With shimmering stretches of sand and edible dolce vita, here’s why a trip to Sardinia will be love at first bite…
Before I get down to business, let me just say a romantic mini-break to the Med’s second largest island was never meant to be a food pilgrimage. We’d actually come here for the promise of peace and white dunes. But as lovely and deserted as the beaches were, it very quickly became an epic eating expedition. So, with the kids temporarily re-homed at casa grandparents, we had 5 tantrum-free days to squeeze in 3 destinations and as much food as we could stomach. Sardinia, we decided very early on, is a very good place for the greedy…
Sardinia’s cosmopolitan capital, Cagliari, was our first stop. Cuisine here is all about mixing up the flavours of the ‘terra e mare’ or land and sea. The palm-lined Via Roma, opposite the seafront, has a parade of smart restaurants. In fact, you can shop, eat, shop, eat your way along it. Just an olive’s stone throw behind here, though, is the old town – a squeeze of lanes where, along with millennia-old sights, we came across no end of authentic trattorias. You know, the type with creaking walls, beamed ceilings and a merry mamma that delights in your every ‘mmm’. The standout meal for me was at old-timer, Lillicu, in the Medieval district. It might look a bit plain Jane, but its menu attracts people en masse. We pigged out on ‘orziadas’, sea anemone tentacles, deep-fried to perfection. Trust me, they taste better than they sound. I followed it up with ‘fregula’, a resolutely Sardinian pasta similar to couscous. The tiny pebble-shaped balls are handmade, oven-cooked until toasty and then simmered in garlic and tomato sauce. They’re served with littleneck clams. It’s a dead simple dish, but I’ve had a love affair with it ever since.
Next, we said ‘ciao’ – and ‘hola’ – to lively Alghero on Sardinia’s northwest coast. It’s part-Italian, part-Catalan, so its street signs and menus are often in both languages. Catalan is still spoken here, too, and we spotted paella and sangria on the chalkboards as we mooched around the old town. Looped by chunky walls, the disorganised cobbled streets here are seafood central. We somehow managed to resist, though, and dilly-dallied down to the harbour. There’s a more contemporary nod to food here – Chinese joints, steak houses and the like – but we wanted to go traditional. We stumbled across teeny Mabrouk. It’s on Via Santa Barbara near the 16th-century Cattedrale di Santa Maria. Forget poring over a menu – there’s just a set-priced seafood feast, so you have to get into Goldilocks’ mindset and try the lot. Highlights for me were grilled cuttlefish tossed in garlic, olive oil and juicy tomatoes, and ‘burrida’, fish marinaded in garlic, parsley, hazelnuts and vinegar. In all, we hoovered up various starters, 3 pasta dishes and 2 main courses.
Okay, things worth noting about our last stop, Porto Cervo. Hollywood royalty hang out here on mega yachts. Shops sideline souvenirs in favour of Rolex timepieces and Louis Vuitton luggage. And to really join the club, you need billionaire status. We had none of the above, but we didn’t let that put us off. For a taste of the high life, we booked Gianni Pedrinelli, one of Sardinia’s most famous restaurants. Pricey, yes, but worth the just-this-once blowout. Once a private residence, it’s now home to Italian antiques, Moroccan chandeliers, oh and the most glamorous people in town. Not including us, I hasten to add. We went for their famous, and exhaustive, antipasti. It was a mountain of goodies including full-of-flavour green ‘camone’ tomatoes, tangy artichoke hearts marinaded in spices, chillies and bay leaf, and homemade, thin and crispy ‘carasau’ bread. I followed it up with roasted lamb ragu and ‘cunlingiones’, large ravioli pockets filled with cheese and mint. Quite how I managed to fit in ricotta with Sardinian honey and zesty lemon sorbet for dessert I’ll never know.
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Author: Jenny Childs
Published: September 8, 2014
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