Shipscook’s Italian Job – Monnalisa Ristorante

Right in the heart of Sorrento’s ‘Drains opposite a very pretty church we found this place. It’s the Monnalisa Ristorante and is a great place for people watching while you eat.

Al Fresco dining at the Monnalisa

This has to be one of the best places to get a pizza in Sorrento. We ate there a couple of times and I really enjoyed the pizza picante, which is made with pepperoni and four kinds of cheese, including pungent Gorgonzola and a ball of fresh buffalo Mozzarella . Fabulous with a glass of chilled Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio white.

Picante pizza with fresh Buffalo Mozzarella

Mind you I was surprised that I had much room left after the bruschette we had for our starters. The tomato bruschetta was really fresh and quite delicious, however

Your standard tomato Bruschetta

the Neapolitan bruschetta, with ham, basil and cheese, was really gorgeous and particularly filling.

Neapolitan Bruschetta with fresh Buffalo Mozzarella

Even the nibbles, that are customarily served with drinks in Italy, arrived in style on a delicate little stand with a pair of tongs.

Sophisticated nibbles

The Monnalisa has a well recommended ice cream parlor, but we were always too full after the main course to stuff anything else down.

So what’s the damage? Bruschette and pizza or pasta for four with wine, water and coffee between €90 to €100.

Monnalisa Ristorante, Via P.R.Giuliani,18/20, Sorrento.

Shipscook’s Italian Job – We take a Passeggiata through Sorrento

So after dinner we joined the locals in the ritual of taking a stroll around town, otherwise known as the the passeggiata. Naturally the first place to stop was an ice cream parlor.

We all scream for ice cream, especially mulberry and dark chocolate

Sorrento has quite a few to choose from and most of them offer a huge choice of flavours from the usual suspects like strawberry and chocolate to the more exotic such as English trifle or Toblerone.  Davide on the Via P.R. Giuliani was particularly good and it sat next to a pub that offered pints, large pints and extra large pints whatever they are.

The Bar Villa Comunale (Di Massimo Fiorentino) is a great place to watch the sunset from as it is right on the sea front, if you can call a cliff that overlooks the bathing platforms and Sorrento’s tiny beach, the seafront that is.It’s surprisingly affordable too with a round of four drinks coming in at €14.

No not Volare again please - Bar Villa Comunale

It’s also a great place for people watching as crowds gather for the celestial free show.

Sunset

Sorrento is a popular location for big weddings and since the front is very close to both St Francis and Antonino the whale killer’s churches, we’d also get to watch ‘creative’ photographers forcing young brides to pose in the most uncomfortable positions for their art, as the Sun slid beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea. There was also a good view of Vesuvius biding it’s time before its next eruption.

Vesuvius at Sunset

Vesuvius at sunset

Sundown we’d head into the drains for a wander around the shops and bars, occasionally stopping for a sample of Limoncello, just in case we’d forgotten what lemon scented toilet duck tasted like.

The Drains by Night

Back on the Corso Italia there was always lots going on. Amongst the blues guitarist who only knew how to play Sweet home Chicago and the human statues this lady stood out, with her glass harmonica. I’d never seen one of these before and the music was quite beautiful.

Glass Harmonica

So for a nightcap before returning to the hotel we tried a couple of bars on the Corso. We really should have expected The English Bar to be a bit odd, however it had a tempting garden terrace to the rear. Mab ordered an Amaretto which arrived in a tumbler – a full tumbler. OK it’s a very generous measure, but no one wants to drink that much Amaretto surely. Since the bill for the four of us only came to €18 I can only assume that the students running the bar were going to be for it when the owner compared his till roll to his inventory. The Cafe Latino (Corso Italia 4) was a bit more civilised. Set within a huge shady garden it was a very pleasant place for that final game of Uno before bed, even if the service was sometimes a bit slow when they were also catering for a wedding party.

Shipscook’s Italian Job – O Parrucchiano

One of Sorrento’s little treasures is this place.

Me in O Parrucchiano's lemon grove

Well I say little treasures, but the O Parruchiano restaurant is actually rather large, consisting of a kitchen, whacking great conservatory and lemon grove garden that reputedly can sit up to 1000 diners. The place was founded in 1868 by Antonino Ercolano a trainee priest who had been caught misbehaving with one of the local ladies. Fortunately his training in the seminary kitchen meant that he had another trade to fall back on so he set up a trattoria in two rooms just off the Corso Italia.  O Parruchiano, which stands for parish priest in the local Neapolitan dialect, was a great hit and gradually the restaurant expanded back from the Corso Italia to it’s present extent. Thankfully, despite its size the food is not institutionalised, but good Neapolitan home cooking and the waiter service is friendly and not intrusive.

Aside from being probably the best restaurant in Sorrento it’s also famous as the birthplace of Cannelloni.

Invented here - cannelloni

It was in 1907 that the chef  Salvatore Coletta hit upon the idea of rolling a sheet of pasta very thin and wrapping it around a stuffing of ricotta cheese, various minced meats and spices. O Parrucchiano’s cannelloni are truely delicious and we ate rather a lot of them during our stay, but there were plenty of other great pasta dishes like the Neapolitan Lasagna to try. I liked the lasagna because it wasn’t drowned in Bechamel sauce, but topped with aubergine, also good was the seemingly never ending pot of gnocchi.

For a starters there were a number of options including this brilliant antipasto plate

Antipasto

with ricotta stuffed courgette flowers, prawns cooked in lemon and orange leaves, deep fried squid and a ricotta stuffed pastry or the antipasto rusticano, a plate of buffalo mozzarella, Parma ham, braesola and pancetta.  While for desert, if you had any room left the raisins cooked in wine and served in a lemon leaf parcel,

Raisins in lemon leaf

were rather like a Christmas cake without the cakey bits.

Wines kicked in at about €15 for a bottle of Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ) del Vesuvio, a rather lovely wine that comes in white, red and rose varieties, grown on the fertile volcanic slopes of the local volcano, but for a special treat it is difficult to resist the wine with peaches, which double up as a delicious desert.

Wine with peaches

So what’s the damage, for a three course meal for four with wine, water and coffee expect to pay about €110, but your holiday operator may offer a 10% discount voucher which the restaurant will only honour for cash transactions.

O Parrucchiano, Corso Italia 71 – 80067 Sorrento, tel +39 081 8781321

Shipscook’s Italian Job – Out and About in Sorrento

So after being woken by the fog cannon that went off every half hour to celebrate St Anne’s name day, we got taken on a free walk around Sorrento by the Thomson rep.  Actually it was more of a wander around their preferred retailers, but there were free drinks involved, so off we went. Taking our lives in our hands we crossed the Via del Capo outside the hotel, to the side of the road that actually had some pavement and carried on downhill, until we arrived in Sorrento’s main street, the Corso Italia. The Corso is where you will find all the flash shops are, along with loads of ice cream parlours, restaurants and even a peaceful lemon grove.

Corso Italia

It’s also where the locals go arrayed in all their pomp to passeggiata after dinner, when the Corso is pedestrianised.

Fantastic Brand ID for National Police - Corso Italia

After a brief snifter at O Parrucchiano – the birthplace of cannelloni (more on that later) we were led towards the city walls.

Originally built by the Greeks who settled in this part of Italy during the seventh century BC, then rebuilt by the Romans, the present walls were engineered by the Spanish, to keep Saracen pirates out, during Spain’s rule of Naples in the 16th Century.  Taking the brief walk along the top of the conserved walls is great at night, when it is lit up with flaming torches and best of all – it’s free. Close to the Wall is the Parco Ibsen. Suzy, our rep, proudly showed us the Thomson information desk and a furniture shop, but neglected to mention the Norwegian playwright that it’s named after. Ibsen stayed in the nearby Hotel Tramotano, where he wrote parts of Ghosts (1867) and Peer Gynt (1881).

Sorrento is famous for its lemons

Lemon Grove off the Corso Italia

which get made into stuff like soap, confectionery and the region’s local drink Limocello. In the oldest part of town, known as “The Drains“, because it’s where the rich people’s sewage used to flow through on it’s way to the sea, we got to sample some at one of the many shops that specialise in all things lemony.

A range of local liquors - many made from lemons

If I ever wondered what lemon scented toilet duck would taste like I think I now know. There is also a cream version which tastes as I imagine lemon scented Jif would. The Drains are a regular rabbit warren of little alleys, full of shops (mostly full of tat) , restaurants, bars and little churches.

The Drains

One of the larger churches we were shown is dedicated to Sorrento’s patron saint, St Antonino.

St Antonino and his whale

He reputedly rescued a child that was being eaten by a whale, by killing it (the whale not the child). The whale on the statue looks like a dolphin to me, but the church has the alleged whale’s jaw bone nailed to the external wall and I’d say it must have been a much bigger creature, the sort that eats tiny fish and krill, but not children.

St Antonino's Whale's Jawbone

We found this charming fresco of the event, above the door of one of the nearby apartment buildings.

St Antonino - Whale Killer

Personally I think there is a touch of the mythical hero about this, with the saint taking on the role of a former pagan demi-god like Heracles. Close by is another church, this time dedicated to St Francis. It has really gorgeous cloisters that are popular for weddings and classical recitals.

St Francis

I could not help but notice the offering room, where believers could buy votive objects to leave in the church – much the same as in pagan times so nothing changes.

Our final stop was the Foreigner’s Club, overlooking the sea. Very useful place this as it has a free public loo and an information centre. The Foreigner’s Club was used by British and American soldiers during World War I, hence the name. at this point Suzy left us to our own devices so we high tailed it back to O Parrucchiano to try some of that cannelloni, but that is another story.

Shipscook’s Italian Job – Welcome to our Sorrento Hideout

The Grand Hotel Capodimonte is built into the hillside just above Sorrento. It’s labyrinthine construction meant that to get to our room on the third floor, we had to get a lift up five floors from the entrance, then walk through the reception area to find the right set of lifts, travel two floors down, set off down a twisty corridor, go down a small flight of stairs, turn the corner, go up two bigger flights of stairs and there it was at the end of the corridor. Yes I did get lost on my way back to reception at least once and it was up to a friendly chambermaid to send me off on the right track.

Pool area at the Grand Hotel Capodimonte

Our room was a marvelous confection of fake Empire style furniture, with ceramic floral light fittings and a flat screen TV for the maid to watch quiz shows on while were out. The truly stunning gardens are landscaped in terraces down the side of the hill with the seven pools arranged one above the other, so that twice a day the water cascades  down from one pool to another.

View from Bougianvillea Restaurant

The terraces looked even more enchanting at night when the pools were illuminated.

Pool terraces by night

We were on half board. The breakfasts were epic thanks to the very excellent omelette chef, who cooked to order before our eyes. Otherwise it was a choice of lunch in the Bougainvillea Restaurant overlooking the pool terraces and the Bay of Naples or an evening meal in the main restaurant which also had an open air terrace. Lunch turned out to be the best option as the main restaurant service in the evening could be very slow, while the food, although nicely presented, had a touch of institutional cuisine about it despite it’s pretensions to grandeur. Having said that, the pastry chef was very good at creating myriad little temptations.

Lots of lovely cakes

And he was an imaginative sculptor with a sliced loaf to boot.

Bread Castle

After dinner there were drinks on the cocktail bar terrace with it’s gorgeous view.

Ships that Pass in the Night - View from bar terrace

Mind you we did have to share a room!

This is Squeak

Squeak the Gecko

He’s a room gecko and most of the time he could be found on our bathroom ceiling. His friend Bubble liked to hide behind the beading around the wardrobe in the bedroom. I had no problem sharing our room with the geckos as they ate some of the mosquitoes that had been eating me. On our last morning though, the daft creature got stuck in our bath, so I rescued him with a glass from the mini-bar and a piece of card.

So was it expensive? Er yes, a round of drinks for four people was €20 to €30, while a bottle of indifferent wine with dinner was €15. Internet connection was €4 for 30 minutes and a room safe cost €3.5 a day.  Our trip was booked through Thomson, more on them later.

Shipscook’s Italian Job – Arrival

The cab arrived at 2am to take us to Gatwick. I think it would be fair to say that Gatwick Airport is my least favourite place on Earth (with Newark and Luton following close behind). Security was remarkably free of incident, but I still managed to have an argument with the idiot waiter in Garfunkels, who was unable to grasp that the correct answer to “I ordered a cheese omelette not scrambled eggs” was not to claim that it was what I had ordered, but to apologise and bring me the damned omelette, which was eventually brought with very bad grace.

Mercifully I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness throughout the flight, before arriving at Naples Airport. I have to admit that I had been dreading our arrival here as the last time we passed through it have been a complete cake and arse party of queues with three flights worth of baggage on one carousel and none on any of the others, this time was fine with just a perfunctory passport check and a relatively easy baggage pick up.

Still knackered after our early morning start I once again drifted in and out of consciousness as we drove along the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento, the blue Mediterranean, sparkling against the mountains it really is a beautiful part of the world. We arrived at the Grand Hotel Capodimonte just in time for lunch, which we enjoyed on the terrace overlooking the incredibly pretty Bay of Naples.

The Bay of Naples from the Bouganvillea Restaurant