In an attempt to improve my Italian and also because I love all things Italian (as I have said many times before!), I recently joined the London Italian Language Meet-up group. What’s great about this group – apart from all the lovely people – is that it’s a mix of Italians and non-Italians: not just people like me stumbling through with their poor Italian language, but also Italians living in London who want to meet up and speak their own language.
Well, you won’t be surprised to know that the Meet-ups that most appeal to your Single Gourmet Traveller are food or wine based. So when I heard that Lucia was organising ‘Dinner at a great Sardinian restaurant in Fulham’, I knew this was one Meet-up I had to attend. I’d been to Pappa Ciccia when it was in Putney a number of times and liked it a lot so I had high expectations of this Pappa & Ciccia in Fulham High Street and was looking forward to an evening of good Italian food – and I wasn’t disappointed!
Two tables were reserved for our group of twenty at the back of the restaurant and when I arrived and saw the plates of lovely antipasti and bread waiting for us, I was pleased I’d been abstemious at lunchtime and left plenty of room for a night of good eating.
We stood around chatting for a while and then sat down to begin the meal. There was plenty of food for us all and soon I had on my plate delicious slices of prosciutto, mortadella and salami; griddled courgettes and aubergines; sun-dried tomatoes; cheeses and olives. For the vegetarians in the group there were large plates of delicious creamy mozzarella and slices of big tasty tomatoes.
Next followed focaccia. There was some confusion here as I always think of focaccia as being fairly thick bread with olive oil and herbs on it but these were like thin pizzas. Lucia (another Lucia and not the one who organised the evening) sitting next to me, and whom I’d met at a previous Meet-up of Italian wine tasting, explained it to me. In restaurants in Italy, when focaccia is brought to the table it would be like that put before us – what we in UK might recognise as a thin pizza. But in a bakery, she told me, you might find something that was more like bread – what I’d always thought was focaccia. Well, whatever its name, what was put before us was really good – and there was lots of it!
Thinking of the restaurant’s name, I asked Lucia what pappa and ciccia meant. She explained that pappa was an Italian word for baby food: you would call your small child to have pappa rather than pranzo (lunch) or cena (dinner). Ciccia is the description for the spare tyre that goes round someone who eats too much. However, in Italy, Lucia explained, although the Italians can be very formal, no one would think it rude to tell a friend they had a ciccia. It would be taken as a joke between friends. I said I didn’t think it would necessarily be taken as a joke by us English! Once home, I read on the Pappa & Ciccia website that they chose the name because ‘When two people go together like “pappa e ciccia” it means that it’s perfectly natural, best friends.’
Now it was time for more food and deep dishes of Melanzane alla Parmigiana were put before us. This is one of my very favourite Italian dishes: slices of aubergine, rich tomato and garlicky sauce and creamy mozzarella baked in the oven.
Mmmm. It was really, really good. This was soon followed by a pasta course.
Now these gorgeous looking pasta parcels of loveliness were every bit as good as they look in my photo. To the left are Sardinian culurgiones – dumplings filled with Pecorino cheese, potatoes and mint – served with a tomato and basil sauce. I’d never eaten these before and they were wonderful: the word ‘dumpling’ conjures up the idea of something heavy, but these were light and full of flavour. Next to them were equally delicious homemade ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach and served with a sage and butter sauce. They were excellent. The Italians around me were delighting in the unmistakable taste of genuinely homemade pasta.
Just as I was thinking that must be the end of the meal and there was only dessert to come, pizza arrived. These time it was true pizza with a choice of three topppings.
I had a slice of the one shown here, with spicy sausage and olives. It was wonderful … but I was full … there was no way I could eat lots of pizza. The restaurant, however, kindly handed out small takeaway boxes that some people filled with pizza slices to take home.
And then … there was dessert. Plates of tiramisu came.
There was a bit too much cream for me but once I got to the tiramisu itself, it was very good and, despite feeling so full, I simply couldn’t resist having a few mouthfuls. Coffee was also served. It came before the dessert which reminded me that recently an Italian waiter from Naples (in a Jamie’s Italian) explained to me that in Italy, the Italians often have coffee before the dessert. Much as I like a good espresso I’ve learnt – and I have to confess that ‘sense’ has been a long time coming – that I really shouldn’t drink coffee late at night if I want to sleep. So I didn’t have any.
Lucia had negotiated a price of £20 a head (including service) for the meal which I thought was excellent value. The food was wonderful; top quality trattoria/pizzeria cooking and a real taste of Italy. And there was plenty of it. I paid an extra £4.75 for a quarter litre of red wine. It was a really good evening: great company, a little Italian spoken, more Italian listened to, and fabulous food.