Just one year after we first welcomed guests to our sun-kissed terrace on the Taormina coast, Otto Geleng was awarded its first Michelin star. For executive chef Roberto Toro, it’s his no-frills approach to produce that he has to thank.
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Everything about Roberto Toro’s approach to food is served with a dash of authenticity and infused with a genuine adoration for Italian cuisine. “My favourite dish is Spaghetti al pomodoro,” he confesses. “It’s a simple dish that contains all the elements of the Mediterranean diet.”
Otto Geleng's executive chef is a born-and-bred Sicilian, so his fondness for tradition comes as no surprise. After spending his childhood among a family of farmers in Palagonia, he travelled the world to learn about international cuisines and cooking traditions. But the nostalgia of his homeland proved too intoxicating. He was lured back to celebrate his Italian heritage afresh in 2006. “I wanted to return home to my Mediterranean roots and create something important for my homeland,” he says. “Sicily boasts such extraordinary natural produce. When you have such great raw materials, you don’t need to alter the ingredients. You just need to know how to enhance them.” Toro drew inspiration for Otto Geleng’s signature dish from the sea. ‘Otto di Mare’ contains eight varieties of seafood, from the red prawns of Mazzara del Vallo to the prawns of Acitrezza. It’s this inventive streak that has helped this Michelin star restaurant in Sicily flourish.
Toro’s masterful dishes blend authentic Italian produce with childhood memories. Simplicity is at the heart of Toro’s kitchen philosophy, but don’t be fooled. His concoctions never scrimp on flavour. Toro prefers to “have fun with creative presentation, while respecting the raw materials.” This has become his trademark—adorning a carefully curated dish with a touch of opulence. Like the flourish of fresh basil on his favourite pomodoro.
The restaurant’s location only bolsters this sensational culinary experience. Every minute detail in Otto Geleng has been crafted with painstaking attention to tradition, using local craftsmen and traditional designs. The gently draped tablecloths are hand stitched in Sicily. The linen recalls the natural fabric in a traditional Sicilian bride’s trousseau. As the honey-coloured sun gently retreats into the inky horizon, white ceramic oil lamps provide light. They are designed by the Ludici brothers: Sicilian craftsmen and the last remaining heirs of the typical decorative traditions of Caltagirone.
Though subtle touches define the décor, the jaw-dropping setting of Otto Geleng is far from understated. Panoramic views of the glittering azure sea combine with the sweet, heady scent of bougainvillea. Evoking an ancient Sicilian villa, the restaurant is a love letter to history. It is named after the German painter, who was the first to see Taormina as a bona fide tourist destination. We have him to thank for the hotel’s birth. He convinced Don Francesco La Floresta, with whom he was residing, to expand his house into what is now Grand Hotel Timeo, A Belmond Hotel, Taormina back in 1874. The restaurant has come to represent the beating heart of the hotel.
There’s an old Italian proverb that encapsulates Robert Toro’s unique, yet utterly Italian, approach to gastronomy: la cucina piccola fal la casa grande, meaning ‘a small kitchen makes a big home.’ At Otto Geleng, simplicity truly does speak to so much more.