There are destinations and trips we dream about for a lifetime and fortunately, there are those starting to turn true.
Amalfi was one of those dreams, not only for the luxurious environment of cities like Ravello and Positano, but for the unique scenario designed by nature, or for the famous road, sculpted by men. For me, it was also a dream for its food, the rooted traditions from the South of Italy and much in particular for a name, the Don Alfonso 1890.
As the name indicates, speaking of Don Alfonso is speaking of family, tradition and above all, a huge passion. The restaurant is nowadays in the hands of the third and forth generations of a unique family, capable of developing their project like few would.
Much before names like Noma or the The Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in which the farm, the organic and sustainable cuisine or the terroir gained their maximum expression, Alfonso and Livia Iaccarino thought that would be their path to follow in 1973 when they took the helm of the restaurant, Alfonso in the kitchen, and Livia with all her charm in the room.
50 years passed, and they have by their sides Ernesto and Mario, their children who followed their footsteps and keep developing their parents work with the same passion. The restaurant grew, won two Michelin stars and added a small and luxurious hotel with the seal of Relais & Chateaux, a cooking school, and restaurants from Macao to Marrakech passing by Rome and Dubai.
By now you must be thinking how sustainability is kept, as well as the care about the product quality – well, 30 min away from the restaurant, and in a place where they could’ve put a hotel with one of the best views of the coast, the Iaccarino’s created the Le Peracciole, a farm of 8 hectares, installed between the Naples and Sorrento golfs, with a direct view to Capri, and where they grow their vegetables, a large quantity of tomato species, olive trees and even chickens, giving them the so-called “happy eggs”.
But leaving those and other details aside, and on to our experience! After a long drive from Tuscany to the Amalfi Coast, more precisely to Sant’Agata Sui Due Golfi, arriving at this restaurant of white tones and colorful details, to the good style of the region, was like arriving at the Olympus. Wide and well-illuminated rooms, tastefully decorated, with highlight to some centenary pieces that delight the guests while being accompanied to the tables.
Already nicely installed, we are welcomed with a glass of Derbusco Cives Blanc de Blanc Doppio Erre, a very interesting sparkling Franciacorta, of yellow tones and wide aromas of yeast and white pulp fruit, and vanilla details. In the mouth revealing to be dry and with elegant bubble. Accompanying a delicious potato, cheese and carrot croquette, refreshed by a light orange sauce.
A proper start!
Squid, ricotta, vegetable gel and yellow pepper sauce
The first starter brings to my memory all that story about the care for produce, the vegetables and in particular the pepper of an elegance and subtlety so hard to find. A simple dish, refined and full of flavor, reflecting the lunch to follow!
Followed the homemade bread, a great selection, from white to sourdough, olive and fennel bread, and an extra virgin olive oil produced at Le Peracciole, touching perfection.
A starter showing all of Ernesto’s creative side. The pasta is infused with roses that bring freshness to a saline combo of sea flavors. A brilliant eel ice cream transmitting all that sea flavor, mostly when accompanied by the caviar. The basil notes bring us back to earth – a combination where oddly everything works, from textures to flavors!
Duck breast, cinnamon, apple and balsamic reduction
If the presentation seemed a bit outdated, the flavors were elevated to another level, excellent apple cream, and the combination of the duck and cinnamon, and the balsamic reduction (the real one).
Egg, Burrata, green beans and truffle
A dish inspired in Ernesto’s childhood breakfasts, once the truffles were kept on the fridge next to the milk, it acquired the unique aromas of the fungus. A brilliant dish, much because of the quality of the truffles presented, and the greasiness and flavor created by the combo of liquid burrata and the low-temperature egg yolk. The luxury of simplicity!
Spaghetti, mackerel, breadcrumbs, pinions, caramelized onion, albacore tuna sauce and basil emulsion
Thinking of tuna and pasta makes us think of our youth and college times, but the flavors this one gave us were far better. One of the best pasta dishes I ever tasted, from the quality and cooking of the pasta to its mix with sauces, flavors, and textures. A dish that represents very well the cuisine from the South of Italy, with apparently modest ingredients, taking us to another level!
Capelli filled with black pork, amatriciana sauce, Parmigiano and truffle
Another great dish, technically perfect and provided with great ingredients. I’ll miss the yellow tomato amatriciana, as well as the quality of the truffle. Of highlight is also the excellent fennel crunch, with a texture and flavor notes adding dimension to the dish. Delicious!
Harmonizing with these dishes was the Contrada Marotta Greco di Tufo 2013 Villa Raiano, a white produced in the region, northeast of Naples. A complex wine that conquers at the first taste, peach aromas, medlar, and grapefruit, with floral touches, revealing in the mouth an excellent minerality and acidity of great level. An excellent company to the primi platti.
Loin with a bread crust, mozzarella, pork cheek, spicy tomato puree and Mediterranean cream
The veal used is carefully selected from producers in the region of Benevento, also in Campania, and it shows in its quality, a flavorful, moist loin, with texture, involved in cheese and pork cheek, with a thin and crunchy cape of bread. Very well accompanied and enrichened by the sauces.
On the glass was another wine from Villa Raiano, a Taurasi 2012, elegant in the nose, with dark fruit and cocoa and tobacco notes, and well-integrated wood. In the mouth, the structure and power revealed a good company to the meat.
In the meantime, the petit fours arrived, in Italy, they tend to appear before the dessert. Highlight to the cannoli, the chocolate bonbons with orange and the tartlets, all very good.
To clean the palate, nothing like an efficient Amalfi lemon ice cream, pistachio crunch, and red fruits.
A lemon concert – fragrances and flavors
A classic dessert of Don Alfonso which highlights one of the most important ingredients of the region, the Lemon. Freshness and sweetness well balanced, in an interesting game of textures, between the choux pastry, the frying, the cream and the crunchy caramel.
Chestnuts and pomegranate
A very “Autumny” dessert (the time we visited), with the combination of pomegranate and the chestnuts. High score to the flavors, although the chestnut cream was a bit too dense to the “millefeuille”.
About the wines, the list of Don Alfonso is one of the most famous in Italy, with over 25000 bottles and 1300 references, kept in the historical basement, that dates from an Etruscan tunnel, with lots of centuries of History.
In the end of our meal and after a guided visit to the kitchen and the school we went to the basement (a part of the “Don Alfonso experience”). The wines are distributed in several floors and also by levels in a long staircase that ends in the space where they cure and improve their own smoked goods and cheeses.
As to the service, that unfortunately in Italy is usually below the level of the cuisine, here was really flawless, showing a good game of technique and movement, flowing around the room almost unnoticed, with knowledge about the dishes and sympathy. If we talk about Livia and Mario, they set the bar even higher, spreading the Italian charm and passion for their work for every table they pass, leaving us anxious to taste what they’re presenting.
Sometimes not even the Michelin stars or the seals of JRE, of Le Soste, Relais & Chateaux or Les Grandes Tables du Monde are enough to assure a satisfaction brand, it’s necessary to study, see, visit and above all taste to understand a job, or in this case a conviction, that Alfonso and Livia passed on to their children.
The cuisine of Ernesto is deeply marked by the importance and quality of the product, the most sensible and refined you can find, the flavor of each ingredient is highlighted without masks, here all the technical rigor is put to the test so each element shows its best, and you can taste that in each bite.
The experience at Don Alfonso 1890 is marking at every level, from the family environment to which we are transported, to the food and the ambiance. You wish to stay, to sit and listen to the family stories, learn about the ingredients and share the meal with unique people.
See you in the next time!
Don Alfonso 1890
Menus from 140€
Corso Sant’Agata, 11/13 – Sant’Agata Sui Due Golfi
+39 081 878 00 26
Text: João Oliveira | Photos: Flavors & Senses