The day: 10th September 2008, Dinner.
The place: Viale Regina Margherita 18, Cagliari (Italy)
The venue: Ristorante and Cocktail bar Luigi Pomata
Closest airports: Cagliari (British Airways, EasyJet)
The food: Modern Italian/Sardinian, fusion
The drinks: Very strong on Sardinian wines, some national wines
Before we tell you about our fish eating in Edinburgh, we’ve got to tell you about our last Sardinian experience, at the restaurant of the great Luigi Pomata. What? You’ve never heard of Luigi Pomata? Tsk Tsk. You’d scandalise the staff of this restaurant, who as soon as you sit down ask you whether you’ve ever been there, and whether you are aware that this is (one of) the restaurants of ‘the great chef Luigi Pomata’…Oh really? Well, allow us to judge by ourselves, if you don’t mind. Before we start, we should point out that we are sure the great chef wasn’t there (the family has another chic venture in Carloforte).
The setting is simple, modern, with yellow/orange coloured runners on the table instead of tablecloths, a brick vault, neutral walls with bright paintings. The atmosphere aims at freshness, youth, buzz (it was indeed quite full and buzzing). Unfortunately the buzz comes at the cost of unusually small tables by Italian standards. And of noise, with noisy silly unpleasant music (what are we, on the beach?) as an obtrusive background.
The menu is characterised by the presence, beside more traditional items, of ‘susci’ dishes. The Italianate spelling is on purpose: as the menu dutifully explains, the great chef wants to suggest that he aims at a particular, personal interpretation of sushi. Sounds to us as if he just wants to defend himself in advance against any accusation of not serving proper sushi…Anyway, there are three susci menus, small, medium and large, at €16, €27 and €37, respectively. There is a lot of raw fish, either in bits, e.g. king prawn at €4, or a very impressive array of oyster varieties, with prices ranging from €43 to €13, or again fish carpaccio all’italiana, again in three sizes, at €20, €30 and €40 respectively. But then there is also a menu of more traditional Italian dishes, e.g. Aubergine parmigiana as a starter (€14), Spaghetti alla chitarra with smoked seafood (€12) among the pasta, and Beef tagliata (€14).
A rather impressive and unusual menu. While we peruse its delights, the bread arrives:
For primi we choose:
– Orecchiette with tuna tartare, bottarga and cherry tomatoes (€13)
– ‘Artisan’ Fregola with lobster ragout, mussles and saffron (€14)
The bite of the orecchiette is not quite right. There is even the whiff of a suspicion that they have been reheated, but the thought is just too horrendous for us to contemplate: it must be just poor cooking. The tuna is good, and so are the cherry tomatoes: but these tomatoes, just cut in half and thrown there feel disconnected from the rest of the dish, which is dominated by the taste of the basil sauce. It’s really a tale of three unconnected dishes: orecchiette with ‘pesto’; tuna; and tomatoes. The individual flavours are pleasant, but the dish is certainly far from wowing, and does not hold together.
The fregola is a real letdown. It lacks flavour (and by then we had been used to the great, great fregola of Barbara), as does the seafood in it. Oh, come on! We are in Sardinia, and the great chef should be able to serve us a great fregola: what is this?
Let’s move the the mains:
– Fish of the day, in tomato croute and veloute’ of shellfish (€15)
– Small sushi combination (€16)
In the sushi (well, sorry, but if it is not sitting on rice, isn’t that sashimi?), the fish is very good, especially the tuna. The salmon is less good and succulent than, for example, at Kikuchi. We cannot make out the white ‘foil container’ for the rice (the black one is nori). We note with appreciation the high quality soy (Yamasa), naturally brewed, and the rice is OK, too. A good sushi/sashimi, but the great innovation value it must have for the locals a little lost on us. It’s just a good sushi (and sashimi 😉 ).
The fish of the day turns out to be a seabass. The tomatoes are a joke, served roughly sliced with the hard bits still there.
The fish is fresh, though somehow it lacks flavour (farmed?). What saves this dish in terms of flavour is the excellent tomato sauce with very good olive oil. An awfully presented and just acceptable dish. When we enquire with the waiter about the tomatoes, he apologises and says that the ‘boys in the kitchen must be disciplined’. This is worrying.
And finally, we go for desserts:
– Moccaccino al cioccolato: crema di cappuccino, milk mousse, and fondente ice cream (€9)
– Pistachio ice cream, sweet olive oil froth, slivers of bitter chocolate (€9).
The pistachio icecream pleases with flavour but disappoints with texture (ice crystals there). Woman cannot taste the olive oil, Man claims he can, and he adds that he enjoys the subtle, delicate flavours dominated by the towering pistachio.
The moccaccino is, finally, a great offering, with its multilayered progression of textures. The ‘parfait’, so to say, is excellent, spongy and with superlative intense coffee taste. The cream above, fluid and slightly frothy, is a delight on the palate. The final texture is that of the excellent ice cream, even if once again, unfortunately, marred by the ice crystals.
The bill, with an excellent Vermentino Ruinas at €30 and tap water (voluntarily served) came at a very reasonable €106.
The service was generally informed, polite, young and efficient. What to say of the cuisine? You’ll have guessed already that for us this particular expression of great Chef Luigi Pomata was a disappointment. We can see some signs of greatness there: the selection of materials is impressive and the menu is original. But the execution of the dishes is often quite depressing, and some materials in the end are not of the quality one expects (the lobster in the fregola, the seabass). All the hallmarks are there of a commercial operation set up by a talented but absentee chef who plays on his name and cannot control what the kitchen does (at least we hope this is the case –please tell us that you weren’t there, that you didn’t let those bland flavours go by your pass!). It’s reasonable food at reasonable value, but not good enough compared to the expectations created.