The day: 14th September 2007, Dinner.
The place: stradale Pula, Bivio Capoterra, Loc. “La Maddalena Spiaggia” (Cagliari, IT)
The venue: Ristorante Sa Cardiga e Su Schironi
Closest Airport: Cagliari (BA, Easyjet)
The food: Traditional Italian/Sardinian Dining (mainly fish)
The drinks: Regionally based with some interesting wines, reasonably priced.
Here’s the second review from our selection of the Sardinian holidays. It’s about the kind of slightly upmarket family restaurant you can find in Italy: very comfortable environment, well appointed tables with regular tablecloths and napkins (and above all oceans of space between them), a diffuse simple elegance, with a relaxed, unstuffy and welcoming atmosphere that suits the tourist, the local and the businessperson alike (all three categories were represented on the night of our visit). Well, this is what we mean:
The restaurant, as one would expect, it being practically on the beachfront, specialises in seafood: as you enter, again as is standard practice in Italian fish restaurants, a display of what is on offer on that evening is the first sight that welcomes you:
Enough variety for you? You may be able to distinguish some glistening, impaled snake-like creatures peeking from the back of the mushrooms… if not, don’t worry; we’ll have more on this story later J
As soon as we are seated we are offered two glasses of bubbly – at the same time, as in many restaurants of this kind, the waiting staff come and ask us what we’d like to have – no menu in sight. But (unlike too many other establishments) there is no need to worry about being ripped off by being pushed towards expensive dishes, as the price list is stuck outside the door. There is an enticing list of both cold and hot starters: among the former, seafood salad, fresh Tuna Carloforte style (Carloforte being on an island in the South west of Sardinia, famous for its ‘tonnare’, where tuna fish was collected, slaughtered and then processed), oysters, tuna ‘bottarga’ (cured eggs), muggine (flathead mullet) bottarga: all between €5 and €8 (can you imagine?). Among the warm starters, seafood soup and a fry up of small fish, with nothing above €7. One can also have a sampling dish choosing five starters for €11.Primi are between €6 and €8, the cheapest item being the Culurgiones (type of ravioli filled in with potatoes, a kind of fresh pecorino cheese and mint, a very poor example of which we had at Sardo), and the most expensive various other fish dishes, as for instance the linguine with bottarga. Mains propose all sorts of grilled fish (the cheapest being eel, at €30 a Kilo, and the most expensive being langoustines, at €80 a Kilo), as well as the typical sardinian grilled porcetto (suckling pig), at €13, mixed fried fish from Cagliari gulf (€12) and lobster (€130 a chilo).
In amiable conversation with our pleasant waitress, it became quicly apparent to us that we should never let the starters pass by: we go for the mixed samples, and let the waitress choose for us. But after a second, here she comes again with a trolley with all sort of goodies: a plate with four warm and oversized bruschette, pane carasau, olives, and a chopping board hosting a huge salami looking Sardinian sausage and bottarga. They do want to keep us busy!
We manage to resist temptation and pass on the sausage, but give in remorslessly to bottarga
Of course, we could not expect this delicacy (and such a huge plate of it) to be complimentary, and we start wondering whether we should be worried: but as the room is filling up more and more with customers, we decide this cannot be a rip-off, and relax. As it turned out later, we paid €9 for it: a very honest price. And it was so good: just plain and simple bottarga on a bed of finely shredded raw artichokes (where did they find them at this time of the year?) simply seasoned with salt, oil and lemon – simple but very apt combination to underlinde the rich, delicate, inebriating taste of the bottarga. Quite a promising start!
Then, the starter arrives: good we asked for a single portion. It is made up of (clockwise from top left):
– seafood salad;
– fresh tuna with onions;
– Bosana style ‘agliata’ (i.e. gattuccio di mare (of Burrida fame), but it could also be done with skate);
– monkfish with mushrooms;
– bitesize mozzarelle with smoked swordfish (in the centre)
The picture cannot possibly convey the storm of flavours these stirred: all exceedingly varied in taste, and exceedingly good. A caleidoscope of innumerable tastes, from the slight acidity of the mozzarelle (impossibly fresh) and marinated monkfish, to the sweetness in the red sauce of the agliata (very tender), the smokiness of the swordfish, the sea bursting out of the seafood salad. Pretty amazing; only criticism, since we must be able to find one, the monkfish was a tad too dry. But the mozzarelline were spectacular.
Next, our primi arrive:
– black tagliatelle ‘our style’ (€7)
– pescatora style risotto (€8)
The black tagliatelle had been prepared with squid ink, and were presented in a tomato sauce with cep mushrooms, prawns and arselle (i.e. a local type of clam). The tomato sauce was beautifully sweet: the pasta had been cooked flawlessly, well ‘mantecata’ and the overall effect of this dish left both of us almost speechless.
The risotto was a little bit too salty for our taste. It had been also cooked very well, and the amount of seafood in it was again generous. Overall very good, but no wonder, this is what you get when a competent cook works with such first rate ingredients.
Now, an interlude: did you remember the impaled glistening creatures we tried to show you at the beginning: well, now we understand the name of the place better: Sa Cardiga and Su Schironi is Sardinian dialect for “The grille and the skewer”. And the skewer we get, proudly displayed by a waiter going around the dining room with the grilled eels on it. Now, we hope you’ll agree that a giant skewer is by far preferable to a giant peppermill…(remember this)
Of course we cannot let this provocation go unchallenged, so we decide to share one eel:
Delicious, rich and succulent, its sweet meat very moist, all accompanied by a glass of red Cannonau (local grenache): we later discovered this treat (including the wine) cost us a whopping €3.50 (yes, little more than £2 – maybe we are dreaming).
Now for our secondi:
– Grilled sarago (white seabream) €16
– Castagnola fillet in ‘cassola’ (signature dish) €20
We have to apologise for the look of the seabream, but Woman had greedily lunged to clean it up while the by now slightly Cannonau-inebriated Man was still dreamily enjoying the view instead of taking a picture, so there you go (by the way, a sign of the slight upmarketness of this place is that they did offer to clean the fish for us. In more basic places you would have no option but cleaning it yourself. We say cleaning it and not boning because you will always find that the fish has been cooked with its innards. Take it as a sign of fresheness, as an old fish cooked with its innards in would smell and taste foul!). Well, there isn’t much to say: the fish was fresh, it had been grilled as it should, and it was simply perfect.
As for the signature dish, now here the hand of the cook was more visible. This was a fish hotpot which, besides the advertised fillets of castagnola (damselfish, apparently), also included arselle (clams), mussels and shrimps. It had been seasoned with saffron (also produced on the island, if you can remember e.g. S’Apposentu‘s menu). The sauce was good, fresh and intense, the tomatoes in it again very sweet, and the fish was as good and nicely textured as we were by now exacting. Oh, and Man could enjoy the beautiful look of this dish, too (while less aestetically inclined Woman chomps on). And for the more cheap bastards among you, the signature dish comes with a free plate, as it is the “piatto del buon ricordo” (good memories dish) – the union of the “Ristoranti del buon ricordo”
gathers a large number of good quality restaurants (with all sorts of prices) which present the customers ordering the signature dish a corresponding signature plate. There is a good number of collectors of such plates in Italy
We just did not have any room for anything else, or at least we tried to behave, and skipped desserts, just ordering one coffee (€1, yes, 70 pence…in a restaurant…) to keep up appearances.
We had a bottle of formidable and interesting late-ripened white Cannonau (not commonly found, as Cannonau is usually expressed in red) ‘Leila’ 2003 Alberto Loi at €20. Add €1,50 for the water, and the total bill came at €98.
A very very honest price for a very very good place, as there used to be many in Italy. This restaurant proposes simple, unadulterated Italian regional cuisine which remain staunchly true to its core tradition: very fresh ingredients, of unbeatable quality, with a minimum of preparation. But what basic preparation is needed , it is executed with mastery – in a large restaurant kitchen (here for up to 400 covers!) even grilling can disappoint unless it is backed by care and organisation. The credit goes to the Murgia family owners, who have been going on since 1967, with two generations involved (the father Cesare having recently passed the operational baton to son and sommelier Gianluca). This format is something which is unlikely to ever catch up in the UK, simply because it is too much ingredient-driven, and traditional Italian cuisine is very regional, based on very local raw material. You’ve got to fly there to try… Sa Cardiga and Su Schironi brings you the generous and stirring soul of Sardinian fish cuisine, and it does so with professional service and at prices that leave the Londoner stunned. No wonder it is always busy, in an out of town location, and with a local customer base among the most demanding and competent on fresh fish; so much so we could not repeat the next night, Saturday, as it was fully booked! We wish the Murgia family a continued success; they gave us a completely enjoyable dinner out.