Touching down in Bristol following a seven-day stint in the Neapolitan Riviera with a distinctively pinkish tint to my skin tone and a new-found ‘pizza paunch’ I had originally planned to provide a brief snapshot of this particular foodie foray via a series of photographs; facilitating my reformed appreciation of Italian fare. I mean, albeit one of the most instantly recognisable genres of cuisine on the planet, there are certain factors - such as the presence of home-grown ingredients and the authenticity of dining beneath the Mediterranean sunshine - that really enhance the dishes that arguably don't quite cut it back in good old Blighty. Consequently, the images earmarked for inclusion are as follows and yet, shunning the confines of a caption or two in favour of a full report of my findings seemed rather more fitting...not to mention, an opportunity for me to prolong the memories of what was altogether, a fantastic week...
Date and Time: Monday 28th May - Monday 4th June 2012
Location: Neapolitan Riviera/Amalfi Coast, Italy
Reason for Visit: In the words of the mighty Cliff - “We're all going on a...Summer Holiday” - well, I am!
Sorrento’s focal point, Piazza Tasso, is positively humming with hustle and bustle; snacking is commonplace and a vibrant café culture exists of the heart of its battle between chaotic consumption and chill. Thus, in light of its wonderfully cosmopolitan air, I'll begin with my means to the internationally acceptable sport of people-watching which, for me, seemed more appropriate from behind the rim of a coffee cup. Though many venues have wavered to meet the requirements of the ever-present tourist trade, cappuccinos and lattes are strictly for breakfast time and instead, espresso-based beverages take centre stage - my favourite, the Espressino, which layers an unmistakably Italian blend with steamed milk and cocoa, both kept me on my toes and satisfied my self-confessed coffee snobbery at each and every turn! Furthermore, the apparent demand for a rich-roasted hit meant that coffee features in a number of entities; spanning a variety of desserts (Tiramisu anyone?!) and confectioneries whereby espresso-flavoured candies supposedly keep one’s caffeine levels topped up ‘till lunch! It is also customary to receive a small selection of bite-sized treats with one’s coffee which was unsurprisingly well received on my part; come on, everyone loves complimentary edibles…non?!
Another ingredient which is utilised across a range of consumables is fresh lemon which is locally produced and used as the basis for a number of products - on the most part, the business of Limoncello; a strong liquor and perfect palate cleanser/digestif given its bitter-sweet bite. Best served ice-cold, or slurped through biscotti, its strength is not to be sniffed at and, whilst we're on the subject, my companion and I found ourselves toasting to the concept of European measures upon several occasions, be it something that accentuated our evenings’ entertainment somewhat. Solaro, the local wine of Sorrento was also rather palatable, though the Aglianico del Taburno proved a smoother red by comparison and Bagnoli (di Sopra), a 'Rosato' from the Veneto region, was, without doubt, my favourite tipple to compliment dinner. Plus, by the end of the trip, I’d also become rather accustomed to Italian lager with a crisp Peroni or Nastro Azzurro proving my first port of call following a sweaty descent into Sorrento town from the mountainous location of the hotel.
The Grand Hotel Due Golfi* really did pull out all the stops when it came to the standard of their cuisine; exceeding my expectations of the usual tried and tested meals for the masses and shunning a buffet style affair for 'a la carte’ table service. Hence, worrying about the restrictions of my self-imposed half-board status became somewhat redundant with the first meal that I sat down to and subsequently, throughout the course of the week, delighted in the fact that almost all bases were covered; namely, dishes that I wouldn't have necessarily chosen elsewhere and yet, thoroughly enjoyed. I developed a taste for Escalope for instance and keenly sampled oodles of seafood as well as a selection of regionally influenced pasta dishes (macaroni, ravioli and lasagne to name but a few) - these mapped Italian cuisine for me and, despite a couple of oddities here and there (breaded cod on a bed of ready-salted crisps anyone?!) I found myself eagerly anticipating the surprise factor of each and every dinnertime adventure! That said, there was something missing from the three-courses plated each evening; something fundamental to the Country's culinary culture and, as a result, my primary reason for opting to eat-out upon several occasions....yep, you guessed it PIZZA!!!
|Cannelloni - Sorrento Style!|
First a little history (courtesy of the lovely Thomson's tour guide who accompanied us on the journey from the airport) - pizza actually originated from Napoli and, in June 1889, to honor the Queen consort of Italy (Margherita of Savoy), the Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created the ‘Pizza Margherita’; a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil leaves, to represent the colours of the Italian flag. Yes, it’s fair to say that, history aside, I ate some of the best pizza I had ever tasted during what I'd coined as my eating expedition – my absolute favourite from within a rustic trattoria called ‘Mimi’ in the nearby village of Sant'Agata Sui, (which incidentally is also home to Don Alfonso 1890; a Michelin-starred restaurant with a fantastic reputation for unpretentious yet faultless fare). Here, pizzas are baked in a traditional wood-fired oven, meaning that their bases are of the perfect consistency; thin, crisply edged and not too doughy which, in addition to the fresh, flavoursome ingredients used to top them, equaled mouthfuls of absolute joy – no wonder it was so well-attended with a rowdy queue of locals that snaked all the way from the take-away counter to the front door of the establishment! My companion and I also sampled the Italian-take on fresh bruschetta - pizza’s crunchier cousin – which, slathered with local olive oil and topped with sun-ripened tomatoes, fared as a perfect lunchtime snackette.
|Parma Ham, Fresh Rocket and Parmesan|
Now, when it comes to eateries abroad, I’m not one to brandish the word ‘favourite’ around, tending to avoid repeat-visits to a single establishment in favour of a more thorough drinking/dining experience overall. Instead, I’ll document a few that, for me, constituted my top-picks of the region starting with a fantastic outlet for another Italian tradition…Gelato! Yes, this is another of Italy’s USPs and, in fact, I can't believe that I have documented my trip thus far without mentioning it! And, with over 80 flavours from peanut to pineapple and KitKat to coconut, Bougainvillea* was an obvious choice.
Café Latino* is a peaceful haven tucked behind a busy high street – think, leafy greens contrasted with vibrant red blooms as well as a series of orange trees that criss-cross overhead, effectively filtering the dappled sunshine. A chilled-out soundtrack and central water feature complete a noticeable aura of calm and an extensive cocktail list, reasonably-priced cuisine and even a gluten-free menu secures its suitability for any occasion.
Another cobbled side-street led me to meet the acquaintance of William Guglielmo, the renowned chef and proud owner of the Old Taverna Sorrentina* and its adjoined cookery school. William enthusiastically took me through photographs of his farm; explaining the traditions associated with its olive and lemon production and the origins of his family’s business, (which, for the record, dates all the way back to 1860.) Although disappointingly I didn’t have time to participate in the advertised four-course cookery session, I developed quite a soft spot for this particular establishment; not only for the sensational gelato and home-made limoncello granita (which is served with a generous dousing of vodka…hic) but also due to the passion behind its substance and the charismatic persona at the forefront if its appeal.
Elsewhere, Bar Orlando in Sant'Agata Sui, curiously branded with the legend of the smoking cat, was a hidden gem with excellent service and unbeatable value for money and, at the other end of the spectrum, Bar Embassy within the designer streets of Capri, although pricey, was an ample platform for a spot of people watching – the eateries of Capri, boasting their famous clientèle in a collage of crinkled photographs!
|Parrot-dise for 16 Euro for two dishes of Gelato in Capri|
|The legend of the Smoking Cat - Bar Orlando|
Consequently, rarely does a city combine phenomenal beauty with the buzz of a busy city and neither does a week within it come so reasonably priced. At 6-7 Euro for a cocktail, 2-3 Euro for coffee and around the 8 Euro mark for a main course, I was rather pleasantly surprised at how lightly I was hit in the pocket, (finding myself in the rare position of having enough moolah left over to hit the likes of Duty Free prior to my return flight!) Obviously, to venture to the likes of Capri (the playground of the rich and famous) or to the trendy seaside of Positano, will set you back considerably more and yet, to balance these areas for a well-rounded trip really does seem to serve the ideal holiday destination, (yes yes I'm Judith Chalmers minus the mahogany tan!) Finally, I may have returned with a little excess baggage (mainly around my midrift you'll understand) but everything put in front of me, no really...everything, was fresh, wholesome and delivered with gusto, the latter perhaps the reason why even the aforementioned oddities were, at least on my part, embraced as part of a culture to be proud of; and for blimmin' good reason!