Archive for the Amalfi Peninsula Category

A food tour in Piano di Sorrento

Posted in Amalfi Peninsula, Campania, Italy, Piano di Sorrento with tags , , , on January 7, 2016 by gannet39

The day after Don Alfonso, Luke and I continued our bromance with a food and drink tour organized through Caseificio Michelangelo, a local cheese making factory. We were met at our hotel by Sara our guide who drove us to Piano di Sorrento, a couple of stations along the train line towards Naples.

First stop was Frantoio Gargiulo,  an olive oil factory in Sant’ Agnello di Sorrento.  We saw inside the factory but it wasn’t in operation. However they did have a great shop.

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We were able to taste various infused olive oils and I bought samples flavoured with black and white truffles, porcini mushrooms, rosemary and of course lemons.

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Next we went to Cassano 1875, a limoncello factory down in the marina of Piano de Sorrento, where the various stages of preparation were demonstrated.

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First the yellow zest is steeped in pure alcohol for a few weeks. Then the sugar syrup is made and added and the blend is steeped again for a few weeks more. Of course we had to take a bottle of the golden nectar with us, along with a couple of jars of marmalade.

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Generally you’ll notice two kinds of lemons in the shops here, although there are many more. The juicy Sfusato Amalfitano is used for making limoncello whereas the much larger and more pithy Cedro is usually just for display. Cedri are related to the Citron, one of the four original citrus fruit (along with the Mandarin, Pomelo and Papeda) from which all other citrus are derived.

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After this we went to the cheese factory where Sara’s family made us welcome.

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We got to have a go at making our own ‘treccia’, a braided mozzarella made of cow’s milk.

Don’t think they’ll be employing us any time soon though.

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This part finished with a tasting of all the wonderful cheeses, and butter, made at Caseificio Michelangelo. Definitely my favourite bit!

The only disappointment is that we didn’t get to try Mozzarella di Bufala, but you need to be further north to experience that being made.

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While we were walking back to her car, Sara pointed out one of the family’s fruit trees which had been grafted so that both oranges and lemons could be grown on the same tree!

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The final stop was Cantine Stinca, a winery where we tasted a few of the local grape varieties. The Piedirosso was the winner for us and I ordered a couple of cases to send home.

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Sara speaks good English and is very hospitable. Overall the tour was a good experience I’d be happy to recommend. In 2015 it cost €77 (about £60) per person for 3.5 hours. However you can pick and choose which of the four places you want to go to and make it cheaper if you wish.

Sara also has contacts for a B&B should you be looking for somewhere cheap to stay.

Next stop Naples…

Sant ‘Agata sui Due Golfi – Don Alfonso 1890

Posted in Amalfi Peninsula, Campania, Italy, Sant 'Agata sui Due Golfi with tags on January 6, 2016 by gannet39

It had been a long-standing ambition of mine to eat at Don Alfonso which by all accounts is one of the best restaurants in Italy.

For many years I didn’t go because I was always on my own and it seemed a shame not to experience it with someone else. Finally in 2015 I found the occasion when my oldest friend Luke came out to spend a long weekend with me.

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Obviously with two Michelin stars it wasn’t going to be cheap but for both of us it was a once in a lifetime experience so we decided to splash out.

In 2015 the Menu Degustazione was €170 per head, with an add on of €76 for the wine matching. With water, two aperitivos and tax the total bill for two came to €573. Another cost to consider is the taxi from Sorrento which is €50 one way, despite Sant’ Agata only being a short distance away. As I say, treating yourself in this part of Italy is not cheap!

Don Alfonso 1890 (Advanced A), 11-13 Corso Sant’ Agata, Sant’ Agata sui Due Golfi, www.donalfonso.com, closed Monday and Tuesday

I was too busy enjoying myself to grade the food and wine but suffice to say it was all excellent.

To begin ‘Gelato de anguilla, caviale Oscetra, pasta alla rosa canina e battuto di erbe selvatiche’ which is English is ‘Eel ice cream (!), Oscetra caviar, pasta scented with roe and a mince of wild herbs’. Osetra is a top quality Russian sturgeon caviar second only to Beluga in terms of price.

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Not sure what this following dish was as it wasn’t mentioned on the menu.

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Then ‘Petto d’anatra ai sentori di canella con borragine, composta di mele e riduzione di aceto balsamico’ or ‘Duck breast scented with cinnamon, borage, apple preserve and reduction of balsamic vinegar’.

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‘Baci di calamari ripieni con il pescato del giorno su leggero pesto mediterraneo’ which translates as ‘Squid ravioli stuffed with the catch of the day on a light, Mediterranean pesto’.

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‘Cappelli di pasta farciti con stracotto di pollo, salsa di cipolla, parmigiana e tartufo nero’ or ‘Pasta hats stuffed with braised free range chicken, onion sauce, parmesan and black truffle’.

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‘Merluzzo dorato e fritto, servitor con l’osso intero, agrodolce di limoni e yogurt di bufala’ or ‘Breaded and fried codfish served on the bone with a sweet and sour lemon sauce and buffalo milk yogurt’.

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‘Filetto di manzo del Beneventano in crosta di pane, mozzarella, guanciale con crema verde e purea di Pomodoro picante’ or a ‘Filet of tenderloin from Benevento in a bread crust, mozzarella, pork cheek with a green cream and spicy tomato puree’.

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A multitude of desserts followed.

With all of this, six different glasses of wine, all wonderful.

Our only gripe was the attitude of the sommelier who started off being quite friendly but gave us a nasty scowl after I asked once too many times if I could take a photo of the bottle. Given the prices we were paying I think it should be permissible to record what we drank so that we could take that knowledge away with us. Poor show fella.

The owners on the other hand were lovely. The original husband and wife team, Alfonso and Livia Laccarino, who started the restaurant both came round the tables individually to say hello, the good lady apologising for the noisy children (didn’t notice them myself) who are not normally allowed in, which is unusual for Italy.

Their youngest son Ernesto, who along with his brother Mario is now in charge, was even friendlier and organised a tour of the restaurant for us. First we got to see the kitchens.

Then we were taken down to the ancient cellars which date from the 6th century BC, which makes them around 2500 years old! Incredibly they were only discovered recently as they’d been sealed up. They were probably a hiding place from raiders who regularly pillaged this coast.

The fantastic wine collection is actually kept in a temperature controlled room at the top of the stairs to save the legs of the waiters but the bottom level is an excellent place to keep your provolone cheese as the mould is seen as useful for the maturation process.

Don Alfonso is also a hotel and runs cookery courses. One day when I win the lottery I’ll treat myself to the full works.

Sorrento – The high end

Posted in Amalfi Peninsula, Campania, Italy, Sorrento with tags , , on January 5, 2016 by gannet39

As I mentioned in my previous post, Sorrento is a beautiful place with lots of excellent restaurants but there are a fair few tourist-traps too. You have to be quite careful where you go. Below are some of the posher places I’ve been to which were okay, but overall I think you’d get better value for money elsewhere (see my ‘Sorrento – keeping it cheap’ post.

If you want somewhere truly special then go to the two Michelin star Don Alfonso in nearby Sant’ Agata, more of which in my next post.

All these places and more can be found on my Google map.

In May 2015:

Il Buco (Advanced B), 2a Rampa Marina Piccola, www.ilbucoristorante.it

A relatively new place I think, it gets two forks out of three from Gambero Rosso and a favourable mention from local reviewer Lucinao Pignataro. Personally I think the food is mediocre and not worth the money, but maybe I was just unlucky.

I rocked up without a reservation so was fortunate to get in. I wanted one of the outside booths but all they could give me as a single diner was a seat in the tunnel at the end of the street. It was okay; I could see the sea and catch the glow of the sunset but still, not the nicest spot.

The chef is front of house and gave me his recommendations in English, starting with the wine, a Fiano di Avellino from Cantina de Barone called ‘Particella 928’ which was good (B+). There were twelve similar wines on the list and this was mid-range at about €30.

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The individual dishes on the a la carte menu were quite expensive so I went for the €75 tasting menu.

After an uninspiring amuse bouche (C) the first dish was ‘Caponata with ‘Agerolese’ biscuit, crunchy vegetables, Caciottina cheese and datterini tomatoes’ which was okay (B) but I couldn’t make out how the biscuit or tomatoes featured. The cheese was good though, very fresh, soft and slightly salty (B).

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The ‘Candela pasta with Neapolitan ragu’ was my favourite dish (A). The chef told me that the pork ragu had been simmered for seven hours, which is standard for a good ragu.

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Next the main was ‘Beef roulade stuffed with escarole with rosemary potatoes’ but I found the beef to be a bit tough (C).

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‘Pear and Provolone del Monaco salad with mixed berry sauce’ involved some good local provolone (B) from Vico Equense and a nice pear compote (A) with an unexciting salad (C). The cheese is called ‘del Monaco’ because the ponchos the shepherds wore made the look like monks.

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Not sure what happened to the berry sauce, maybe it was with the following sorbet palate cleanser (B).

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‘Rum-citrus spiked brioche with vanilla ice cream’ aka ‘baba’ was great (A) and I learned that it’s made with Jamaican rum (I’m guessing Wray & Nephew) which is something I’ve always wondered about.

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With this a wonderful glass of Pantelleira (A) and some biscotti to finish (B).

So okay food but overpriced. I won’t be going back.

In June 2008:

L’Antica Trattoria (Advanced A), 33 Via Giuliani (off Corso Italia), www.lanticatrattoria.com

The interior is a maze of small rooms and snugs but I choose to sit outside under the vine-covered trellis, within earshot of the trickling fountain. The decor theme was a little too gorgeous for my taste (white chairs with aquamarine cushions) but it was still very pleasant.

The customers around me seemed to be mainly fat rich men with young blonde girlfriends, who were being serenaded by the in-house mandolin player. Usually I detest live music when I’m eating but I’ve never seen this instrument played with such feeling and I thoroughly enjoyed his renditions of ‘O Sole Mio’, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun’ (!).

I had the five-course tasting menu for €49, which was expensive but the food was sublime. They also had a vegetarian tasting menu for the same price. To kick off I got a complimentary glass of prosecco (A) and a couple of canapés (B), flatbreads (A) and some gorgeous green olives (A).

After this a deep-fried zucchini flower, wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with ricotta (B), followed by a primo of homemade spaghetti with taratufi, lupini and vongole clams, and cozze (mussels) (A).

Next an extra dish of a quiche-like tart of ricotta and local spinach (B) followed by a secondo of Pesce Bandiera in a sauce of garlic and Pomodorini di Pendolo (curvaceous cherry tomatoes from the mineral-rich slopes of Vesuvius, said to be amongst the tastiest in all of Italy!) (A).

L'Antica Trattoria

This was accompanied by a beautifully arranged contorni of broccoli (A), carrots (B), fennel (C), courgettes (B), asparagus (B) and pepperoni (A) and washed down with an excellent Greco di Tufo (Vigne Irpine ’06) (A), an ancient grape variety brought to Campania by the Greeks.

At this point, feeling the cold slightly, I adjoined to the drawing room to peruse the coffee table books and food photos and watch the action in the kitchen through the electronic glass windows of the waiter’s hatch. I cracked a few of the excellent local walnuts (for which Sorrento is also deservedly famous) and nibbled on what I thought were complimentary mini-cakes, including a caramel topped profiterole (A).

My proper dessert was another three lemon cakes and sorbets, the aptly named Fantasi di Sorrento (A) washed down with a wonderful fully flavoured limoncello.

The service was excellent throughout; they even arranged a lunch reservation for me at Don Alfonso the next day, which they described as ‘the best’. It was hard to imagine anything better but unfortunately I couldn’t go in the end as they had cleaned me out!

And this was my only gripe. It turned out I had to pay for the extras of the tart and the cakes although they hadn’t told me this at the time. The total bill was €92, including €27 for the wine. By all means come here for a treat, but keep an eye on their up selling.

O’ Parucchiano (High Intermediate B), 71 Corso Italia, www.parrucchiano.com

This restaurant has a lovely outdoor area where you can sit under the lemon trees. It looks small from the street but they could probably sit 500 inside. Again the house Aglianico was undrinkable (a recurring problem in Sorrento) but they didn’t charge when I complained and I had a very nice Greco di Tufo (Villa Raiano ’07) for €15 instead.

There is a secret menu of unusual dishes in addition to the main one. I wasn’t impressed by the almond ravioli but the Filetto di Orata in Cartoccio (fish baked in foil) was fantastic if a little small for €13.50 (by 2008 prices). Lemon profiteroles were ok.

Cover is €1.80 and service is 15% but my waiter was worth it. Worth another visit just for the location.

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Sorrento – Keeping it cheap

Posted in Amalfi Peninsula, Campania, Italy, Sorrento with tags , , , , on January 4, 2016 by gannet39

My employer puts us in the Hotel Villa Maria which is one of the cheaper places in town at €100 a night and much used by Thomas Cook package tours. It’s fine (15 mins walk from the station, good breakfast, dated but sizable rooms, medium sized pool, sun deck, happy hour) but if I was ever to come back on holiday, I’d stay outside Sorrento and take the train in to make things cheaper.

There’s a self-service launderette (a rare thing in Italy) just around the corner from the hotel at 1 Via degli Aranci.

Sorrento is an expensive destination and there are plenty of tourist trap restaurants that will charge you a lot for not particularly good food. However if you’re here for work as I always am, or on a budget, you’ll want somewhere that gives good value for money. Below are a few decent eateries for everyday dining. Please see my next post for posher restaurants.

All these places and more can be found on my Google map.

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Il Leone Rosso (Intermediate A), 25, Via Marzale (off Corso Italia, next to the train station), www.illeonerosso.it, Tel. 081 807 3089

The Red Lion is a great place to eat on a normal week night. They have an excellent value-for-money three-course Menu Touristico which is what I tend to go for. There’s an outdoor terrace and the friendly staff don’t pressure you to finish. As a result it’s really popular so it’s probably best to book ahead, especially if you want to sit outside in the summer months.

I’ve been several times (thrice in 2008 and once in 2015) and I ate equally well on each occasion. For first courses I can recommend the Canneloni alla Sorrentina (beef mince, mozzarella and tomatoes) (A) and the Fettucine Bolognese (A).

For the second course I’ve had some great fillets of sea bass and ‘ricciola’ (A) with a wonderful crispy salad (A). They also do pizzas, although I wasn’t that impressed (B-) on the one occasion I tried one.

To drink I’ve had a memorable (A) Greco di Tufo (Colli di Castelfranci ’07) for only €16. The dessert cakes are good too and you get a complementary limoncello and free refills.

Proximity to transport connections (bus and train stations) make it a convenient place to eat at short notice if you’ve just arrived in town with a suitcase, if you can get a table that is.

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Villa Rubinacci (Intermediate A), 25 Via Correale, next to the Hotel Eden.

Once you have exhausted the Red Lion’s Menu Touristica, then Villa Rubinacci is the best value-for-money place to go in my opinion. It’s heavily patronised by locals (lots of families, kids and TVs so it’s not very quiet). There’s a large outdoor terrace that gets very busy at the weekend so it’s best to arrive early (8pm should do it). The menu is the thickness of a small book and has a multitude of options, including gluten-free.

Dishes I would recommend include; Fiore di Zucchine (deep-fried courgette flowers stuffed with proscuitto and ricotta), Trofie dell Chef (pasta twists with prawns, squid, aubergine, provola), Calamari in Casseruola (squid in a heavy tomato and garlic sauce), Linguine or Spaghetti ai Frutti di Mare, Bistec Sorrentina (steak with mozzarella and tomatoes) and the grilled veg.

The house red is ok but I wouldn’t recommend the white, my only criticism really. I prefer to splash out on one of the excellent Campanian whites, such as Falanghina, Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino from famous producers like Mastrobordino and Cantina del Taburno, which are reasonably priced here.

La Lanterna (Intermediate A), 23 Via San Cesare

Another nice place where you can sit outside, but you may need to book. They are famous for their Risotto Pescatore which comes with mussels, squid, a scampi and three kinds of clams. The staff were very helpful when I went.

Da Emilia in my previous post on the Marina Grande is also inexpensive.

And some places to avoid:

Old Taverna (Intermediate C) at 23 Via Fuoro (the continuation of Via San Cesare).

I only came here for the football as they have loads of tellies. You can’t sit outside and it’s rather cramped inside. I had a ropey Fettuccine Bolognese followed by sausage and chips (both C). Their own-produced house red was ok though at €7 for half a litre. Guinness and Fosters are on draught should you want a taste of home.

Bar Venuruso (Intermediate D), 43/49 Corso Italia

Near the hotel Villa Maria but pretty poor foodwise. The house red was only €6.50 but undrinkable. The veg soup was ok and only cost €6, but avoid the croutons which come as a side.

Hotel Rivage (Intermediate C), 11 Via Capo (just opposite the side street that Hotel Villa Maria is on)

I had a piddling tuna salad for €6 (C) which was expensive for 2008. However the service is friendly and it has a good view of Vesuvius and the gulf. It had a €13 Menu Touristico but I didn’t try it.

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Sorrento – A Spritz in the Marina Grande

Posted in Amalfi Peninsula, Campania, Italy, Marina Grande, Sorrento with tags , on January 3, 2016 by gannet39

In Sorrento, the main marina is a nice spot away from the hustle and bustle at the top of the cliffs.

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To get there, walk down the winding and ancient Via Marina Grande, and it’s continuation Via del Mare.

It’s very atmospheric, especially at night, and by day you can watch the fishermen at work…

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…while their guard dogs watch their nets.

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There are a few restaurants down here that seem cheaper than the ones at the top of the hill.

Trattoria da Emilia (Intermediate C+), 62 Via Marina Grande (front entrance on Via del Mare, on the harbourside), www.daemilia.it

This place is mentioned in a couple of guides, which is understandable as it’s a nice spot on a terrace raised above the waves. It’s friendly, cheap and very popular, but I was a little disappointed by their food.

In 2008 I had Cozze al Limone (C), Gnocchi alla Sorrentina (C) and Pesce de Golfo (B), a tasty and very large plate of local, small fried fish and squid, which I surreptitiously shared with a friendly local cat. To finish, Fantasie de Limone; a lemon custard covered bun with cream (B).

This was helped down with an incredibly cheap (€5) litre of a local red (Vino de Angelis) which was decidedly average (C). Although everything was perfectly edible, I couldn’t help comparing Da Emilia unfavourably with Il Leone Rosso where for the same money (€35) the food was much better. It’s all about the location really.

Didn’t think I would go again but I did in 2015 and had a similar experience. The Antipasti di Mare was pretty good (B+) and the house white was drinkable (C+). However I couldn’t quite get my head round the fact that, in a restaurant in its spiritual home, you couldn’t get a chilled limoncello (B). Service was okay.

On a more positive note the same people own a bar just to the left of Da Emilia (as you’re facing inland) where in 2015 my friend Luke and I had the best Campari spritzes I’d ever tasted (and I’ve had a few), which underlined that the likability of this drink depends so much on the quality of the prosecco used.

Having a table out on the quayside with a view of the gulf definitely added to this perfect moment.

Sorrento – Drinks in and around Piazza Tasso

Posted in Amalfi Peninsula, Campania, Italy, Piazza Tasso, Sorrento with tags , , , , on December 5, 2015 by gannet39

A good place for an afternoon drink is the Circolo dei Forestieri, otherwise known as The Foreigner’s Club, at 35 Via Luigi de Maio, www.circolodeiforestieri.com, which is just a short distance from Piazza Tasso.

The tables overlooking the sea have fantastic views of Vesuvius, Capri, the Bay of Naples and the craggy coastline around Sorrento.20150508_180948A G&T costs €7 here is a little more than usual but it’s worth it for what must be one of the greatest views in the world. The club also houses the tourist information office.

Typically I finish my evening with a coffee or a digestif at one of the lovely Art Deco bars in Piazza Tasso, Sorrento’s main square.

The larger of the two is Il Fauno at 13 Via Torquato Tasso, faunobar.it Built in 1950 it’s one of the most beautiful bars I’ve ever been in. Domenico, one of the managers, saw me taking photos and gave me a short tour of the building in English.

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The lights are made of hand-blown Murano glass. The floors are polished multi-coloured Terrazzo and pretty ceramic tiles decorate the walls and the bar.Fauna Baristas

Across the front of the bar is a mosaic by the Spilimbergo school showing the Sorrento coastline.

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And another on the outside wall depicts Vesuvius erupting.

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The display cases in the bar area contain, amongst other things, collectable bottles of rum and whisky from Samaroli, a very famous Italian bottling company, founded in 1968 and based in Bologna.

Domenico told me that the owner was continuously evolving the bar.

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Indeed I was sad to see the fridges had been changed from my last visit. Loved the old ones (pictured).

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The more petite Bar Ercolano is just over the road. It’s essentially an oval Art Deco booth with an external bar and a small terrace where customers are protected from the sun by overhead awnings.

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It’s much smaller but no less characterful than its larger neighbour. Both are great places to sit with a drink and watch the world go by.

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