It was a gloriously sunny Sunday in Sardinia and we were leaving town. Arrivederci, Cagliari! Monsieur and I would be in the car for the day, driving up to the Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Coast, where we’d be spending the bulk of our week-long break.
On the map, it looks as if you should be able to drive straight up the east coast to the Costa Smeralda, but the east coast roads aren’t made for comfort so we decided to stick to the main autostrada which zig-zags out of Cagliari to the west coast before traversing the island to its upper eastern tip. The plan was to lunch at Oristano, a small west coast town not far from the coast. I’d read good things about a little restaurant there called Il Faro, famed for its traditional Sardinian cuisine. And so we detoured away from the autostrada, entering an Oristano that was quieter than most ghost towns. We’d forgotten that Sundays are still sacred in this part of the world. Apart from a clutch of old men sipping drinks outside a lone open bar, Oristano was closed for business. In denial, we followed the signs to Il Faro, leading us in conflicting directions until we finally located it, shutters firmly closed. We left Oristano with empty stomachs, following a coastal road north.
This unplanned route was a blessing in disguise. The views of unspoilt coastline against a deep blue sky and turquoise waters brought wide smiles to our faces, still pasty from a sunless winter. Passing the occasional restaurant perched on clifftops with unsurpassable views, we realised that we too would eat, so we stopped at S. Caterina di Pittinuri. Pulling into a modest parking area next to a restaurant advertising a menu turistico, Monsieur and I were set for one of the best (and worst) lunches of our time in Sardinia. The restaurant’s name, for future reference, was La Scogliera.
The entrance was certainly unprepossing, but this was of little concern to those possessed by thoughts of lunch.
The menu looked reasonable, with plenty of seafood to tempt us, but the true surprise was the terraced eating area.
There were plenty of free tables, just waiting for hungry patrons such as ourselves to populate them. The waitress asked where we wanted to sit, so I pointed at a quiet table in the shade. “No.” she frowned. “Too far.” In rapid Italian she instructed me to pick a table that was closer to her station, presumably so she didn’t have to exert herself. Might I add that the table we were eventually permitted to take was a mere metre closer to the waitress’s station? This was far from the usual warm welcome so prevalent in the Italian region.
Unfortunately, the surly waitress was not alone in her grump. Everyone we encountered at the restaurant was to be equally unhelpful, unwilling and unhappy. Thank heavens for the view, which was a redeeming feature, as was the food, although not ordering wine or alcohol with our lunch earned us another filthy look. But let’s face it: who cares about grumpy staff when the seafood salad tastes as if it were caught mere minutes before being tossed in extra virgin olive oil with lemon juice that tastes of the sun and landing on a plate for none other than YOU?
Just as we tucked into our plates of Neptune’s deliciousness, a party of four walked through the terrace, seating themselves at the very table at which we’d wanted to sit. Apparently, the waitresses weren’t too fussed about THEM being too far from their station. I began to wonder if they just had it in for anglo-saxon and French tourists attempting to speak Italian. Granted, I can’t recite passages from Dante’s works, but I can definitely communicate in Italian and so far at this restaurant I hadn’t found myself too challenged in the foreign language department, but when I saw how the staff reacted to the locals whilst practically spitting at our every request, I realised with sadness that our treatment had something to do with the fact that we Weren’t From Around Here.
The party of four at our preferred table were wise in their ordering. A trolley appeared, on which several platters were placed. A smiling waitress then served a selection from the platters onto each plate. Clever. Meanwhile, Monsieur’s steak had arrived but my lobster was missing in action. I’d ordered lobster catalana, and at the rate it was taking, they must have gone out to catch a fresh crustacean for me. I’m not accustomed to ordering the most expensive thing on the menu, but today I felt like celebrating, hence ordering lobster. Tapping my toes under the table, and now feeling as surly as the waitress, I received a smile from her as she apologised for the delay. Almost an hour after our starter plates had been removed, my lobster made its entrance, just as Monsieur polished off the last of his steak. The lobster was big, fire-engine red and beautiful, served with wedges of fresh tomato and circles of onion beneath a drizzle of olive oil. My heavens, it was so fresh that I started to believe my theory about the staff fishing it out of the sea a short while ago. It was almost worth the wait. Almost. Had it been a lobster thermidor I might have understood, but this type of lobster preparation was so simple that even I could have done it in less time, and that includes catching the thing. But it looked wonderful, so I shared it with Monsieur-of-the-Now-Empty-Plate, so we could compare notes.
When I ventured inside to find the ladies’ room, I noted with disappointment how unhappy everyone looked. The barman frowned, the cashier was slumped on one elbow, the picture of intense boredom and the grandmamma of the restaurant stared at me as if I were a hooker. I can only think that my shorts were not to her taste. Not one waiter or waitress smiled, at least not at me. This place wouldn’t be winning any awards for service soon.
The loos were far from ideal but the owner’s ideals were plain, as seen in the notice below. In this place, what’s good for the goose has nothing to do with the gander. As the ladies’ was in dire need of such basics as a new loo seat and a tap handle, with a fair amount of grime on all surfaces, I can only think that the proprietor might have to wake up to the fact that he’s not a ‘civilized’ person. He also can’t spell in French (‘GENTS’ should read ‘GENS’).
We asked for the bill. It didn’t arrive. Having waited an hour for the lobster, we didn’t want to waste another hour waiting for the opportunity to pay. Taking one last look at the seascape, we went directly to the bar to pay.
I was expecting the bill to be expensive, especially as I’d ordered the lobster, but considering the fact that we hadn’t ordered wine, the total price was a shocker, forming the topic of discussion almost all the way to Nuoro. Had we been ripped off? Should lobster really cost €12.00 per 100 grams? Was that lobster really 400 grams, hence the €48.00 on the bill? It didn’t look like a 400 gram lobster to me, more like 300 grams. Had we, the trusting tourists, been duped? Later in our Sardinian travels we discovered that actually this was a fair price for the region’s five star restaurants to charge for lobster, but at La Scogliera, with its angry atmosphere and peeling paint, it felt like daylight robbery, especially with such unfriendly staff in all directions.
Back in the car park, we surveyed the bay one last time, smiling at the artistic signwriting evident on this particular gate:
And so, back onto the coast road we drove. Our bellies were certainly content but we couldn’t wait to get away from La Scogliera’s unhappy, unfriendly, unwilling, unhelpful staff. Never again in Sardinia did we come across such crotchety folk. Thankfully, this bunch were the exception to the rule, but unless you have the skin of a rhino, I’d avoid this place like the plague.
THE GOOD POINTS: La Scogliera has wonderful views and the food is fantastic. Should you brave the Grump Bunch, do as we observed others doing and order a selection of dishes to share. You don’t have to order the bank-busting lobster; you can certainly eat lobster at more reasonable prices in the more reasonable establishments of Sardinia. There is a competitive menu turistico and the seafood salad is to die for. Monsieur said the steak was “all right”, although nothing special. My recommendation is that you stick to what La Scogliera does well – seafood.
THE BAD POINTS: Who died? The staff were horrible to us but couldn’t do enough for the local diners. Don’t dare to dine here if you don’t speak Italian. Order wine to avoid further wait-staff disapproval. If you’re female, don’t wear shorts, lest grandmamma’s eyes narrow at the sight of them. Don’t expect to choose your own table and be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait.