A glance through the dishes on offer at A Tavola is hefty reminder of what the petite Italian island has contributed to the world’s cumulative cook book. Bombarded for millennia by invaders from far and wide, a unique environment for the cultivation of techniques, influences and produce has flourished, and spawned some of Italy’s true culinary treasures. Last week we greedily made our way down to try as much of it as possible.
To begin perhaps Sicily’s most famous food export, arancini. The deep fried, breaded, stuffed balls of risotto rice are rightfully revered and at A Tavola you can enjoy them with a choice of three fillings. We chose the beef ragu for ours and they were exceptional, generously plump, gooey and rich with cheese and meat, if you find these better in elsewhere Manchester you need to let me know.
Another lesser known Sicilian street food snack is pannelle, they were new to me and I’d recommend you acquaint yourselves with these little fritters soon too. Chickpea flour is seasoned, mixed in to a dough and then rolled flat and fried to create soft nutty slices. I’m told they’ve been a revelation served at lunch the traditional way, jammed in to a pannini, we enjoyed them with potato croquettes- either way it’s fair to say they’re ridiculously moreish.
It’s not that I only eat deep fried starters but they seemed to be the order of the day this time. Our final sharer of Sicilian sheeps cheese was nice enough although I’d have preferred a bit less batter. The salty, halloumi-esque filling deserved more attention.
A regularly rotating menu gives Alessio the opportunity to experiment with different flavours and ingredients, and he certainly found a winner with the pork belly. Later he told us about the regular Whatsapp conversations with his mum back in the homeland to run through menu ideas, I’m sure she’d be proud of this one. A dish to wistfully recall for weeks to come, daydreaming about tucking in to that tenderness again.
I usually find orange to be a bit of blunt instrument when used in savoury dishes, but the tart, berry-like sweetness of blood orange worked magic with that piece of pork. The sauce took in a complex prickle of spices perfectly showcasing the Arabic influence on Sicilian cuisine, before a sharp glug of Salerno, a delicious blood orange liqueur, sealed the deal.
The chance to eat fresh pasta is hard to let slip so we shared the ravioli cernia too, tenderly al dente parcels packed with grouper fish. The mild muscular meat was complimented by the delicate fragrant crunch of courgette and Bronte pistachio (another of Sicily’s many delicacies) whilst the pungent aromas of saffron and bottarga both added their own unique intensity.
I’m not sold on serving food in those little frying baskets, they look like mini shopping trollies to my eyes at least, and the artfully arranged selection of puds was not enhanced by this one. Aside from that our afters were nonetheless a lovely collection of treats. The hot ricotta pie in particular floated my boat, especially alongside an accompaniment of pistachio and hazelnut ice creams. Crisp cannolis, the mafia’s dessert of choice – which are available to take away too – are another must-try. I was less impressed by the cassata although it was interesting to try the sweet marzipan cake, which was distinctly reminiscent of Indian desserts, another reminder of the cultural melting pot that makes Sicilian food so special.
14 Broadstone Road
Stockport, SK5 7AE
0161 971 8441