Having a good time in Avellino

I’ve been to Avellino twice, in 2005 and 2015, and stayed for just a couple of nights on both occasions. The town doesn’t have the greatest of reps amongst my colleagues as there’s not much to see or do, possibly due to the various earthquakes it has suffered over the millennia (the last was in 1980).

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I always look forward to coming here though as the region, known as Irpinia, is very famous for its viticulture, in part due to the temperature changes made possible by its mountainous location. Two of Campania’s best wines, both personal favourites of mine, are made in Avellino province; the white Fiano di Avellino and the red Aglianico which is produced in the nearby Irpinian town of Taurasi.

The first time I came I stayed in the Hotel De La Ville (B) at 20 Via Giovanni Palatucci, www.hoteldelavilleavellino.it which was comfortable but quite a way from the centre of town, at the far end of the seemingly never-ending Corso de Vittorio Emanuele II; the main promenade through town.

The second time I stayed at the Viva Hotel at 123 Via Circumvallazione www.vivahotel.it which was faded and basic but essentially okay for a short stay (B-), and very near the bus station and centre of town.

I went to two restaurants and a bar during my short second visit. Along with the hotels, they are all on this Google map along with a couple of other places I didn’t get to. I’d like to try Barone next time.

Antica Trattoria Martella (Advanced A), 10 Via Chiesa Conservatorio, www.ristorantemartella.it, closed Sunday evening and Monday

According to my research, this old school place is the best restaurant in town. I came for a blowout Sunday lunch and really enjoyed it.

I began with Ravioli di Magro con Pomodorini; ricotta filled pasta pockets with cherry tomatoes (A).

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Then Costolette D’Agnello ai Ferri, or grilled lamb chops (B+).

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These came with Patate Fritte; chips that look like crisps, unless you’re American, in which case they’re fries that look like chips (B+).

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I was still ravenous so I had the Manzo ai Ferri; grilled beef with some great olive oil, green peppercorns and oregano (A).

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The Taurasi Donnachiara was a little thin on the aftertaste but still very good (A-).

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I indulged myself with a slab of their excellent Millefoglie, made with chocolate and cherries (A), alongside a glass of Passito (B).

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Finally I had a shot of Nocello (nut liqueur; Avellino is also famous for hazelnuts) which was the best I’ve ever had (A+). The waiter described it as ‘multo particular’ and it was very strong! I liked it so much I persuaded them to give me a bottle to take home, which bumped up my final excessive bill to €85. Whoops.

Degusta (High Intermediate B+), 35 Via Ammiraglio Ronca, www.ristorantedegusta.it

I heard about this place through the blog of Luciano Pignataro, a local wine writer and restaurant reviewer. It’s quite modern and brash, and quite popular.

I nearly didn’t stay because I didn’t like the table I was offered, or the first two bustling servers I met. However, a more welcoming waiter, Paolo, and Giovanni the off-duty head chef persuaded me to stay and I was glad I did.

The dishes Pignataro raved about were out of season but they did put together a special menu for me. They are big on specialist ingredients here which meant the menu took some translating.

The starter ‘Cipolla Ramata di Montoro’ was described as ‘cipolla ramata di Montoro, cotta al sale, ripenia con fonduta di formaggio, crostini di pane’ or a particular onion from Montoro, baked in salt, stuffed with melted cheese and served with croutons. It was a novel serving method but the flavours weren’t particularly special (B).

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The next course was ‘Scialatiello’ which the menu described as being made with ‘fave Avellinesi, cipollotto nocerino, pecorino Carmasciano, fiche secchi cilentani’ or spaghetti with local broad beans, a certain spring onion (with its own DOP), sheep’s cheese and dried white figs from Cilento. The specialist ingredients (all from Campania) worked well together but not amazingly so (B).

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Surprisingly I was given ‘Raviolo’; a second pasta course of ‘Raviolo di ricotta di fuscella, pomodorini del piennolo Casa Barone, caciorioctta Bruna Alpina’ or ravioli filled with ricotta cheese (made in a special wicker basket), cherry tomatoes from a certain farm near Vesuvius and scattered with cheese made from the milk of the Bruna Alpina breed of cattle.

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For the main I was given the ‘Hamburger di Razza Podolica Azienda Agricola Cerrone’ which was served with ‘misticanza capricciosa, maionese senza uovo, ketchup di San Marzano e patate’. I translate this as being a burger made with beef from the Podolica cattle breed (from a particular farm) served with a mixed salad, eggless mayonnaise, San Marzano tomato ketchup and chips. It was great (A) and I was particularly impressed by the ketchup (A) although the mayo was too subtle (C).

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The Aglianico Molettieri had a great nose (B+) but didn’t follow through on the palate (B). It was fine for €15 though.

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I finished with pear and ricotta crumble, also excellent (A). Two limoncellos brought the bill to a reasonable €44.

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The adventurous menu made a nice change after samey Naples. I’d definitely come here again.

Godot Art Bistro (Low Intermediate B+), 13/15 Via Giacomo Mazas, www.godotartbistrot.com

This cosy little place is a really cool literary bar that I stumbled across while I was walking around. I didn’t try the food (freselle buns with cheeses and salads) but I had an average Negroni (B) for €4 whilst grooving to Coltrane and other jazz vibes. They put on live acoustic gigs on a regular basis.

So that’s all I have on Avellino from a very short visit. Despite first impressions not being particularly favourable, you can eat and drink very well here so I hope you can make the most of it.

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