In Palermo, in the heart of Vucciria, Franco Virga and Stefania Milano transformed the sixteenth-century atelier of the sculptor Antonello Gagini into the temple of Sicilian research cuisine which, thanks to the partnership with chef Mauricio Zillo, won its first Michelin star in 2021.
Gagini is not just a restaurant; for Palermo it is much, much more. It is the first place to have made the colorful Vucciria neighborhood “fashionable”, a pioneer of a Sicilian gastronomic culture that has now made international headlines, guardian and laboratory of its most extreme traditions and biodiversity.
It was 2011 when Franco Virga, a past spent in the fashion industry, met Stefania Milano, a career in the world of hospitality, and together they decided to give life to their dream restaurant. They start looking for a location and fall in love with the ancient studio of the famous sculptor and architect Antonello Gagini, fascinated by those thick walls where the artist had shaped some of the most important works of the Renaissance.
Through our work we love to defend the invisible soul both of Sicily and of the places that hosts our ventures.(Franco Virga & Stefania Milano)
And right from there, from that small place in Vucciria near the beautiful Church of San Domenico, not only the fortune of one of the most celebrated restaurants in Italy begins, but also the “renaissance” itself of Palermo and Sicilian cuisine research tour court led by Gagini together with other visionary entrepreneurs and chefs.
Between the 16th-century stone walls expertly brought to light by a conservative restoration, Franco began to mix food, art, culture, music and fashion in his restaurant, making it a lifestyle experience that goes far beyond the concept of eating out.
Guided by a strong intuition, and after quickly abandoning the initial idea of becoming the restaurant’s chef himself, he decides that it would be much more stimulating to leave the creative interpretation of Sicilian cuisine to young chefs with a curious and wandering soul.
Thus, in 2020 he entrusted the management to the Brazilian Mauricio Zillo, thanks to his experiences alongside chefs such as Bocuse, Atala, Arzak and Santamaria, who earned Gagini his first, well-deserved Michelin star the following year.
Gagini is, in fact, at the same time a museum, a research laboratory, and an alchemist of the flavors of Sicily, having chosen to work with a totally biodynamic raw material that comes, when it has not been specifically created for the restaurant, from trusted producers who observe the same values.
Like the vegetables from the Orto delle Meraviglie, the finger lime from Milazzo, the purslane and capers from spontaneous harvesting, the cuttlefish from Terrasini or the black pig from the Nebrodi; a raw material that every month brings the ancestral flavors of Sicily to the table, filtered by cooking techniques typical of the many cultures that have come and gone on the island. Examples include the Quail from Linguaglossa with passion fruit from Licata, Nasturtium and Cucunci from Salina or the delicious Bidì wheat tagliolini served cold with almonds and red tuna mosciame and lattume.
Gagini’s research is not limited only to the menu, but also includes bread-making, the wine list and the interior of the restaurant. On the upper floor there is, in fact, a picturesque bakery where the boulanger chef Melania Guarnieri bakes delicious bread fresh every day inspired by the recipes of the local folklore, while next door, in the well-stocked cellar, the sommelier Ambra Cusimano “collects” important wines with the 70 percent of the references reserved for natural Sicilian winemakers.
Inside Gagini, everything is a work of art. Starting from the paintings, a permanent exhibition of the works of the Norwegian photographer Per Barclay, to the lamps with Moorish heads created by the master Nicolò Giuliano from Monreale, up to the original tables produced based on a design by Charles Mackintosh.
Open for lunch and dinner, Gagini is “the place to be” to take a journey of beauty through the Sicily that was, is and will be, proud and profound like no other territory in the world.
Gagini was the greatest Sicilian sculptor, also trained in Rome where he collaborated with Michelangelo on the tomb of Julius II. Returning to Palermo, here he signed his most important work, the Cathedral tribune, over 25 meters high, which was then dismantled during the 18th century and the statues that made it up relocated in the church itself and elsewhere.
Via Cassari 35
Tel. +39 091 589918
A la carte menu: appetizer, a first or second course, a dessert or a selection of cheeses 100 euro
Tasting menu: from 115 euro, wine pairing 50 euro
Starters and first courses: 37 — 43 euro
Second courses: 44 — 46 euro