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Tasting Sicily – an offer you can’t refuse

While the food at TV chef Enzo Oliveri’s new place is the real deal, the central location is perhaps both a blessing and a curse

11 May, 2017 — By Tom Moggach

Cassatelle

IT’S the only pure Sicilian restaurant in London,” claims Enzo Oliveri, showing off his new place near Piccadilly. He’s the go-to chef for all things Sicilian, with regular cameos on television.

Oliveri grappled octopus with Gordon Ramsay and just guided Bake Off star Paul Hollywood around his birthplace of Palermo.

You can’t beat the quality of Sicilian raw ingredients. The Slow Food movement recognises more than 40 unique products on the island – from pistachios to sea salt. In contrast, the UK claims a paltry three. (Two cheeses and pear cider, in case you wondered.) Oliveri is a veteran of the business, but launching a restaurant is never easy: “You have to be particular in order to succeed – we know what we are doing.”

Tasting Sicily has revamped the site of the old Stockpot restaurant in Panton Street, legendary for its fry-ups and no-frills food.

The new décor has dodged the rustic clichés. The long bar and dining room is painted dazzling white. At the far end, a gigantic flat screen beams halcyon images of Sicily – imagine bustling fish markets or orchards laden with blood oranges.

The menu is the real deal, stuffed with classics: pasta with swordfish, orange and fennel salad or sweet and sour aubergines “caponata”.

Pasta del Commissario

Ingredients are high quality, helped by a partnership with a business exporting artisanal food from the island (www.tasting-sicily.com). This is simple, traditional cooking – no twists, fancy foams or pointless flourishes.

I’m a sucker for the deep fryer. Hence a starter of oozy arancini rice balls, chick pea fritters and potato croquettes – best with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

They offer half a dozen pasta dishes, starring Sicilian specialties such as almonds, sardines, mint and raisins.

I went for Oliveri’s own invention: a dish of casarecce pasta with a rich, subtle sauce made from just two ingredients – slivers of cured pig cheek and pistachio pesto. Desserts include cannoli, the famous pastry shells stuffed with whipped ricotta, or semifreddo ice cream.

Prices at Tasting Sicily are within reason – around a tenner for a large pasta dish, climbing to £15-£23 for the heavyweight main courses of steaks, escalopes or lamb shanks. For a bargain, there’s a two-course set lunch for £14; pizzas for £6 on Tuesdays; and a breakfast menu of cheap fry-ups (echoes of its Stock Pot past) or Italian granite and pastries.

If you’re a fan of Sicilian food, you might want to pop May 22 in your diary. Oliveri is teaching customers how to make arancini, and a traditional puppet maker from Sicily is paying a flying visit.

While the food at Tasting Sicily is definitely the real deal, the central location is perhaps both a blessing and a curse.

For snooty Londoners, it attracts more than its fair share of visitors and tourists. But fans of Sicilian cuisine won’t be disappointed.

Tasting Sicily
38 Panton Street, SW1Y
020 78395142
www.tastingsicily.restaurant

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