Gambero Rosso
30 giugno 2022
by Federico Silvio Bellanca

Eating out on the Amalfi Coast


Seeing the little town of Amalfi today, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, it is hard to imagine it at the height of its greatness, when from the coasts of Campania it controlled the Mediterranean and waged war with Pisa. Who knows what would have become of this city-state if the Tsunami of 1343 had not wiped out its port, fleet and consequently its naval power...? But those wishing to get away from the center crowded with tourists, perhaps gazing from the sea at the seemingly indomitable, jagged coastline, could discover that the perennial reflection of the Marine Republic can today be found in the discreet luxury of the grand hotels of the Amalfi Coast. In that strip of land squeezed between the Sorrento Peninsula (to the north) and the Cilento Coast (to the south), a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, which today is preparing for the start of summer. The Statale 163—very famous and equally well-traveled highway—connects the municipalities of this tourist treasure with its breathtaking views, small harbors, alleys and magnificent terraces.

The natural continuation of the Sorrento coast, this stretch of coast in the province of Salerno extends for just 26 miles, from Punta Campanella to Vietri sul Mare, condensing an unspecified number of picture postcard views, beaches and coves, caves shaped by centuries of erosion and artistic treasures to be discovered all year round. But it is also home to a wealth of culinary delights: limone sfusato, extra virgin olive oil and excellent wine, smoked provola and mozzarella, tuna and anchovies from Cetara and the finest traditional colatura (the liquid from salted anchovies), of which Pasquale Torrente is a tireless ambassador, patron of Al Convento, which has just reopened following renovations, marking increasingly the generational change with the entry of his son, Gaetano. Another new venue is the Faro di Capo d'Orso, in nearby Maiori, where today in the kitchen we find Salvatore Pacifico, under the guidance of Andrea Aprea. It’s all change for another Amalfi treasure, the Monastero Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini, with Christoph Bob leaving the kitchen (now in Castellammare di Stabia) to the new head chef Alfonso Crescenzo.

Built in an early twentieth century Art Nouveau villa, in turn built on the remains of the family home, the Hotel—owned and managed by the Gambardella family for over four generations—retains the charm of a large house, with centuries-old gardens, vegetable gardens, lemon and orange groves, and above all a breathtaking view over the gulf of Salerno. The Santa Caterina deserves a stay just to enjoy the great gastronomic variety on offer, including in its flagship fine dining restaurant Glicine, where Giuseppe Stanzione does not limit himself to enhancing the gifts of the sea in dishes such as Vignarola of lobster with broad beans, peas, artichokes, asparagus and pecorino, but also the gifts of the land, with Tortelli stuffed with veal genovese with 36-month Parmigiano Reggiano zabaglione or the unmissable Slightly spicy free-range chicken, Jerusalem artichoke and Pizzuta almonds. Simpler, but equally impressive, is the restaurant Al Mare, which serves up Mediterranean cuisine for lunch after a morning at the beach, perhaps the delicious, fresh Spaghetti with Amalfi limone sfusato; or the bar/bistro La Terrazza, which is open only in the evening and, like the whole building, overlooking the sea. The venue also includes an elegant complex of suites surrounded by gardens—Le Ville della Marchesa—a few steps from the hotel.

Located on a cliff over 300 meters above sea level, inside an ancient 11th century building, the Caruso perfectly combines the comfort of modernity with exquisitely chosen antiques. The hotel has also been in the news recently because it has seen the return of Cristoforo Trapani to Campania. At the age of 34, after working with Heinz Beck, Mauro Colagreco, Yannick Alléno, Troisgros, Antonino Cannavacciuolo, Moreno Cedroni and Davide Scabin and, after embarking on a solo career at the Ristorante Magnolia at the Hotel Byron in Forte dei Marmi, he has returned to his homeland to start a new chapter. His first menu for the Belvedere, called Me in 4 assaggi, tastes like a business card. Inside, we find Rock octopus glazed with San Marzano tomato, aioli, curry and iced lettuce followed by Spaghettone maxi Pastificio dei Campi with yellow Piennolo tomatoes, Praiano red prawns, puffed pork rind and Amalfi Coast I.G.P. lemon and then Turbot alla Mugnaia with sea asparagus and Cetara red tuna bottarga and, to end, Rigatoni with San Marzano tomato jam and Barlotti buffalo mozzarella D.O.P. 

Borgo Santandrea is the new vertical paradise of the Amalfi Coast. The entrance is 90 meters above the sea, from which you pass through the green terraces of Mediterranean scrub to reach the private beach. This property opened for its first season after the ambitious renovation project commissioned by owners Orlacchio and De Siano. The result is a wonderful and typically Italian hotel, with 1950s design and a blatant Mediterranean feel. The hotel has 29 rooms and 16 suites and there are three restaurants and two bars, and at the helm of it all is another illustrious Campania-born chef, Crescenzo Scotti, who, after his experiences in the north-east at Le Calandre and Agli Amici (both Tre Forchette for the Gambero Rosso guide ‘Restaurants of Italy’), worked for a long time in Sicily as head of the restaurants at the Therasia Resort before choosing to return home. In his restaurant La Libreria (The Bookstore), the menus are aptly called chapters, and they go from Chapter I: the shy ... approach to marine Chapter III inspired by a story of... salt and water and Chapter IV: the breeze that caresses the rock and then moves away from the water and conclude with Chapter V: the roots of the garden and Chapter VI: the shepherd's guide.

Le Sirenuse was opened in 1951 by the Sersale family, who decided to transform their house by the sea into a small hotel in the bay of Positano. With 58 rooms overlooking the sea at a height of 70 meters, people come here to enjoy the peace and silence as well as the breathtaking views. The restaurant La Sponda is led by the Executive Chef of Le Sirenuse, Gennaro Russo, who offers dishes much loved by regular customers, such as Mediterranean scampi with Pizzuta almonds and Calvisius Oscietra Royal or Seared tuna, risina beans, green beans and candied lemon and Fagottelli with genovese of beef from the Lattari mountains, 48-month Parmesan and black truffle. But Le Sirenuse, as well as for the Mediterranean cuisine, is also famous for its cocktail bar, reputed to be not only one of the best on the Amalfi Coast, but also one of the most interesting hotel bars in Italy: Franco's Bar, open from 5 pm to midnight, is in fact separate from the hotel, and many outside customers also come just to try the drinks: there are no reservations, so it’s simply ‘first come, first served.’ For a different scene, there is Aldo's Bar, more aimed at the hotel guests, who can also enjoy Mediterranean 'tapas', oysters, raw seafood and traditional Campania dishes revisited.

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