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Ciccio Sultano’s guide to Sicily

Ciccio Sultano’s guide to Sicily

by Pete Dreyer 25 August 2017

Sicily is a real treasure island of food – as long as you know where to look. We tagged along with Sicily’s very own Michelin-starred chef Ciccio Sultano, as he showed us a few of his favourite spots.

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Going on holiday is all well and good, but once you get there, how do you know where to eat? Tripadvisor is dubious at best and the danger of overpriced tourist traps is ever-present. If only you knew someone locally who could point you in the direction of something delicious.

Truth be told, having a local guide is the best way to explore somewhere new, so who better to take us around the culinary sights of Sicily than hometown boy Ciccio Sultano? Save for a brief stint in kitchens abroad, Ciccio has always lived on this remarkable island, and his restaurant Duomo has been the standard bearer for Sicilian cuisine for many years.

Sicilian food is no mere offshoot from the Italian mainland, either. The island has belonged to Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Catalonians in the last two millennia, and today’s cuisine brings all those influences together into a beautiful melting pot of cultures. Sicily is truly unique – and its food is a perfect representation of its rich heritage. Here’s where Ciccio recommends visitors to the island visit.

I Banchi

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While Ciccio’s restaurant Duomo celebrates the complex artistry of Sicilian cuisine, I Banchi celebrates its simplicity. Housed in the beautiful Palazzo di Quattro in the heart of Ragusa Ibla – Ragusa’s old town – I Banchi serves up beautiful Sicilian food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along huge communal banquet tables. This is the heart of I Banchi, but there is plenty more besides – a takeaway service, private dining rooms and even a bakery that sells bread and pastry throughout the day, using local wheat varieties from nearby Sicilian mills. If you’re in Ragusa for a little longer, you might want to look into a lesson or two at the cookery school with Ciccio and his team.

Ciccio says: ‘I Banchi is my new project – we want to blur the line between fine dining and affordable local cuisine. We get a lot of locals coming in for classic Sicilian food – lemon granite and bread is my favourite for breakfast – but also lunch and dinner, all set inside an ancient stables in the centre of Ragusa. It’s a very special place, we’re very proud of it!’

Via Orfanotrofio, 39, 97100 Ragusa. ibanchiragusa.it

Il Consiglio di Sicilia

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There can’t be many better places to enjoy Sicilian seafood than Il Consiglio di Sicilia. Situated right on the coast in the beautiful harbour town of Donnalucata, husband and wife team Antonio and Roberta keep things simple and sumptuous, running a small menu based on what the fishermen bring into the port each day. Alongside the fresh catch, Antonio serves up Sicilian classics like spaghetti taratatà with tuna bottarga, raisins and orange peel, and caramelised butterfish, as well as beautiful cream-filled cannoli and a spectacular warm chocolate tart. They can prepare for vegetarian and vegan diners too, just make sure you give them a couple of days’ notice!

Ciccio says: ‘When I feel the need to be near the sea, I often visit Donnalucata – a beautiful little port in the southeast of Sicily. Some friends of mine in the village have a small restaurant called Il Consiglio di Sicilia, where they make wonderful coastal Sicilian food. Try the shellfish, and their incredible rum selection for cocktails.’

Via Casmene, 79, 97018 Donnalucata. ilconsigliodisicilia.com

Il Crocifisso

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If you head southwest of Syracuse along the east coast, you’ll find a small city called Noto, nestled at the foot of the Iblean mountains. Il Crocifisso sits in the city centre, a mere stone’s throw from the Church of the Crucifix that lends the trattoria its name, and has been serving up humble Sicilian fare for decades. Chef Marco Baglieri – fresh from a period spent in the kitchen at Duomo with Ciccio – has taken over the kitchen from his parents, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand in the process. He serves quality, well-priced dishes like casarecce pasta with sardines, pine nuts, raisins, fennel and saffron sauce, and herb-crusted swordfish with fried artichokes.

Ciccio says: ‘Marco has a great understanding of ingredients, and a simple cooking style that perfectly suits the fresh seafood on the east coast. Every time I visit, I always have the spaghetti with sea urchin sauce – it’s a dish that everyone should try! The wine list is excellent too.’

Via Principe Umberto, 48, 96017 Noto. ristorantecrocifisso.it

De Stefano Palace Hotel

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Much like the food, the architecture of Sicily is a patchwork of influences from as far afield as Spain and north Africa. This is especially true in Ragusa, where you’ll find stunning baroque, neo-classical architecture around every corner. But even in the heart of the historic town the De Stefano Palace Hotel stands out. The hotel offers twenty palatial rooms and is a perfect staging post if you want to explore Ragusa on foot. For those who’d prefer a day in the hotel, there’s an opulent wellness centre that is free to use, complete with an indoor pool and sauna.

Ciccio says: ‘A lot of people ask for my opinion on the best place to stay in the south of Sicily. The answer depends on how much travelling you want to do around the island! There are lots of beautiful places to stay, but my favourite stop-over near my home in Ragusa is the beautiful De Stefano Palace Hotel. It’s modern and elegant, with very cosy rooms.’

Via Cav. F. de Stefano, 15, 97100 Ragusa. antiquahotelsgroup.it

Pianogrillo Farm

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Pianogrillo is worth a visit just to see the manor house alone – it sits on the hill, hemmed in by cypresses and olive groves – but there’s plenty more to see at Lorenzo Piccione’s farm. Those olive groves for example, go towards Lorenzo’s organic olive oil, which comes in multiple local varieties. The farm also has four hectares of Sicilian red and white grape varieties for biodynamic wine production, and perhaps most exciting of all, a whole host of Nero Ibleo black pigs. Pianogrillo has led the charge in the movement to save this local breed from extinction, and Lorenzo rears them organically, producing salumi and bacon for the locals. You can buy everything and anything directly from the farm, or you can even order from overseas if you email in.

Ciccio says: ‘I’d recommend anyone to visit Lorenzo Piccione’s farm in Chiaramonte Gulfi. He is a revolutionary young farmer specialising in a real variety of things, including biodynamic wines, black pig pork and goat meat. His farm is small, but offers rustic, delicious food like his prized black pork salumi, and some really lovely wines.’

Contrada Pianogrillo, 97012 Chiaramonte Gulfi, Ragusa. pianogrillo.it

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