Fabulous personal service and creative cuisine in a happiness-driven seafood restaurant in Donnalucata, Sicily
Donnalucata is a pretty fishing village in the province of Ragusa on the southern west coast of Sicily. Unspoilt by tourism even in the high season. Famous for its long, sandy beach, attractive promenade, ice cream shops and excellent restaurants; one restaurant, in particular, stands out.
Il Consiglio di Sicilia is set in the divine Piazza Francesco Crispi on the Via Casmene with a gorgeous terrace encircled by trees and draped with ivy and vines.
As we ambled down the cracked street towards the restaurant we were greeted with immense warmth by the maitre d', Oriana. She led us through an ivy bedecked pergola to a simple wooden table in a marvellous little enclave, the quintessence of a picturesque Italian garden. Despite the 42° heat we were as cool as cucumbers in this leafy eden.
The restaurant itself has a rich personal history as it was the home of chef Antonio Cicero's grandmother who taught him how to cook as a child. It is a tiny single-floor house with a terracotta roof, beautiful chunky sandstone architraves and sea-blue wooden doors and shutters. A yellow flickering neon sign with the name of the restaurant illuminates the door, a bicycle and a moped parked outside in the warm evening light.
Il Consiglio Di Sicilia means Advice from Sicily which gives you an idea of what to expect. Chef Antonio Cicero's approach is to create a close bond between the restaurant and the diners, so tables are kept to a minimum and it is a tasing menu only.
A six-course tasting menu to be precise. Oriana settled us in with a glass of fizz and asked for our dietary preferences which the chef would then base the courses on. Cicero's aim is to have fun developing the menu, so customers have fun too. He is playful with textures, colours, combinations of ingredients and the wine pairing. Focusing mainly on locally sourced fresh fish and vegetables.
A fine bottle of local Sicilian sparkling, Milazzo Metodo Classico Brut (traditional method not Prosecco), was uncorked with great fanfare. It had fine, strong bubbles with a subtle aromatic, floral flavour, made from Inzolia and Chardonnay grapes.
Then an amuse bouche in the form of an amusing tuna and lemon popcorn which let us know the meal was going to be unusual. The contrast of textures and flavours was surprising, both sweet and savoury, soft and crunchy.
We both tucked into the indispensable Sicilian bread with olive oil, organ and fennel. This was hoovered up despite our promises to pace ourselves for the full meal.
Oriana presented each course with a full explanation of the ingredients, sources and Chef's creative intent.
Antonio Cicero himself joined her to present the next course, a sea and countryside starter, consisting of ricotta cheese with a hint of spice laid over a single mussel. A salty and smooth milky sensation on the tongue.
Our next course was Cicero's take on the local Nudi Crudi; raw amberjack (Carangidae), raw prawn and raw alalunga (longfin tuna) with mint and a hint of chilli. Soft, fresh and zingy, bringing all the best flavours of the sea together matched with carrot and mint. The raw prawns are so subtle and richly delicious that it will put you off cooked prawns for life.
Course 4 or 5, depending on how you're counting, was a soft, amazingly tender octopus salad, a delightful fusion of flavours pitting the super soft octopus against crunchy croutons, carrots and parsley.
The next wine pairing was a white Grillo from Masseria Del Feudo, a tawny yellow colour with a citrus, honey and acacia taste and a sumptuous full, oily body. One of my favourite white wines of the trip.
This went well with the baba ganoush, a burnt aubergine mezze with lemon, garlic, olive oil, herbs and fresh vegetables. Followed by a zucchini soup with ricotta cheese, couscous, potato, mussels and clams.
Though when they suggested the soup in 41° evening heat we thought they were mad, but we were wrong, it was surprisingly refreshing, cooling and flavoursome.
Our host switched us to a fantastic Sicilian red, a Meridio Lijari 2020, made with a blend of Alicante, Frappato and Nero d'Avola grapes with a magnificent rich body and intense fruit flavours, plus a hint of caramel and liquorice.
The final savoury dish consisted of sun-dried tomatoes with chard (like spinach), and aromatic, oily fennel with a crunchy and tender alalunga tuna, soft and yet rich like a steak.
The exquisite service, exceptional food, fine champagne and wines created, along with the carefully chosen music (a mixture of Italian opera and classic Sicilian ballads) a magical ambience that made for an unforgettable experience. Very much what the team at Il Consiglio were aiming for.
You should judge a meal by how it makes you feel and we would have been happy to stay there all night.
The penultimate titbit was a palate-cleansing lemon jelly, with a sharp citrus tang that raised the spirits and dispelled the cloying heat, leaving us wanting more.
Oriana presented us with superb dessert wine to finish, a Marsala Superiore Oro 2017 "Vigna La Miccia" - Marco De Bartoli (strong fruity taste with notes of toasted caramel), to go with the unbelievably thin and light cannolo bianco made with cardamom and sheep's milk; "dulce" and mouth-watering.
Oriana presents each course with passion translating Antonio’s message with great fluency. Her husband is a well-known baker in the town next door, and she shares all her local expertise with great charm.
Chef Antonio Cicero plans everything with joy in mind, each course building on the last, playing with flavours, textures and exceptional local ingredients to great theatrical effect.
A unique culinary performance in a Sicilian street garden paradise that elevates the dining experience to an exciting yet immeasurably relaxing art form.