2:10 PM April 21, 2022
Our food reviewer Mark Heath and his wife Liz went for a Friday lunch at the new Rustico Italian restaurant in Bury St Edmunds. Here’s what they made of it…
Whichever way you look at it, Italian food is undoubtedly one of the greatest cuisines on the planet.
And, whenever something is popular, that space tends to be dominated by the large chains – you can get mass-produced, uninspired, play-it-safe pizza and pasta all over the country.
But quality independent Italian eateries are as rare as rocking horse poo. In Bury, for example, the last one I can remember was the excellent La Vita Bella, way back in the early to mid-noughties.
Until now. Michele Pagliuca and chef Silene Ziglioli opened Rustico in a grade II-listed building on Risbygate Street back in February, and it’s been making waves on the local foodie scene ever since.
As the sort of folks who will walk miles out of the tourist areas to try and find the places locals eat while on holiday, authentic independent restaurants are what make us tick – and thus we headed along ourselves to see what all the fuss is about. On your behalf, of course.
First things first. Rustico is incredibly popular. We tried originally to book on a Friday night a week in advance, but there was no room at the inn. If you want to go, plan ahead – and book.
Second things first. It’s a beautiful building – 17th century, exposed wooden beams, quite the setting for a restaurant.
The dining room itself is quite small, but there are plans to open up the upper floor in due course. Which, judging by how popular it was when we visited, will be no problem to fill.
We were seated by the friendly and smiling Michele – who returned promptly to rectify our slight table wobble and deliver our pints of Peroni – and settled in to peruse the menu.
It’s reassuringly small and simple – six or so antipasti offerings, the same of pasta and risotto, some lovely-sounding pizzas, plus a beef, pork and fish ‘secondi’.
It was immediately apparent that these were authentic Italian dishes, and we were excited to order up an antipasto di salami and frittura di mare as our shared starters.
We opted for the small option for both, but you can go large if you fancy them as mains.
Let’s start with the cured meats board. It looked great – several cuts and colours of meat, a couple of slices of crusty bread, plus some cheese, olives, a pickled onion, artichoke and chutney.
It ate well too. For me the highlights were the parmesan cheese chunks, the delicious peppery salami and the homemade tomato chutney, all smoky and rich – as I told Michele, if they offered that for sale in jars, I’m having two, please.
The fish platter was good too. Lightly-battered and wonderfully fresh sea bass, squid, whitebait and prawn, served with garlic and samphire mayo.
Calamari can so often go wrong, of course, and you end up chewing battered rubber – but this was spot on, tender and moreish. As was the whole lot to be honest, with the seabass our standout. The batter could perhaps have been crispier, but that’s a minor detail really.
On to the mains then, and it was pasta – homemade at Rustico – for us both. Liz went for the pappardelle with oxtail ragu, while I ordered the carbonara.
No anglicised cream-laden carbonara here, as Michele made sure I was aware when ordering – this was just eggs, cheese and guanciale.
And it was bloody delizioso – the rich sauce coating the spaghetti thoroughly, while the crunchy, salty guanciale added texture and flavour. It was superb, but very rich – just a warning if you’re not accustomed to a traditional-style carbonara.
Liz’s oxtail dish was excellent too – that homemade pasta cooked with just the right amount of bite, and a goodly amount of deeply meaty oxtail keeping it company on the fork.
Two quite large courses down then, and bellies full, we bravely requested the dessert menu.
Again, six dishes on offer, all authentic, all freshly made at Rustico.
We decided to share a tiramisu, which I teamed with a double espresso. When (kind of) in Rome…
In truth, the helping was so generous that it could have been made for sharing. This was a cracking tiramisu though – and I’ve had a few.
Light, soft sponge, moist and packed with that iconic coffee flavour. A great end to a great meal.
Our bill came to just over £60, which I’d argue is superb value for the size and quality of the dishes we’d devoured.
There was one nice final touch too, as Michele – a warm and natural host – appeared brandishing a bottle of limoncello and poured us a splash to send us on our way.
We’ll definitely be back. All our dishes were simple but exciting, brimming with passion and flavour – exactly as great Italian food should be.