Luigi Camilleri’s Italian trattoria and deli is situated in the beautiful seaside town of Youghal in Co. Cork. Situated in the shadow of the famous clock tower, Luigi’s serve authentic Italian dishes daily, with the emphasis on great local ingredients, and the sure touch of a young man who worked and studied under the great Italian Michelin starred chef Giorgio Locatelli. This is undoubtedly one of the best Italian food experiences in Ireland, and we urge you to worship at the alter. After all, if it’s good enough for Madonna…..
Well, in fairness Madonna didn’t exactly rock up in Youghal for lunch, but after cooking in some of London’s coolest in-spots, Luigi did a stint as ‘chef to the stars’ cooking in the homes of Madonna, Ringo Star, Sean Connery, Richard Gere and many others. He moved to West Cork in 2007, originally as an executive chef, but he then opened a deli, before taking the plunge and opening the restaurant last year.
Luigi’s is in a lovely old building that just drips atmosphere. Inside it is small, but certainly not pokey, and the kitchen is completely open, so there is a constant floorshow of sorts going on that adds to the foodie feel. Mis-matched tables and chairs are dotted around, and there is a large communal table available either for a large group, or to share with fellow diners. The menu changes every day, and is very much decided by what Luigi can get from the local fisherman, or what the organic farmer delivers in his veg box.
I recently visited Luigi’s on a trip to Cork, and arrived on a beautiful summer’s day, with the bay the brightest blue, and the town basking in the sunshine. Finding Luigi’s is easy, drive towards the clock tower, and just before you go under it, look to the right, and there it is. The specials of the day are on a blackboard, and there is a 'Ballycotton Tasting Menu’ which is designed to show off the local produce, as much as to show what Luigi can do with it. In the interests of research I chose to eat a selection of dishes from this menu.
First up was Carpaccio of anchovies, marinated in vinegar, water and sugar, as they do in Luigi’s home in Puglia. I am not generally a fan, but these were fresh and delicious, served simply in a bed of leaves. Next was a bowl of spaghetti with Frank Hederman’s smoked butter with Bottarga – Sometimes called the poor man's caviar, bottarga is the roe pouch of tuna or grey mullet, or sometimes swordfish. It is massaged by hand to eliminate air pockets, then dried and cured in sea salt for a few weeks. The result is a dry hard slab, which is coated in beeswax for keeping. In Italy, it is best-known in Sicilian and Sardinian cuisine; its culinary properties can be compared to those of dry anchovies, though it is much more expensive. Bottarga is often served with lemon juice as an appetizer or used in pasta dishes. In this case the pasta was coated in the butter, with thinly sliced Bottarga on top, the delicious taste of the fish roe perfectly complementing and cutting the butter.
These triumphs were followed by impossibly good smoked salmon croquettes, and grilled stuffed langoustines, and marinated prawns – almost raw and almost Italian sushi. A very delicious risotto primavera – red from the beetroot did the job of filling me up, and much as I would have liked to try everything on the menu, I had to admit defeat.
I will be back in Luigi’s at the earliest opportunity. The food is sublime, and I am running out of superlatives to describe it. Fresh, imaginative, delicious, zesty, extraordinary – brilliant restaurant, brilliant bloke. Try it.