Norma in Fitzrovia: “Sings of sunshine and earthy cuisine”
Sicily is the land where European – Italian, to be precise – and African cultures meet, the blistering climate proof of its geographical proximity to the neighbouring continent. The location of a territory is inherently interesting when it comes to the pleasures of the table; layers of history have brought about the variegated intensity of Sicilian flavours. The Moors – who occupied the island in the ninth century – have played a big part in the game, bringing Arab influences that are clearly recognisable in dishes today. Norma in Fitzrovia is a foodie spot celebrating this encounter of culinary traditions and it’s a hefty triumph. The name recalls a typical recipe: pasta with fried aubergine (a vegetable that started being used more widely after the invasion of the Moors). In the same way, other ingredients and techniques marked the passage of this new people, and this restaurant offers the opportunity to discover more.
Upon entering the place and encountering the interior design (by Rosendale), which features Arabic touches, the mind immediately travels. Booths face a narrow corridor ending in an arch, across which a wider room with mirrors and a chandelier of foliage opens up. Seating is also available on the second floor of the Georgian townhouse, with the third level reserved for private events.
On the menu, a pasta section sits between the small and the large plates. The prices fit the central location, but it must be said that they are also compensated in generous portions. The drinks list – all Italian – favours in particular the island’s wines, with some intriguing surprises.
The beginning of our dinner is pleasant and bubbly. Nocellara Olives and chunks of Focaccia tickle our tastebuds, accompanied by a mineral Neroluce Sicilia Doc Brut. The Spaghettini Fritters with a dip of parmesan sauce are sturdy, but a good snack for cheese lovers. This first round of plates set aside, there is a certain excitement at the table, as the Saffron Arancino makes its entrance. This neat version of the famous street food is an unforgettable delight. The outer crust gently crunches in the mouth, deep-fried but without being at all greasy. Inside, a luscious filling of saffron rice encapsulating a heart of fennel sausage ragu and taleggio sings of sunshine and earthy cuisine.
Next, we hear the call of the sea when choosing an entree: linguine served in a crab shell. The pasta is pleasantly fulfilling, even though the chilli quite overpowers the crustacean. The Vermentino Junmare 2020 is a finely crisp wine for this course. The Norma Aubergine Parmigiana deserves much more space in the stomach than what we left it: multiple layers of aubergine alternate effectively with tomato sauce and cheese, making it an abundantly rich dish, without descending into too much sophistication. It is excitingly paired with the Costadune Frappato Mandrarossa 2020, which is characterised by hints of cherry and an undertone of acidity.
With the mind now firmly on Sicilian tradition, it is impossible not to order a homemade cannolo, filled in with thick ricotta. The Norma take on tiramisù delivers a velvety cream of mascarpone and pistachio, topped by a generous amount of chocolate shavings.
As we head towards the coldest months of the year, the sun-kissed Mediterranean coast seems reachable only in the imagination. The trick that a well-set table could play, though, is to transport us there through the palate. And Norma’s dishes lusciously convey the warm gratifying cuisine of Sicily.
Photos: Virginie Viche
To book a table at Norma, 8 Charlotte Street London W1T 2LS, call 020 3995 6224 or visit their website here.