This summer I travelled to the south of Italy for a week, spending three days in Naples, then another four exploring Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. The whole area is absolutely gorgeous, with so much to see, do and (most importantly) eat! Now when I went to Rome many moons ago I did not research before the trip and ended up not having the best food experience. You always hear about how amazing Italian food is and, quite frankly, I felt let down on that trip. So I was determined not to let it happen again and this time around did some extensive research into the best restaurants and what types of food dishes to eat in this part of the country – and it paid off.
Best restaurants in Naples
L’antica pizzeria da michele
Starting out with the most obvious place on the list, as soon as I knew I was going to Naples I knew I had to go to L’antica Pizzeria da Michele. Yes, this is the pizzeria of Eat, Pray, Love fame and, as you can see, Julia Roberts continues to provide great publicity for this place. It’s exceptionally busy and there’s no way to book a table so be prepared to wait but the good news is the queuing system is incredibly well organised. If you want a table you need to approach the person on the door and tell them, they’ll give you a ticket with a number on it. There’s a screen on the door that displays your number when your table is ready and then you just go in and sit down. The queue moves quickly because the service is super fast.
You can tell how good the food is in this place because they only do two types of pizza – a margherita and a marinara – and boy do they do it well! For those of you who are indecisive or have fomo like me, there’s a half and half option too!
Locanda del Cerriglio
The food might be great at Locanda del Cerriglio but the real draw is its history. Cited as the oldest tavern in the whole of Naples, it was apparently frequented by Caravaggio! Like most of the best restaurants, this one is off the beaten track, tucked down an alleyway a little outside of the old town. All of this only adds to the feeling like you’re stepping back in time when you step inside. You can expect cosy vibes, amazing decor playing on its history and authentic Neapolitan cuisine. It was here that I tried the traditional pasta dish, Ragu Napolitano, which I can highly recommend.
Another of my favourite meals in Naples was had at Umberto. Although not too far from the touristy centre, this one is again off a side road and seemed to be full of mostly Italian locals (always a good sign). If you chose to eat here, make sure you get the lemon tiramisu for dessert. It was without a doubt one of the best puds I’ve ever had and the highlight of all the food I ate in Naples. To be honest, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since!
Best restaurants in Sorrento
I’ll admit, when I was looking for places to eat in Sorrento, it seems like you can’t really go wrong. Everywhere has a five star review and it’s hard to narrow it down if you’ve only got limited time. However, Ristorante Zi’Ntonio was actually just somewhere we stumbled across while doing a bit of late night shopping one evening. The queue outside peaked our interest and we ended up putting our names on a list at the front door to come back for a table at 10pm – that’s how popular this place is! I can say though, it was worth the wait. This place has really a really cool interior and is very buzzy. The food is the usual for the area – pizza, pasta and seafood. We actually went on the last night of our trip so I ended up going left-field and getting the seafood risotto, which was fantastic. As with anywhere in Sorrento, you can’t go wrong with a lemon-based dessert, and the ‘lemon surprise’ is a real delight.
Did I mention that before this trip I wasn’t a huge fan of lemons? Sorrento officially changed my life when it comes to how I feel about this fruit, and now, I can’t get enough! It all started here at Fuoro where I first tasted their lemon Up until this point I’ve always disliked lemons in anything savoury, but this is something else. It’s creamy and delicious, with just the subtlest hint of lemon. Best of all it’s served in an actual cut lemon (which I have to admit I did think was a baked potato when it arrived!) Follow up with the homemade tiramisu – traditional, not lemon-flavoured this time – and you really can’t go wrong.
Two days into life in Sorrento and I was fully on board the lemon train. I had actually seen La Limonaia on someone’s Instagram feed and it was the one place I’d noted down as a ‘must go to’ restaurant before the trip. Away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of town, the restaurant allows you to enjoy amazing home cooking in the spectacular setting of a citrus grove. On a warm summer evening is there anything better than sipping a limoncello spritz amongst the lemon trees? You guessed correctly I went for lemons with every course, choosing the lemon ravioli followed by the ‘sweet lemon surprise’.
What to eat in Naples and Amalfi Coast
Of course the city of Naples has become synonymous with pizza. While the quality of pizza in the UK has definitely improved since wood-fired ovens became all the rage, you really haven’t tasted pizza until you’ve had Neapolitan pizza. What’s so great about it you ask? It’s all in the ingredients. The tomatoes in Naples have incredible flavour thanks to the fertile soils they’re grown in on the plains of Mount Vesuvius. The mozzarella comes from the milk of the water buffalo raised in the marshlands of nearby Campania and Lazio. Everything is fresh, delicious and perfectly cooked, making it seriously hard to beat!
Nowhere does pasta like the Italians but if you want to try some dishes that are specifically traditional to the area, you’ll need to look out for ragu napoletano and pasta alla genovese. The former is a meat and tomato sauce cooked for a long time on a slow heat. Sounds like a bolognese, right? Well, it differs because it’s begins cooking without the other bolognese ingredients, including onion, carrot and celery, and uses whole cuts of meat instead of ground meat. Because it takes so long to cook, it really does melt in the mouth! Pasta alla genovese on the other hand is a specialty of Neapolitan dish consisting of a white sauce with meat and lots of onions. It is similarly delicious but definitely has a slightly sweeter flavour than the ragu napoletano, which retains the tanginess of tomato. You’ll find that many restaurants in Naples serve both.
I was already completely obsessed with cannoli before I set foot in Italy, so I knew I’d have to get in as many as I could during my trip. Yes they’re bad for you but wow are they delicious. If you’ve never had one before, they’re a classic Sicilian pastry with a crispy shell and sweet ricotta filling. Despite not being traditional to this particular area of Italy, I think being in Italy is a good enough excuse for one as they’re so delicious, particularly washed down with an Italian coffee.
If you’re looking to try a pastry that is traditional to the region, you’re looking for Sfogliatella. This is a delicious flaky pastry filled with a mixture of semolina and ricotta. There are different types with subtle differences. The ‘original’ is thought to be the Sfogliatella Santa Rosa, which was devised by the nuns at the Monastery of St. Rose in 1600. It is distinguished by the cream and berries that sit atop the pastry. You can still find this version in Amalfi – we ordered it at the cafe directly underneath the church. The cream and berries were removed when the recipe came to Naples, but from someone who has tasted both, they were otherwise pretty similar. Inside the flaky layers of pastry is a mixture of ricotta and semolina, usually with a slight hint of citrus (either orange or lemon).
Anything with lemons!
If you’ve read this far you’ll already know about how I became obsessed with lemons in Sorrento. Believe me when I say there’s a reason they’re known for lemon in this part of the world. My recommendation? Try everything – including the savoury stuff! Lemon-flavoured pasta will change your life, always pick the lemon dessert, make sure you get some (undoubtedly overpriced) lemon sorbet on the Amalfi Coast, and wash it all down with a limoncello!