DINING OUT: Farina and Co Cicchetti, St Annes
The proliferation of continental holidays over recent decades has made ‘tapas’ a very familiar culinary term indeed.
Many of us have sampled the snack-size portions which are a Spanish staple, or, if not, are certainly at least aware of them, as a host of restaurants specialising in them or offering them as part of a wider menu have been with us for years in all corners of the UK.
But cicchetti? Not as familiar a term by any means, but basically the Italian equivalent - smaller servings meant to be shared and the speciality of the latest addition to the Farina and Co family, which has grown notably since opening in Lytham less than three years ago.
After first expanding to Catterall, near Garstang, Farina and Co opened in St Annes just before Christmas in premises which have had something of a chequered history in recent years.
The building in St Andrews Road South, a little south of the Wood Street junction, was long home to Mammas Too before it closed in 2013. Then another Italian eaterie, Cucina Pazzo, took over the site but that closed in July 2015.
It was empty for almost two years until it opened as Ember and Vine in 2017 but that closing last year opened the way for Farina and Co to move in.
It’s certainly a lot smaller than it used to be as Mammas Too, with the back of the building and upstairs converted to domestic accommodation during that two-year period without a restaurant in situ.
But with the open kitchen to the left of the bar and all the tables within sight of the windows on to the street, it makes for a much more intimate setting than its previous incarnation.
With fond memories of the food quality and service when we reviewed the original Farina and Co for this column some two and a half years ago, we were looking forward to trying the new arrival and the welcome was certainly warm and indeed informative, with our server quick to explain the concept of cicchetti.
The recommendation is five or six dishes to share per couple, so there being three of us, we opted to go for seven or eight and as ever more diners arrived, many of them also families, we eagerly tucked into the dishes as they were brought to the table.
The menu is split into sections, covering bruschette (homemade bread), crostini (with pate), Fritti and Sfizi (Italian street food), Focaccia (fluffy bread), salads, fish, meat, pasta and risotti and side dishes.
We shared a brushetta with olive tapanade (£3.25) and a focaccia with olive oil and garlic (£4.25), which were both very tasty, but we were especially intrigued - and impressed as it turned out - by the street food section.
From this we chose mozzarella carozza (cheese deep fried on a bed of tomato sauce), potato croquettes and supplì al telefono (crispy rice balls filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce), at £3.25 each, and caprina fritto (goats cheese with cranberry sauce), priced £3.95.
They were very tasty indeed and we were so particularly impressed with the rice balls that we ordered a second portion, which is the joy of cicchetti and tapas.
As the only carnivore at the table, I got my meat fix with a portion of meatballs in tomato sauce, which were tasty enough, but at £4.25, I thought the serving of just two of the spheres was a little disappointing.
There is a lengthy list of pastas and risottos and from that we chose a portion of gnocchi sorrentina (£5.95), the pasta and potato mini dumplings oven-baked with tomato sauce, fresh basil and mozzarella, with which we were all impressed.
The greater informality of cicchetti dining, compared to the two-or three-course meal structure, means it’s especially ideal for relaxed occasions with family and friends and the pattern continued with the dessert offer - three dishes of the day, including a wonderful tiramisu, offered in smaller portions for us to share. Delightfully presented and great value at £5.95.
With an espresso and soft drinks, our bill came to just under £50.
Marks out of 10: 9.