Food for the Soul in Sicily

We could easily have missed it, writes Catherine Till,  just back from a trip to Sicily. There was no mention of it on the map or in the guidebook, and no signs in the town. The honey-coloured building set in the corner of Giardino Ibleo in Ragusa, overlooking the ravine, does not announce its current identity loudly.

vaulted-corridor-of-Convento

Vaulted corridor of Convent, Ragusa

Catching a glimpse of the stone-vaulted corridor through the glass door we venture inside and, abandoning our earlier plans for dinner at the intriguing Sicilian-Slovak restaurant, we book a table at Cenobio. Dinner is served at the frescoed refectory of the convent, and the food, service and ambiance is of Michelin star quality, at about a fraction of the expense. The menu changes monthly, the ingredients used are organic, seasonal and local, guided by a zero kilometre policy, and the flours used are ancient varieties.

amuse-bouche

the amuse bouche

Highlights of the meal were an amuse-bouche, consisting of ricotta encased in a thin layer of crushed black olives, a playful take-on the traditional Sicilian cannoli; 4 kinds of oven-warm bread; Mediterranean falafels with Jerusalem artichoke and turmeric sauce; a pre-dessert of strawberry ice-lolly in the shape of a tomato quarter with a drop of cream inside; and a mille-feuille of cacao pasta and dark chocolate cream, with lemon curd and cardamon meringue topping. Highly recommended.

Via del Giardini, 1

97100 Ragusa Ibla

Tel. +39 0932 686750

Fax 0932 627431

Mob. +39 347 1472915

info@anticoconventoibla.it

 

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Slo FUD, Modern Setting: It’s cool in Catania

 

fud DSCF2917

In the morning – write Marshall and Catherine –  everything’s shuttered in Via Santa Philomena in scruffy, Baroque Catania, but in the evening it’s transformed, the restaurants open and everyone’s sitting at tables in the street. The modern, anglophile Fud, serving burgers, panini and Neapolitan pizzas, is popular with the city’s cool thirty-somethings (this is a university town). By 9.30 on a Tuesday, when we had finished eating there, at a grotesquely early British hour, it was packed and they were queuing outside.

Fud has shrugged off the weight of Italian tradition. The walls are bare concrete and you sit at a plywood bench, where it’s easy to strike up conversation with fellow eaters. If you want to brush up your Italian spelling, read the ironic menu offering Am Burgher, Cichen Burgher and Cis Burgher – or, if you have the bottle, Ors and Donchi. Beers from Fud’s micro brewery include a wheat beer and a blond beer that would satisfy any real ale buff.

The cichen burgher, in a slow-fermented sesame bun, with lightly grilled chicken, Ragusano DOP cheese, onion marmalade, shredded cabbage and rocket, was about as high as the Duomo. The pizza eoliana, also on a slow-fermented bread, had tomato paste, mozzarella, tuna, olive and tomatoes. You don’t have to worry about the etiquette of antipasti, primi, secondi and contorni here: the style is piatti unici – one plate meals – all between €6 and €10. If you like it, as we did, you can buy some of their products on your way out.

FUD Bottega Sicula Catania

Via Santa Filomena, 35

95129 – Catania, Italy

Tel: +39 095 7153518

E-mail: info@fudcatania.it

 

www.fud.it

 

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Every city should have one

The Market Restaurant and Cookery School, Hoi An, Vietnam

For foodie travellers, the contrast between what we see in the market and what appears on our plate when we visit a restaurant can be poignant and frustrating, especially if we love fruit and vegetables. Not so in Hoi An, Vietnam, where the Market Restaurant allows you to sample a vast range of local dishes and fresh produce of all kinds.

Banh Xeo - crispy pancakes

Banh Xeo – crispy pancakes

Making banh xeo in the cookery school

Making banh xeo in the cookery school

It’s all the idea of a local woman – she calls herself Ms Vy – who also runs three of the town’s best conventional restaurants. The Market Restaurant is a walk around open air food court (with a sliding roof for rainy days) where you watch all the main techniques of Vietnamese cooking demonstrated and then decide what you want to eat. Or you can just gawp. Upstairs there’s a separate seafood restaurant and three training kitchens.

We opted for a half day course that includes a tour of the city’s overflowing market. Our guide helped us identify the less familiar produce such as bitter melons and fresh turmeric and that array of salads and fresh herbs which makes for Vietnamese food’s distinctive appeal. Then, we went back for a cookery class led by Ms Vy herself. This is a very professional operation with well equipped stations for 16 or more people and a band of assistants to help and clear up. We learned to make fresh spring rolls, a soup with prawns wrapped in cabbage, grilled chicken and bang xeo –  crispy pancakes filled with prawns, pork, bean sprouts and herbs. And then we ate the lot and bought the school’s cookbook, Taste Vietnam.

It’s what every city needs – a display of local foods and specialities, an opportunity to cook them yourself, or just to choose what you want to eat and to dine informally. But done with supremely good taste and panache.

The Market Cooking School and Restaurant

3 Nguyen Hoang St, Hoi An

Tel: +84 (0) 510 3926 926

Email: info@market-hoian.com

Web: www.restaurant-hoian.com

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TALE OF TWO CITIES

A pair of restaurants in Paris and London

Apart from the food, what do we most value in a restaurant? Bustle and a bit of a performance, what the Irish call the craic, as well as a feeling of being cossetted, and a shared sense that this is the place to be tonight: those are my criteria. In the last few weeks I’ve eaten in two places in Paris and London that fulfilled all these conditions to different degrees. Les Quilles, on Ménilmontant in the 11ème, and Bouchon Fourchette in Hackney are even in similar districts; a bit edgy, a mix of young creatives and poor immigrants. Their food is French, classics with a slight twist but not leading edge.

It’s the weekend and both are full, with a mainly young crowd, enjoying a relaxed vibe, informally looked after by their equals. The front of house staff are mainly men in both places who exude confidence and a certain style, flirting with the customers, sharing jokes. So that’s the performance, but what about the food?

We start with shared starters. Celeriac remoulade, tapenade and roasted garlic in Hackney are all fine. Les Quilles’ cauliflower gazpacho, asparagus salad and a small plate of fine culatello evoke real enthusiasm. Crisply roasted belly pork and boeuf bourguignon are the main course highlights at Bouchon Fourchette, the French classics just as you would expect them. Steak tartare is acceptable but the beef (Charolais) needs to be exceptional. Les Quilles counters with pork medallions and a piece of the tastiest grilled beef I’ve recently encountered served with tiny sautéed potatoes. Les Quilles edging ahead? But wait: to finish there’s Fourchette’s knickerbocker glass of chocolate liegeois – mousse with Chantilly cream – which may be without equal. As for price, call it £30-35 a head with wine in both places (April 2014).

 

Les Quilles

123 Boulevard de Ménilmontant, 75011 Paris, France

+33 1 47 00 03 66

 

Bouchon Fourchette

171 Mare St, London E8 3RH

020 8986 2702

 

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Wild garlic pesto, peas and pappardelle

Wild garlic pesto, peas and pappardelle

Don’t leave it another day – wild garlic coarsens when the flowers bloom. Use it to make pesto your usual way, substituting wild garlic and parsley for basil in the ratio 60:40. You’ll be surprised how pungent it is and also how spicy, so a little goes a long way. Make the pappardelle with 300g pasta flour, three eggs and one yolk plus salt – enough for four. Knead it well, either by hand or by continual rolling through the machine, and then you’ll get it nice and thin without breaking. All it needs is a couple of minutes in boiling salted water.

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April in Paris – a picnic on the Promenade Plantée

The long weekend begins chilly and grey but Saturday morning brings blue skies.  First stop is Rue Cler with its enticing food shops, to buy a picnic. We take a trip on the scenic Metro line 4 that swoops across  the city in a great curve from west to east, revealing on its way   the Eiffel Tower and the Seine in sharp focus.

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Our goal is the  Promenade Plantée, the planted garden on the old Bastille – Vincennes railway line, a 4.7km walkway running from the city centre to the outskirts, much of it above street level.

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So we get off at Bel Air and find our way onto the promenade at Rue de Picpus close by the junction with Rue Lamblardíe. We picnic in a small  garden in front of what used to be the station at Reuilly – saucisson sec, pate, cheese and the sweetest tomatoes accompanied by a bottle of Côtes de Rhone. To follow, the most exquisite French strawberries. As we walk into town, passing over the lovely and busy Jardin de Reuilly, full of families and children enjoying a spring Saturday, there’s time to admire the cherry blossom of the trees that line the walkway.

Photos: Liz Cousins

 

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Back to Bologna – for a winter weekend

Bologna-Snow[1]Flights booked, hotel booked – we’re ready for a winter trip to Bologna. We’ll be visiting our old friends, Marcello and Giulietta, at the lovely restaurant they run in the courtyard of a grand house, Palazzo Rossi, just outside Bologna. But first stop is coffee with Giorgia Zabbini, a good friend who works for the city’s tourist department. We rely on her for the latest info on the up and coming places for an aperitivo or lunch. Giorgia knows everybody, just about.

We’ll listen carefully to her recommendations as always. But with just a long weekend in the city, we’ll be thinking hard about how to sample the new arrivals while  fitting in  a visit to our favourite places. Places we reviewed in our e-book, Foodlovers’ Bologna. We’ll update you on what we discover, naturally.

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