I just learnt of another food critic, touring around Sicily on a scooter, falling in love with the flavours, spices, wines and stunning landscapes.
His name is Matthew Fort, he writes for The Guardian and he is about to release his new book "Eating Up Sicily".
Following is one of his recent "discoveries"....
Sicily on a plate
Deep in the forest, Matthew Fort finds a former railway station serving a mix of hearty food, jazz and blues.
It was an email that reminded me. It read "Antica Stazione Ferroviaria Ficuzza Venerdi 1 Settembre 2006. ore 22 - Sal de Caro/Strings Project, jazz on guitar." It was another musical offering at the Old Railway Station at Ficuzza, which had been arriving regularly in my inbox since I was last there in May this year.
The last train pulled out of Ficuzza in 1954. It's hard to see why there should have been a station serving this hamlet in central western Sicily at all, had it not been for the neoclassical hunting lodge built for Ferdinand IV, one of the later Bourbon monarchs, just behind it. As a result of royal patronage, the station, while not on as grand a scale as the lodge - the Bourbons must have taken their hunting very seriously indeed - shared a certain foursquare magnificence. Then, after the crowds of hunters and their attendants had departed, the station fell on hard times, and when the trains ceased to run altogether, it became derelict, broken, ruined and roofless, trees and vegetation growing up through its finely proportioned rooms.
Until five years ago. Then it was taken up by Nino Barcea, an extraordinary young man, who, with the help of a motley collection of family and friends, has gradually brought this railway palace back to life, converting it into a restaurant with rooms in the process. Little by little, the trees were evicted, the roof replaced, the outside repointed and painted a rich cream, the rooms restored, the land around landscaped, dining room and kitchen equipped.
When I arrived at the Stazione, a hoopoe was looking for lunch on the lawn between the osteria and the trees, and the edge of the path through the forest was luminous with wild euphorbia and delicate pinky thistles the colour of mother-of-pearl. Brilliant sunshine caused the floor of the forest to ripple as if underwater, the air silent but for an occasional tinkle of a cow bell.
Like all my favourite hotels and restaurants, the Old Railway Station at Ficuzza has a strong sense of personality, for, beyond restoring old railway stations and making sure that the cooking reflects the rich traditions of the Sicilian kitchen, Nino Barcea uses the place as a stage for his other great loves, jazz and blues. Judging by the regularity with which I get notices of performers, bands and groups coming and going, the Antica Stazione Ferroviaria Ficuzza must be staging a non-stop musical festival. After the Strings Project came YouTube, a blues band from London, and after YouTube ...
The trick is to gather your strength for the evening's concert in the dining room. Anyone expecting the delightful precision of Italian food is in for a bit of a shock eating in Sicily, where the dishes tend to be stomping, stonking and full on. Delicate and dainty they are not. But satisfying? Ah yes, very. I remember a plate piled with antipasti - caponata cooked to a dark-hued, glossy mulch; slices of the melanzane known as violetta, cut as thin as the page of a book and grilled and dusted with slivers of raw garlic and chopped parsley; slices of mild mannered pecorino; thick, soft slices of raw salami; and cheerful, slippery pickled mushrooms and artichoke hearts.
And then a helping of tagliatelle streaked with a sauce of tomato and pork. Could there be anything more simple? And yet it was fabulously pleasing. And after that a veal chop from an organic farm at Godrano just up the road. This veal had a bit of muscle to it, and so flavour, and so satisfaction and so on to the music, head singing slightly and stomach as round as a Saxon burial mound.
Not that you need be immersed in music unless you want to be. The bedrooms are curious - large, comfortable and well appointed, and up in the roof of the station, far removed from the sound from the sessions below. While their position means that they have no wall windows, only skylights open to the sky and the intoxicating tranquillity of the forest around.
· Antica Stazione Ferroviaria Ficuzza, Via Vecchia Stazione, Ficuzza, Sicily (0039 091 8460000, http://www.anticastazione.it/)