suprisingly not too dry. Add some caponata, a portion of fried aubergine, two large beers and you have a bill for five euros. No wonder it’s always rammed.

Ke Palle

We ate a lot of arancini and this is the best of the streetfood vendors for your fix of deep fried rice balls. Without going into full geek mode, the thing that made it the best was the texture of the rice which still retained a little bite and avoided clagginess. The more traditional fillings were very good, but it was two that veered a little off-course that stole it: first a filling of chicken curry and another with nutella that had a brioche-like casing. Really superb.

Drinks in Palermo. Specifically Negroni.

Two to mention here a few seconds walk away from each other: Bar Garibaldi describes itself rather wonderfully as a ‘working class cocktail bar’ which is perhaps the most endearing thing I’ve heard since the ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ scene in Elf. We drank all night here and left with a joint bill of about £30. Loved it. Better drinks were had at Botteghi Colletti for significantly more money. A speakeasy 1940’s vibe except everyone has piled out on to the street, thus defeating the point. Great negroni. Killer soundtrack.

Special shoutout to Bar Bocum which I initially hated but ended-up loving thanks to complimentary arancini filled with prawns that were the best we ate across the island. Cocktails were around £14 a pop which makes them the most expensive by a distance, but we stayed for several which tells you all you need to know.

Cefalu. Booze, grub, and the greatest lasagne in the world.

I knew I’d love Cefalu because I’d seen it approx. nine million times on Cinema Paradiso. Nine million might be an exaggration. Maybe six million. Whether sat in the square by the Duomo, or looking down it from the top of La Rocca, it’s a pretty place where the city ends and the sea starts with little gap. Drinks were a mixed bag, though perhaps our favourite place was St George; an English ‘pub’ that is nothing like an English pub, ran by two young Italians who happen to speak perfect English. Cheap, well made drinks including a killer negroni sblagiato.

Galleria is where you should be heading in Cefalu for a nice meal in pretty surroundings. We had a very nice meal there including a carpaccio of slow cooked suckling pig, with peach, honey, and almonds. Or you could save a lot of money by eating the lasagne for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Capricio Sicilano. A mixture of pork, veal, and beef, with three cheeses and a little heat. It is my life goal to recreate this dish.

Tenuta Regaleali

Quite simply heaven and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. A vineyard in the middle of nowhere, high up in the mountanous region of Siciliy. Despite the fact that they have seven rooms we were the only people there because they limit the number of people on the premises for couples to give them the maximum experience. Lunch is a lengthy tasting with some exceptional wines, then down to the pool with it’s outdoor bed and fully stocked fridge, up to the highest point of the vineyard for sunset and then dinner in the table laid in the courtyard. Roberto, our host for the stay, was exceptional in every way. The wines are fantastic and plentiful; the food (especially the homemade ricotta) as good as anywhere on the island. The pricetag of over £500 a night may seem a lot, though once the setting, food, and drink are factored in, a stay here seems a relative bargain.

Castelbuono. Of mountains and mistaken identites.

Ristorante Palazzioccio has been in the Michelin guide for ten years. It’s nice in a homely sort of way, even if they did try to pass off a vividly green pesto with fusilli as the white veal ragu with taglioni that I ordered. Still, the portions are huge and they’re happy to decant 120 euro bottles of wine into plastic bottles if you’re running late for a gig.

Better, in our humble opinion, was Zerokilometre, a catchily named restaurant who claim to source every ingredient from within 1000 metres, though doesn’t explain where they found the squid that ended up whole on a lunchtime plate. We ate here three times in as many days because it was consistent, the porcetta was very good and the pasta better than most.

Social media plays a funny part in holidays, as everyone is living their best life and putting on the gloss for every element of the holiday to make it look like its faultless. The reality is that nowhere is really that good – we had duff meals in San Sebastian with two months research. Looking back over the hundreds of pictures we took I can see that the food in Erice wasn’t great, and in Ustica it would appear that we chose badly; maybe the dishes, maybe the places themselves. If you find yourself reading this because you too are going to Sicily please drop me an email: you can have my notes and my thoughts on the good and the bad. It’s a beautiful part of the world that is still recovering from the reputation of a certain crime syndicate.

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