Two Stars With Guts

“I don’t think people come to Sicily to taste French food, that’s why our menu is based on local ingredients,” says Vincenzo Candiano, executive chef at the Locanda Don Serafino restaurant in Ragusa at the end of our six course meal. I admire his confidence. He is following his determination contrary to the popular opinion that the food in a Michelin star restaurant should come at least from France if not from another hemisphere to justify the high cost. It says a lot about what kind of chef he must be.

Executive Chef Vincenzo Candiano
Executive Chef Vincenzo Candiano

Another thing that reveals a great deal about a person’s relationship to the job they are doing are the management responses on Tripadvisor. Let’s be honest, Tripadvisor is a great source of reliable information as long as you can filter out all the impossible to please and always unhappy customers. And whoever is writing the responses for Locanda Don Serafino (it seems they are actually written by the owners) must truly believe that their team is doing their best at all times. Otherwise they wouldn’t dare to mock the guests who post negative reviews in the most refined way. It takes some guts to do this, mostly people just apologise even if they feel the criticism is not justified and the guest was a real pain in the ass. So clearly, we were intrigued enough to visit the restaurant to see for ourselves who is right.

A two-star Michelin restaurant of course sets some expectations. Combined with mixed reviews on Tripadvisor ours were somewhat cautiously hesitant. I admit I was afraid the staff would be snotty and uptight, feeling too confident about their success. But my fears were ungrounded. The young team is pleasant and friendly. It’s true we didn’t have two waiters constantly overseeing our table as was the case at some other equally rated restaurant somewhere in Paris. But they were attentive without being too pushy so we felt welcome and for me that is enough.

Sometimes I don’t understand all the fuss about waiters, cutlery, glasses and napkins in fancy restaurants anyway. It often only makes people forget what they really came for – the food. And the food here was good. I am not trying to assume the role of a food critic so I am not going to describe all the combinations of tastes for each dish we had. After all, for me the question in the end is only if it is tasty or not. I mean, how many levels of tasty can you differentiate? And why for instance should an imported Cape Breton lobster be tastier than a locally grown donkey? Yes, we had donkey meat for the first time and it was delicious. And we had some unexpected fish like mackerel, red mullet and cod, that probably don’t cost a fortune but come from the sea surrounding the island and were cooked to perfection. In my opinion that doesn’t make them any less Michelin-star worthy.

Is it a cave or is it a restaurant?
Is it a cave or is it a restaurant?

All in all, we had a most satisfying meal. I don’t know if it was the best we could have in all Sicily as there is some good food to be found around the island, sometimes at the most unexpected places. I also can’t say if it was worth the money. We just felt that after several simple meals we should also try a top-notch place to experience the whole range of what the island has to offer.  And we don’t regret it so for us it was worth it. But if you’re visiting a Michelin-starred restaurant mostly for the spectacle you’re ill advised to pick this one. There are many other places where you can splurge out and get a feel of exclusivity that you may not find here.

I hope chef Vincenzo continues to follow his commitment to innovate with local ingredients creating a taste of Sicily at the highest level no matter what the critics say. As for the Michelin guide, I hope it soon discovers Slovenia because there are some equally talented and passionate chefs there too. And if one of them some day manages to be published in the red bible, I hope they and their management have as much guts to stick with their principles as the team at the Locanda Don Serafino has.

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