I have fallen for a shabby-chic fish restaurant on Sicily’s southeastern coast – or, considering the clientele, perhaps I should say I’ve uncovered a secret. Il Consiglio di Sicilia, in the little fishing village of Donnalucata, is where the cast of the television detective drama Inspector Montalbano – filmed nearby – adjourns regularly when shooting the series. Clearly, Luca Zingaretti (aka Commissario Montalbano) appreciates good food – minus the red herrings – as much in real life as on screen.
I was reeled in by Sicilian classics like sarde a beccafico (€12) – fresh sardines curled lasciviously around a citrussy filling of toasted breadcrumbs, raisins and pine nuts, with their forked tails sticking jauntily in the air – a recipe that has as many variations in this region as there are villages. But I was equally enamoured with the homemade pasta creations such as i vulcani – tiny Etna-shaped cappelletti with a flaked mackerel sugo, and spaghetti taratatà with swordfish, pine nuts, raisins and orange; and the peppy, miniature broad beans and datterini tomatoes.
It’s clear that where the local catch is concerned – a bounty of swordfish, grouper, shrimps and snapper – chef Antonio Cicero tinkers with it as little as possible, allowing its bristling freshness to speak for itself. And the meaty greens stand out – particularly the surprising, brilliant cavolo vecchio – not cabbage-esque, as the name suggests, but slim spears reminiscent of sprouting broccoli, lightly steamed and finished with a lick of ever-so-slightly spicy Monti Iblei olive oil.
As for the sweet touch, people have been known to drive all the way down the motorway from Catania just to sample Cicero’s legendary cannoli. But it’s down to his partner Roberta Corradin (a novelist and food writer who has lived variously in New York, Paris, Rome and Boston, before settling in Donnalucata) that eating at Il Consiglio is elevated into something even more memorable; she adds careful, tiny details – from the personalised welcome cards on the tables to the fragrant herbs tumbling out of ancient wooden barrows.
Corradin is also behind the artfully composed wine list, presented as a poem to Sicilian wines – around 120, all from small producers, many of whom are her personal friends. “These are piccole passioni that we love to share with you,” she explained. It was hard to resist the dry, peachy Grillo (€22) from Feudo Maccari upon hearing that it was “born in a vineyard overlooking Vendicari Island”.
The restaurant is open daily for evening meals, while lunch is served daily in spring and autumn, and just on Sundays the rest of the year. Be sure to reserve, though: between the small dining room and a handful of tables under the carob trees on the piazza, there are only about 30 covers – so if the Montalbano team is in town, you may have to try your luck another day.