Don Ciccio: a straight-up Italian that hits the spot

Feelgood restaurant with classic dishes offers cosy respite

Thursday, 17th March — By Tom Moggach


CLIMBING the hill to Highgate involves a mix of gasping and gawping – as you pass by some jaw-dropping real estate. I pushed my bike for the last bit, past marvellous mansions and onto Don Ciccio, an Italian restaurant in Hampstead Lane.

It’s been trading for a few years now, taking over a corner site once home to Ostuni, a restaurant that served the rustic fare of Puglia.

Don Ciccio has more of a Sicilian slant, although the chef also conjures up classic dishes from across Italy.

Pizzas are a speciality and pupils from Highgate School visit for lessons using the restaurant’s wood-fired oven.

This place is the archetype of an Italian trattoria, with exposed wooden rafters, candelabra, laminated menus, and a mellow, jazzy soundtrack. You may spot the famous coloured ceramics of Caltagirone, too, a pottery town to the south east of Catania.

We took a table by the window and browsed through a fan of menus including Specials Of The Week, which included Zuppa di Fagioli, a hearty bean soup.

Our lovely waiter brought us a free taster to kick off – a velvety carrot velouté.

As a starter, we shared deep-fried croquettes and rice balls stuffed with Bolognese.

An oozy, cheesy parmigiana arrived with a large sprig of fresh basil.

The bean soup is always a good guide to the skills of a chef. Here it was lifted with a hint of lemon and thyme and a few curls of toasted bread for extra crunch, shaved razor thin then baked gently in the oven.

The main menu features dishes such as pan-fried seabass, veal Milanese, beef Tagliata and their signature fish soup. The 12-inch pizza menu offers a dozen options.

But we craved the carbs of their pasta. Mine was a huge plate of homemade tagliatelle, firm to the bite, with an unctuous wild boar ragu.

My friend twisted her fork into slippery linguine writhing with squid, mussels and prawns.

To finish, their fruit salad felt positively retro. They make it by marinating the fruit in a sugar syrup spiked with cinnamon.

The owner invested in an ice cream machine over lockdown, too, and has nailed the recipe for a dairy-free chocolate sorbet.

You don’t come to Don Ciccio for culinary fireworks. This is a straight-up Italian that hits the spot and offers a cosy respite from the traumas of the world.

I imagine it’s a good spot for larger parties and celebrations, with long tables and a feelgood welcome.

Prices are surprisingly reasonable for this part of town. The large pasta dishes are £15; main courses a few pounds more.

Don Ciccio was far from full when we visited, but these are tough times for all restaurants – even in one of London’s fancier postcodes.

Don Ciccio
1A Hampstead Lane, N6

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