West Essex restaurant Il Bacio: Italian cuisine at its best
PUBLISHED: 16:15 31 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:02 31 October 2019
Luigi Funedda, who along with brother Antonella runs West Essex's two Il Bacio restaurants, talks about his passion for food in general and authentic, Sicilian cuisine in particular
Here's a warning - talking to Luigi Funedda can make you seriously hungry. The soon to be 50-year-old Sicilian has lived and breathed his country's cuisine ever since he was a young child, helping his mother in the family kitchen to prepare the suckling pig that his father, a hunter, had caught earlier. When he arrived in the UK back in 1987, there was little doubt what career he would pursue and by 1995 he had opened his first Il Bacio restaurant (the name means the kiss) in Stoke Newington. His gloriously silky pastas, perfectly prepared, wood-fired pizzas and mouth-watering selection of grilled meats and fish certainly felt like a kiss to appreciative north Londoners, where at the time such authentic, regional Italian cooking was in short supply. In 2007 however, Luigi, now a father himself, decided to sell up and up sticks to West Essex, attracted by the schools and the green, open spaces. While the move was certainly Stokey's loss, it's been Buckhurst Hill's and Theydon Bois' gain, where Luigi now has his two restaurants. Here we talk to the chef/patron about Il Bacio's winning formula.
So Luigi, why do you think Il Bacio has been such a success, first in London and now in West Essex?
Right from the outset we have kept things very traditional. The food is good, seasonal peasant food - very fresh, flavoursome and filling. I've never tried to invent the wheel when it comes to my cooking, I am preparing the same sort of dishes that my mother and nonna (grandma) prepared. Similarly, we've kept the restaurants themselves very traditional looking, with the exposed brickwork and paintings on the wall. It makes for a welcoming, friendly atmosphere where people can sit back, relax and simply enjoy their meal.
How involved are you in the day-to-day sourcing of ingredients?
I am absolutely involved. I will go to the market for the fish and meat and personally shop for the vegetables. I like to go to Turkish and Greek shops as I believe that the produce is of a far better standard than you get at the supermarket. Everything that comes into the Il Bacio kitchen has to be approved by me first.
How much of the food is prepared on the premises?
As much as we possibly can. Creating dishes from scratch means we know exactly what's gone into them and that they taste exactly like we want them to. That's just not possible with pre-prepared food, and I honestly believe that people can tell the difference immediately. Most of the pasta we make here too, like the tortellini, lasagne, ravioli and gnochetti, but we do use certain types of dried pasta such as spaghetti and penne as it's as good as anything we could make ourselves.
What about your cooking methods?
Again, I'm very much a traditionalist. You will not find a microwave in an Il Bacio kitchen as I much prefer to use an oven, grill or gas hob.
So what would you say is currently the most popular dish on the menu?
It changes with the seasons, but the seafood linguine was very popular with the locals over the summer months. However, now that we've moved into autumn/winter, I've been putting heartier, more comforting food on the menu such as rabbit stew, sea bass in a salt case, lamb shanks and wild boar.
So seasonality is important to you?
Yes, it's extremely important. I come from a family of farmers. My granddad was a shepherd and my father a hunter and the whole of their lives revolved around the seasons. When it comes to planning my specials menu, the first thing I consider is what's in season.
Tell us more about the specials?
Well alongside the al a carte menu I like to have around six starters and ten main courses on the specials board. These change on a fairly regular basis. For example four dishes came off yesterday and today I was out shopping, planning replacement dishes, so it's changing every couple of days.
I understand that you don't have a children's menu, why is that?
I don't believe in children's menus. In Italy the children simply eat what the adults have, but in smaller portions, which is exactly the way I like to do it at Il Bacio. If a child comes in and want a fillet steak, then I will cut the steak in half and give them that. The same with a chicken Milanese, and of course it's easy to scale down the pastas.
So what qualities do you think you need to be a good chef?
Passion, pure and simple. I have so much passion for food. It's what I think about 24/7. Just the other day I was making some meatballs and thought 'I wonder what they would be like with eggs in the middle?' So I popped a raw egg inside each one and stewed them in the sauce and then served them with pappardelle. They were amazing, an absolute revelation!
Do you cook at both restaurants?
I'm more based at the Buckhurst Hill branch, but I will occasionally stand in for the chef over at Theydon Bois, for example when he's on holiday.
Finally, how do you relax after a long, busy shift?
I'm so hyped up that it's impossible for me to go home straight afterwards, so I usually pour myself a large glass of wine, try to relax and wait for the adrenalin to stop pumping!
Get in touch: Il Bachio
182 Queen's Road, Buckhurst Hill, IG9 5BD
020 8505 4108