Having been there on a previous trip to Sicily, we finally made it back to the famous Charleston Restaurant on the beach at Mondello, but 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. Good waiters recommend and advise – maybe we looked too much like tourists who did not belong (not dressed well enough). We should not have been intimidated by the waiter standing at attention, pen poised over the pad, waiting to write our order. We could almost see him tapping his foot.

This is first of the innovative dishes I ate. It is called a Tououlet Con Verdure.
It is a small sformato (mould) of cous cous topped with slices of very young squid. 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 cous cous, the concentrated fish stock – I ate an excellent one last night on the waterfront at Castellammare del Golfo (which I will save for another blog).

The waiter who gave us the bill at the Charleston (there were several standing around and each had a different function), 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. 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 (why does anyone require a change).

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.

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