THE CHARLESTON Restaurant in Mondello (near Palermo)

Having been there on a previous trip to Sicily, we finally made it back to the famous Charleston Restaurant on the beach at Mondello. We did not enjoy our food as much as we expected.

However I did find the conversation that I had at the end of the meal with the waiter very interesting. I’ll get back to that.

The restaurant has changed hands in the last two years and the owner has decided that the Charleston’s menu of enduring, traditional favourites, needed refreshing. So alongside the menu Tradizionale, there is now a selection of dishes labelled Innovazione (Innovation).

Allowing ourselves to be rushed into ordering – fatal mistake – we thought we would honour the experiment and chose from the menu Innovazione. This after all was 2009 and I was ready for Innovation having appreciated the traditional food at this restaurant  at an earlier visit.

Good waiters recommend and advise – but maybe we looked too much like tourists who did not belong . We should not have been intimidated by the waiter standing at attention, pen poised over the pad, waiting to write our order. He looked impatient.

This is first of the innovative dishes I ate. It is called a Tououlet Con Verdure.
It is a small sformato (mould) of couscous topped with slices of very young squid (lightly pan fried) Surrounding it was a strong reduced fish sauce with some balsamic reduction for effect. The red blobs on the corners of the plate were the verdure (vegetables) and these were just sliced unseasoned tomatoes, which were not particularly tasty. It was a modern take on the traditional cous cous – the fish, the couscous, the concentrated fish stock – I had eaten an excellent the night before on the waterfront at Castellammare del Golfo. ( Broth, couscous and fish presented separately- traditional).

The rest of the food we ordered was just as unappealing. Where was the innovation?

The waiter who gave us the bill at the Charleston (there were several standing around and each had a different function but I have to say, little to do), when questioned about the quality of the food, admonished us for ordering from the menu Innovazione, as much to say we got what we deserved/ what did you expect. He explained the new owner’s demand for change, but said the menu Tradizionale was still the thing to eat at the Charleston, and that it was going to take the chefs another couple of years to get the innovations right .

Sicilians are good at cooking traditional dishes and these are what Sicilians like to eat. The menu in some restaurants may not look very exciting, but cooked well, the simple becomes a masterpiece. True…. and especially on this occasion.