Gaglio-Virga, the rebirth of Palermo

Thanks to Gagini and other gourmet locations, chef and patron finally build a contemporary culinary offer in town

05-11-2017

A closeup of Gioacchino Gaglio and, to the right, Franco Virga. They are the two minds behind Gagini and other restaurants making the gourmet scene in Palermo more contemporary

Photogallery

Calamari tagliatelle, potato mousse, seaweeds and wild asparagus. A rigorous, well focused dish: an excellent start
Arancina, lemon, ginger, onion jam
Tapioca chips, sfincione sauce
Panella chips, wild fennel, lemon granita

A few days ago, we wrote about the relaunch of historic restaurant Charleston in Palermo: a good news (see: Sweet spaghetti and a new season at Charleston with Corso). We already had the chance to affirm our appreciation for a great professional still hardly celebrated as he’d deserve (at least in our opinion), that is to say Carmelo Trentacosti, chef at Cuvée du Jour inside Villa Igiea. Then there’s Tony Lo Coco in Bagheria, of whom we wrote here: Tony Lo Coco’s other side of Bagheria) and we’ll soon write again; and, on the other side of town, in Terrasini, Giuseppe Costa.

Franco Virga with partner Stefania Milano in a nice photo by Salvo Mancuso

Franco Virga with partner Stefania Milano in a nice photo by Salvo Mancuso

Yet the Rebirth of Palermo, quoting our title and referring to the wine and food scene, is mostly thanks to a golden couple formed by Franco Virga and Gioacchino Gaglio. We’ll speak of chef Gaglio in a short while. In the meantime, we’d like to start with Virga: born in Palermo, initially a fashion entrepreneur, he later decided that he didn’t like to be idle and chose to «create here in town, a food version of what Corso Como is for fashion in Milan», that is to say a (good) food district.

The cocktail bar at Bocum

The cocktail bar at Bocum

Some pieces are already in place, and successfully so, «of which I’m very proud»: Buatta “popular cuisine”, a 2.0 bistro interpreting classics with a modern touch, from caponata, to pasta con le sarde, sfincioni, sarde a beccafico and of course cannolo and cassata; Bocum, the first mixology place in the heart of Palermo, with very elegant cocktails in a metropolitan style; since the end of summer there’s also Caffè Letterario Garibaldi inside the homonymous Teatro alla Kalsa, now the operational headquarters of Manifesta Palermo 12 (Manifesta is the nomadic European biennale of contemporary art. It’s 12th edition, in 2018, will take place in Palermo, the Italian capital of culture). Not to mention Gagini at Sikelia, last summer’s project in Pantelleria.

There are more news to come: there will be a seafood street food place, a step above the already good Buatta, also in Via dei Cassari where there’s also Bocum and, right in front of this, the group’s flagship restaurant (indeed it’s a gro, Virga says: «We have now 60 employees»), that is to say Gagini, the gourmet restaurant.

The dining room at Gagini

The dining room at Gagini

The restaurant is named after Antonello Gagini, a Renaissance sculptor and architect whose workshop used to be in this very same place, in what was once called Via dei Mercanti. This is the kingdom of Gioacchino Gaglio, born in 1983 and raised in Montelepre, a village in the province of Palermo. His first cooking experience was in town, followed by important training at Alma, Uliassi, with Mauro Ricciardi at TamericiRossellinis, in London at starred restaurant La Trompette.

Since late 2014 he’s at Gagini, after Gianni Lettica who’s now in Cefalù (we wrote about him here). Today his cuisine is one of the most convincing on the island. Following Virga’s initial idea, his style is both Sicilian and contemporary; Gaglio doesn’t follow the sometimes excessively Baroque example of the previous generation, but chooses a personal and fertile road, paying attention to flavours without being banal or didactic; in other words he gets rid of folklore, often the weakness of Sicilian fine dining. In my opinion, this is the right choice.

The brigade at Gagini: left to right Gherardo Chirivino, Andrea Lo Nardo, chef Gioacchino Gaglio, Jonny Uddin and Filippo Vela, who works in the dining room and cellar with managers Michela Vitale and Michele Puleo, plus Laura Carollo and Alessandro Scarpulla. The latter two are not in the photo, the same applies for sous Alessandro Fanara and pastry chef Francesco Mango

The brigade at Gagini: left to right Gherardo Chirivino, Andrea Lo Nardo, chef Gioacchino Gaglio, Jonny Uddin and Filippo Vela, who works in the dining room and cellar with managers Michela Vitale and Michele Puleo, plus Laura Carollo and Alessandro Scarpulla. The latter two are not in the photo, the same applies for sous Alessandro Fanara and pastry chef Francesco Mango

The chef has a humble attitude but is very well prepared with impeccable technique; his dishes are neat, balanced, and reach a complex harmony of flavours without any excess, through current, always focused minimalistic pairings. Virga and Gaglio (who directs the culinary offer of the other above mentioned restaurants too) come from different generations; together, however, they build a new culinary image for the future of Palermo. (In the photo gallery, our meal, dish by dish).
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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Photogallery

Calamari tagliatelle, potato mousse, seaweeds and wild asparagus. A rigorous, well focused dish: an excellent start
Arancina, lemon, ginger, onion jam
Tapioca chips, sfincione sauce
Panella chips, wild fennel, lemon granita
Marinated tub gurnard, beetroot, passion fruit, peaches, asparagus sauce and seaweeds. A great dish, complex and charming
A very good new take on polpo alla pantesca: Roasted octopus, sea asparagus sauce, French beans, potatoes, onions, bean chips and laurel
A new, rich and delicious dish matching mullet with sfincione: Marinated and fried mullet, baked tomato, onion bread, olives, bisque, quinoa, olive pâté and plankton
Spaghetti garlic, oil, chilli pepper and parsley
Pasta con le sarde Gagini style: seasoned with the cooking water from the potatoes, anchovy colatura from Aspra, toasted bread, pine nuts, powdered anchovies. The filling is made with wild fennel, sultanas, stir fried anchovies
Another new dish: Roasted pigeon, cream of black garlic, coriander and yuzu sauce, mulberry sorbet, chards with mint. «Here I show my fascination for India»
The last novelty is sweet: Cassatella, cream of red fruits, cinnamon gelato, cocoa grue, lemon biscuit, cinnamon essence (by Massimiliano Alajmo)