This month sees a special menu at Giorgio Locatelli's hotel Refettorio to celebrate the release of his hefty new book Made In Sicily.
Modern Italianate chefs fall into two camps. There are the traditionalists, who are would rather work in a chippie dressed as a panda before serving pineapple chunks on a pizza, and the trendy progressives who have a far more relaxed approach (we're looking at you, Jamie Oliver). Somewhere between the die hards and the try-hards, Locatelli is probably closer to the former group: a short spell in Paris aside, he has spent the last 25 years in London creating high-end authentic Italian eating experiences at venues like Zafferano's and Locanda Locatelli.
Cards on the table: this Londonista went in with two preconceptions. The first was that, no matter how good Signor Locatelli's Sicilian food is, it will never be better than his mother's. This is partly because his mother is from Palermo and Mr Locatelli is from Vergiate, just south of Switzerland. The second was that Signor Locatelli would have as much insight into Sicilian food as a Londoner would have into exactly what goes into a haggis (don't ask, don't tell). Sicilians tend to like hearty portions of simple grub served with the minimum of fuss. So how well did lo chef take that to heart?
The starter is a three-way love affair of caponata (Sicilian ratatouille), an octopus salad and sardines "fritto misto". The caponata was literally and metaphorically a paler version of the robust original while the sardine's batter coating was the most superfluous thing we've encountered since we heard of Prince Charles' Colgate equerry. The octopus salad was the winning element with just the right amount of squidginess and flavour.
The main paired small swordfish steaks with roasted vegetable couscous. What's that? You don't think couscous is traditional Sicilian food? Think again - there's even a couscous festival in northwest Sicily every year. As a culinary exercise, the dish was not technically spectacular and the fish was on the eeny-weeny side for a main but it captured perfectly the spirit of what makes Sicilian food feel, well, Sicilian.
The dessert was the most daring element of the evening. Signor Locatelli has channelled his inner Blumenthal and taken the traditional Sicilian cassata - which normally looks something like this - and inverted the proportions. Instead of the traditional thick slabs of fruit-heavy sponge with a creamy filling, a thin layer of sponge is buried under a mound of gorgeous cream and candied fruit. Our initial reservations disappeared almost as fast as the dessert and we recommend making this version of cassata above all others. Just don't tell this Londonista's mother.
The meal is priced at £35 and is available at Refettorio until 10 December. More information here.
Londonist's visit was arranged by a PR firm.