A Sicilian offer you can’t refuse – the authentic taste of Palermo
The Good Rice is is a labour of love from two Italians serving classic street food, cakes and patisserie
05 September, 2019 — By Tom Moggach
The arancini at The Good Rice are divine
A tip-off has transported me to Sicily – via a fantastic new café just off Albany Street. I may never have discovered The Good Rice without an email from a reader. A lady called Anne-Marie promised sweet delicacies and possibly the best arancini in London.
This is an unpretentious café and bakery located among a strip of shops in Robert Street. It’s an unlikely spot. A fish and chip shop opposite enjoys a roaring trade; an off-licence promises bargain booze. Yet leafy Regent’s Park is just a stone’s throw away, with its swoop of multi-million-pound Nash Terrace houses.
The Good Rice is six weeks old and a labour of love from two Italians who met while working in a bakery in Stockwell. Michele Barbera is from Palermo, the capital of Sicily; Matteo Paron grew up in Milan, far in the north. Together, they hatched a plan to serve up classic street food, cakes and patisserie from their homeland.
You won’t find a more authentic taste of Palermo in London. This Sicilian city has a vibrant café culture and abundant street food.
The arancini made by Michele are divine: deep-fried rice balls with an array of cheesy fillings, from a classic meat and pea ragu to a vegetarian with aubergine, basil, tomato sauce and saffron.
If you’re lucky, you might catch a piping-hot special: arancini with an almond pesto from Trapani, perhaps, or topped with a fold of ham and dusting of emerald pistachio.
At the hot counter, you can pick from various freshly made dishes to eat in or take away. These might include tray-baked pizzas by the slice, baked aneletti pasta, dainty gnocchi, salads or an excellent glossy caponata, the classic sweet-and-sour dish made here with aubergine, celery, peppers and plump capers.
Their patisserie is no slouch, either. Treat yourself to a classic cassata or cannolo piped with sweet ricotta, pistachio cream and sparkling nuggets of candied fruit. I loved their aragostine, with intricate leaves of crisp puff pastry and lashings of hazelnut cream.
If you use Instagram, check out their page – @thegoodriceuk. Chef Michele is a restless soul and constantly turns his hand to new creations. He also has a sideline in private catering. The mini arancini or rum babas, for example, are a winner at any party.
But it’s exhausting launching a business. The pair have done everything themselves with modest savings, including fitting out the shop by hand. “We started from zero,” says Matteo.
They are working 12-hour shifts, six days a week and look exhausted. The location is not prime but private landlords demand a trading history – a nightmare for first timers.
The Good Rice is open every day except Sunday until 7pm. But get there early for the full range. Later in the day, they link with the food waste apps Too Good To Go and Karma. “I’m back for the fourth time in a month,” said one happy customer clutching his smartphone.