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[REVIEW] Ciccio Sultano Two Star

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[REVIEW] Ciccio Sultano Two Star


Taking a stroll one night around the back streets we discovered a hidden gem tucked behind the main square church. A two star degustation restaurant. We hadn’t eaten anywhere particularly fancy so we decided to treat ourselves and booked in for lunch the next day.

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phoebe waiting for food ciccio sultano.JPG

A gorgeous little restaurant, simply and sophisticatedly decorated. It had a comfortable aura which made you feel instantly relaxed. I sometimes find with high end, degustation restaurants you feel the need to play a part, to act as though you “belong”, here I felt I could have rocked up in my sweatpants and a t-shirt and would have been equally as welcomed.

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One of the reasons I love degustations is that you don’t have to chose what to eat. You pick the big or small menu and alcohol or no alcohol. We went big with no alcohol. When they came to take our drinks order I made a beeline for the non alcoholic cocktails. Being my indecisive, pregnant self that waiter made a suggestion. “Why not go for the…….’pomegrante’…….. drink. Pomegranate is known to be extremely good for pregnancy including helping with the growth of the baby.” I absolutely loved that he made such a personal and thoughtful suggestion (and even though I don’t like pomegranate I said yes because I appreciated his effort. And I knew Georges would drink it if I didn’t.)

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It’s difficult to explain how good the food was because it’s something you really need to try to understand. The dishes were based on traditional flavours and combinations of Sicilian food but of course done with a touch more finesse and delicacy. A couple of my favourites included the cheese and carbonara sauce filled gnocchi with pork and cuttlefish meatballs, topped with squid and mussels as pictured below. Ok, that doesn’t sound quite so delicate. However, for something that sounds like they just threw it all in the pan and hoped for the best it tasted very thought through. The gnocchi had more a texture of a dumpling and the cheese was incredibly gooey and oozing. I loved how unique a dish it was.

gnocchi filled with cheese and carbonara sauce, pork and cuttlefish meatball topped with squid and mussels.JPG
sundried tomato ciabatta.JPG

Now, from the strange to the simple. It doesn’t get more basic than a sun dried tomato ciabatta but it’s usually the simple ones that surprise you. The bread is from a town called Monreale which is famous for its semolina flour bread. It has a beautiful golden, colour and is slightly nutty in flavour. Georges and I become obsessed with this bread and tried to track it down in every town we visited.

black pig glazed in carob and stuffed with tomato, slami and cheese with baked artichoke.JPG
Truffle ice cream between bread crisps with slices of truffle.JPG
hazelnut milk, prickly pear sorbet and lemon crsip.JPG

It wouldn’t be a trip to Sicily without scoffing down a cannoli……or four. Not all at one time of course. Here we politely shared one between us but I can’t say that wasn’t difficult. I twas served with ricotta, almond sorbet and a prickly pear sauce (another commonly used ingredient in Sicily). The pastry was extremely short and I loved the combination of the fruity, nutty flavours.

cannoli with ricotta, almond sorbet and prickly pear sauce.JPG
phoebe laughing at ciccio sultano.JPG
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“While SICILY filled my heart, Ciccio Sultano FILLED my appetite.”

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And of course no degustation is complete without petit fours. A mixture of mandarin and cinnamon jellies and brownies. And as if all that yummy food wasn’t enough they go and give us a beautiful coffee table book with stories of the restaurant and recipes from their menu. At no extra charge. That’s the Sicilians for you. It was a really special momento of not just our experience at the restaurant but of our entire holiday.

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Website: www.cicciosultano.it/en

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Dress: Portmans // Sneakers: Stylerunner // Sunglasses: Sunglass Hut


 
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[LIFE BEHIND THE SCENES] Great Australian Bake Off Final

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[LIFE BEHIND THE SCENES] Great Australian Bake Off Final


When a party consists of baking, balloons, burgers and babies you know you're in for a good time. When the baking has been done by Sian Redgrave, the balloons are the size of a small house, the burgers are the best you've ever eaten and the babies are as cute as a button then you're good time just turned into a little slice of paradise. 

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I was in my element. The big kid inside me squealed and clapped at the donut wall, gazed in awe at the magical carousel, grinned like a Cheshire cat at the balloon arches and drooled like a dog at the colourful lolly buffet. Of course, not forgetting that the reason we were there was to film the final episode of the Great Australian Bake Off and not just stuff our faces. 

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Friends, family and guests were all lined up outside the picnic area ready for our grand entrance. As they called action you could feel the buzz and excitement as we edged closer to the picnic party and of course the Bake Off shed in which the three finalists were finishing off their showstoppers. 

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It was that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory moment as we stepped through the balloon archway and were faced with an explosion of colour, sound and smell. First things first we located the perfect picnic position (aka prime photo taking backdrop) before Sian made a beeline for the coffee van. While she was doing that I ran around the party like a mad man taking photos before the donut wall and lolly buffet were demolished by all the sugar hungry children. 

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"Cake is for LIFE, not just for BIRTHDAYS."

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While most people would consider a picnic to be a couple of crustless sandwiches, a bag of Twisties and a few carrot sticks thrown in for good measure, you've clearly never attended a Sian Redgrave picnic. So we chowed down on an Isreali couscous, lentil, cauliflower, green bean, tomato and broccoli salad, a quinoa, radish, spinach, pomegranate and almond salad, a cheese board with all the trimmings (provided by yours truely) and of course a couple of baked treats because...........bake off. 

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Living up to her title of season one's Bake Off winner Sian's coconut and raspberry slice was heavenly. Beautiful and crumbly and finished off with a dusting of pistachios and rose petals. Her lemon meringue pie with a twist was incredible. The twist? Passionfruit! Perfectly short pastry and creamy, tart lemon curd with pops of passionfruit seeds and the stickiest, marshmallowy meringue.

You'd think after bringing enough food to fill 40 people we'd have no room left even for oxygen. You'd be wrong.........Bring on the burger! 

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phoebe ghorayeb bake off pcinic.JPG

If I'm honest I wasn't expecting much from this burger, I assumed it was just a filler for all the kids. Something easy and fuss free to keep them quiet. Never did I think I would claim one of the best burgers I'd eaten to be at staged picnic in the middle of a field from a food tent. Oh how wrong I was. And of course you can't have a burger without fries. Thin and crispy, just how I like em. 

phoebe ghorayeb eating a burger.JPG
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It wasn't all about the food (although that did play a very important part) it was also the experience of watching the epic grand final of three homemade bakers for one of Australias greatest reality shows. Sometimes watching them play out in real life can taint the tension and excitement that the TV brings to the living room but there was no doubt that the sweat on each of the contestants brows was as real as my sugar high and the tension just as raw. We arrived for the last two hours of their bake and the shed doors were left open for the guests to come and watch as they pleased. 

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sian redgrave carousel.JPG

Now we couldn't leave the party without taking a ride on the carousel. For Valentinas sake of course. However judging by the look on her face and ours it's not hard to see who were the real kids in this situation. It really is true what they say about children bringing out the child in you. You begin to see the world through their eyes and your wish is for them to see and experience as many beautiful things that the world has to offer. Candy floss and carousels included. 

phoebe ghorayeb carousel.JPG
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Sadly V and I couldn't stay to witness the announcement of the Bake Off winner. My motherly duties called and it was waaaaay past V's bedtime. We did get to watch the finalists bring out their masterpieces and serve them at their table of family and friends. And I can tell you that they looooook goooood.

But before we headed home there was one thing left to do........

sian redgrave lemon meringue pie.JPG
sian redgrave and baby having picnic.JPG
great australian bake off final picnic.JPG

"GOOD things come to those who BAKE."

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FAN GIRL MOMENT! Seeing as Sian and Maggie go way back (2015 to be precise) I was able to nab myself a quick piccie with the Queen of cake herself. She is as adorable in real life as she is on the box. Courteous, graceful and humble as ever, the perfect example of celebrity. 

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I'm sure by now it's no surprise that Bake Off gets me a wee bit excited. Not only for the food porn but for the people it has brought into my life. Firstly, it is because of Mrs Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig and Caramel Ice Cream that I am married to the man of my dreams. What started out as an ice cream flavour debate soon became a dinner invitation and eventually a marriage. It is also because of Bake Off that Sian up and moved to Sydney and is now one of my best friends.

Food, family and friendship. Three of life's greatest pleasures. Thank you Great Australian Bake Off!

phoebe ghorayeb and baby having picnic.JPG

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Trousers: Zara (old) // Tshirt: Uniqlo // Jacket: Zara (old) // Watch: The Horse


 
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[LIFE BEHIND THE SCENES] It's A Girl!

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[LIFE BEHIND THE SCENES] It's A Girl!


baby shower cake.JPG

When Lebanese and English combine it can only mean one thing (other than one damn cute baby)........a Middle Eastern High Tea Baby Shower. As well as the usual baby shower games, enjoying the "beautiful" weather (pregnancy and 33 degrees do not mix well) and of course catching up with my gorgeous girlfriends, this shower was all about the food. So when Sian very kindly offered to cater my shower, instead of the polite banter which us Brits are very accustomed to -
P: "Oh no, I couldn't ask you to do that."
S: "Please, it would be my pleasure."
P: "Are you sure? I don't want to put you out."
S: "Honestly, I would love to!"
Yes, yes, yes, was my very quick, very blunt, very non apologetic answer.

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My  favour boxes were filled with pink, blue and white sugared almonds which are a Middle Eastern tradition given at weddings, birthdays, christenings and baby showers. They symbolise health, wealth, happiness, fertility and a long life.  Not a bad thing to leave a party with. 

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I had always loved the idea of combining a classic English high tea with the exotic flavours of the Middle East. I didn't know for what occasion exactly but my baby shower seemed like the perfect excuse. When I pitched the idea to Sian her eyes lit up and I could see her cookery cogs turning as she wrote down the menu in less than 10 minutes. Cue three days straight of prepping, cooking and baking madness. 

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Now no high tea is complete or can even begin without perfectly cut, crustless finger sandwiches. With four fillings to choose from, salmon, cream cheese and watercress; good old cucumber sarnie with a crushed pistachio crust; smoked ham, cheddar and Branston pickle (a personal favourite of mine) and falafel with garlic sauce and micro herbs. Does it get any more English come Lebanese than that??

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SCONES!! All hail the scone. Whether you like em simply simple or filled with dried figs and a bit of spice, we gotcha covered. Jo's got the right idea!

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earl grey and honey cupcakes.JPG

Sian pretty much made and baked everything. OK, not pretty much, she did. I helped by licking all the bowls clean which is really not all that helpful. So I thought maybe it would be a good idea to actually contribute some of my own cooking abilities. Pulling out one of my favourite cake books I made these truely epic earl grey and honey cupcakes from The Caker. I did however put my own little spin on them by adding a chocolate ganache topping (because pregnancy and chocolate mix very well). They were such a hit! So much so I will send the recipe to anyone who asks and I guarantee you will be everybody's new BFF. 

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Sadly I, nor Sian, can take credit for these beautiful baklavas. Yes we put them on a fancy plate and sprinkled them with rose petals but all kudos goes to Al Sultan Pastry in Rockdale. These really are the most amazing baklava and even though anywhere outside of the Eastern Suburbs seems like another planet I urge you to take the drive and to take an empty stomach with you. 

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This cake was a personal request by Georges (yes he was at my baby shower. Who do you think took all the lovely photos?!) We had the pleasure of first tasting it at Sian's birthday and decided that once was not enough. This is one of the best cakes I've ever had. Semolina, pistachio and rose water cake soaked in a lemon and rose water syrup finished with crushed pistachios and dried rose petals. In fact, it is so good that Georges, his mum, sister and I attempted to make it for Valentina's christening. And not to blow our own trumpet but we did a bloody good job.

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As this is a high tea, with the key word here being tea, we set up a tea station of English Breakfast (obviously), mint tea, earl grey and cinnamon, cardamon and ginger. Sian introduced me to this amazing prop hire place called Major and Tom  where  we hired a selection of beautiful, vintage teapots and mix and match cups and saucers. The perfect corner to wash down all the sugar!

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Ah, the piece de resistance. The mother of all baby shower cakes. The type of cake you want to smoosh your face in. Sian's masterpiece! I mean, she won Bake Off after all, it was bound to be bloody sensational. Sian has such a style when it comes to celebration cakes. Slightly imperfect, asymmetrical, rustic, homemade but the most beautiful thing you ever did see. For some serious food porn check out her instagram @sian_redgrave

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"READY to..........."

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phoebe's baby shower friends.JPG

Thank you to all these epic babes for making my baby shower the best I could have possibly imagined. Clearly we were having so much fun that little Valentina decided she wasn't going to miss out on all the action and came three weeks early, the day after my shower. And get this.......as soon as she was born she popped out smelling like cake batter! Go figure. 

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[REVIEW] Ardigna

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[REVIEW] Ardigna


This restaurant was one of many recommendations given to us by a wonderful Sicilian lady now living in Australia who runs food tours around Sicily during the summer. A pretty trustworthy source I’d say. However, when we took a turn off the main road onto a rocky, gravel path which looked to be heading towards nothing but darkness, I was beginning to have my doubts. Double and triple checking the address, stopping and restarting google maps and all out praying that this wasn’t the end for us.

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Finally, a light in the distance. Praise Jesus! Things were starting to look up. Or so we thought. We stopped at the bottom of a long driveway facing up a steep hill. We could barely make out the building at the top. Slowly creeping up the driveway we came into a car park. We drove up next to one of only two cars parked there. As I swung open my car door I looked down, I looked back at Georges, I looked down again. My eyes widened as I said with as much English sarcasm as I could muster. “Oh look Georges, two dusty baby handprints printed on the side of that car. Well that’s not scary at all.”

Yes, it bloody well was! We got out of the car and I grabbed Georges hand. This was it, our time, our end. We walked around the corner towards the building, the sound of stones beneath our feet was all that could be heard as we edged closer and closer. Lights were on. We knocked on the door. “Bueno sera!” exclaimed a friendly looking man as he swung open the door. “Have you made a reservation?” No, we hadn’t. “That’s ok, come in, come in. We are not open until 8pm.” It was 7:45pm. “But come in and have a seat and we’ll be right with you.”

Immediately I could feel the blood rushing back to my face and my fear subsided. We were guided to a table for two in front of a pull down projector screen where the owner was sat watching the last 15 minutes of his favourite game show. We watched with him, not understanding a single word but smiled when he smiled and laughed when he laughed. As soon as 8pm struck the screen was rolled up and the owner greeted us with genuine enthusiasm and asked what we would like to order. We told him kindly that we would love him to order for us, which he did with pleasure.

"Stick a FORK in me, I'm done."

The restaurant was empty. And I mean empty. Other than the chefs and waiters we were the only people sitting in this 250 seater restaurant. Georges and I looked at each other thinking that business must be tough and were pleased to have come out all this way to help what looked like a struggling restaurant. About 20 minutes later we swallowed our words. Big time. Every seat had a bum, the place was a bustling, hectic, noisy, happy room full of couples, families and parties. The owner worked the room, going from table to table greeting old friends and new friends.

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As we patiently waited for our starter we dug into the DIY tomato bruschetta. A mortar and pestle sat on our table filled with tomato, olive oil, salt and pepper and basil. We gave it a little stir before loading up slices of fresh, crispy bread. Like I’ve said before, you can’t beat simple things that are done well. There was so much flavor and each ingredient spoke for itself. It took all our strength to not eat an entire loaf of bread just so we could mop up every last mouthful of tomato juice.

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Well thank goodness we didn’t because what came next would leave a competitive eater shaking in their boots.  A 21 dish antipasti platter which just kept coming and coming. A mere snippet of it included a potato and liver dish, fresh ricotta, meatballs, tripe, escargot, zucchini, olives, quail egg, ash cheese, ham, pork, aubergine. You get the picture; it was a lot.

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The main course however, was my favourite. Unfortunately, I only had room left for a few mouthfuls but those few mouthfuls were heaven. A pistachio cream gnocchi with cheese, crushed pistachios and saffron. It was incredibly rich with a silky smooth sauce and perfectly cooked pillows of gnocchi. It was unlike anything I had had before and one of my most memorable dishes of the entire trip.

pistachio cream gnocchi in sicily.JPG

Holy moly! I couldn’t move. As I leant back in my chair there was no other option than to pop the button on my shorts to make room for my expanding waistline. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been this full but what I did know is that I needed to be horizontal……. and fast. We put up our hand to order the bill but by the look on the owners face, that clearly wasn’t going to happen. He came over and looked baffled as to why we weren’t ordering dessert. We told him there was no way we could fit another bite. His response? You haven’t seen my wife’s ricotta cake. He walked us over to the dessert cabinet and showed us the freshly baked ricotta cake, soft and warm having just come out of the oven. I honestly couldn’t tell you how we did it but we did. We ordered a slice to share and quite easily (and surprisingly) demolished it. I even think I could’ve have squeezed in another slice. I swear it’s true what they say about having a separate dessert tummy.

Ardigna was definitely worth the two and a half hour round trip. I mean it’s easy for me to say as I slept for most of it but even Georges claims it to be his favourite meal of the holiday. We also found out that they are renovating to add accommodation within the surrounding buildings which is the perfect ammunition to get us back eating more of their beautiful food. 

hot ricotta cake sicily.JPG

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