Sardinian restaurants are not so difficult to find in London as they were a decade ago and I have recently discovered one that is unbelievably worth a try and I highly recommend it: Ristorante Ichnusa. Ichnusa is the ancient name of Sardinia and also of the famous beer that the locals love to sip cold on the spectacular beaches.
The atmosphere at the restaurant, located in Lavender Hill, took me back to years ago, when I first visited Sardinia with a dear friend of mine from there, a visit that is still imprinted in my mind for the amazing food and wine I had; the generous people I met and the breathtaking landscape I saw.
Last week, I went to Ichnusa for a bite and and I was welcomed by the friendly head chef Roberto Tonzanu and the wine savvy general manager Alberto Panni. Talking with them about Sardinian food and the restaurant scene in London was enlightening and it was a joy to dine with them!
If you are lucky enough to go there on a sunny day, then you should make the most of their balcony and enjoy what the restaurant has to offer (anything from appetisers, to pasta to meat or fish dishes, not forgetting the generous desserts).
Roberto has excellent experience in the hospitality field both in Italy and the UK and he is the man who, like a magnet, attracts customers His lovely attitude and great passion for quality food is endless. Whenever I see him, it is always interesting to discuss Italian cuisine because he explains the recipes he makes with simplicity, and above all you can feel the enthusiasm in his words when he describes his Sardinian food. I just love when people are passionate about what they do!
I started with charcuterie and cheese that I had with one of Armit Wines' red wines, Montessu 2010, an IGT blend of Carignan (60%) and other Bordeaux varieties (40%) produced by Agricola Punica, in the south western part of Sardinia, called Sulcis Meridionale. The company is the sister of Tenuta San Guido and in fact the bottle labels are a reminder of the famous estate's logo but with the difference that you can drink the Sardinian siblings for a fraction of their price!
The starter was great and the round, juicy wine perfectly matched with the aged cheese and the Sardinian salami, accompanied by the crunchy Carasau bread. It was only the idea of moving to the pasta dish that made me stop eating the starter, and I was served the typical Malloreddus pasta in a chilli tomato sauce with sausages which I absolutely loved.
The tomato sauce was fresh and well cooked with a Cannonau wine reduction, its pleasant spiciness made the pasta a perfect match with the other red wine of Agricola Punica, called Barrua, another IGT in the 2010 vintage. Same blend as Montessu, although the percentage varies (Carignan 85% and French varieties 15%), plus the fact that wine spends more time in barriques (18 months), it is one of my favourite wines from South Italy. Its herbal, Mediterranean flavours, spicy and leather notes were in tune with the dish and left me breathless. If then to this you add the pleasure of being entertained by Roberto and his stories while you dine, then you realise you are having a great time.
With him, I share the same unconditional love for our native regions and the passion he puts in the dishes he cooks is tremendous. I finished my meal with a hand-made Seadas, traditional deep fried ravioli, filled with pecorino cheese and lemon zest and drizzled with honey that just melts in your mouth served hot. When I licked the last plate clean and raised my eyes to look around, I noticed an unusual murale painted on one wall of the restaurant inside. Roberto proudly told me the curious story about how a young artist made it. The painting shows an old couple dressed in typical Sardinian outfits with the lady holding a bottle of Ichnusa beer offering it to her partner.
The idea came to the artist when he saw the bottle of beer on the table. He was painting and he decided to add it to the picture to convey the idea of the combination of tradition and innovation.
The whole atmosphere in the restaurant makes you feel good and for me it is a pleasure to go anytime I can. If not, the delivery service that Roberto has set up can get the food and wine to customers' places, in the blink of an eye.
Roberto stays ahead of latest developments in food by preparing gluten free food and halal food. That murale then is saying the truth about what Roberto wants to achieve: keep the tradition with a constant effort to be innovative.
Next time I go, I will want to try the suckling piglet that is a speciality and obviously a particular product that demands a special cooking procedure. I will also take my Sardinian girlfriends with me and I am sure they will love the place.
Sardinian wines from Armit available at Ristorante Ichnusa:
Montessu 2012 IGT Isola dei Nuraghi, Agricola Punica
Barrua 2010 IGT Isola dei Nuraghi, Agricola Punica