RISTORANTE LA CAPANNINA
I love the island of Capri. I even like the bustle and the noise of the day-trippers who travel from Sorrento and pack the Marina Grande and Capri town until the last ferry leaves in the early evening. But, of course, I like it even better when the crowds have gone and the elegant little streets are left to the residents and to those of us who are staying in the hotels. Then there is the particular pleasure of walking past the jewellers’ shops and the clothing boutiques on the way to a really good dinner. And I know how to make sure that is what awaits me. Indeed, anyone who knows Capri well will direct you to a particular dining room near the town’s main square. It is not exactly an unknown destination, because the likes of Jacqueline Onassis, Dustin Hoffman and Jose Carreras have been seen at its tables. But it has the appearance of being a hidden gem. It is the Ristorante La Capannina.
The name means ‘little house’, so that is what to look for in the maze of pretty alleys which runs from the Piazzetta. What you will find is a small door by a window. Inside you will see that the tables have been carefully set with pink tablecloths and Italesso glasses, and that the waiters in bow ties are ready for the evening’s customers. The appearance is that of a very good and thoroughly traditional Italian restaurant – which is as well, because that is precisely what La Capannina is.
The greeting on this visit was as it always is, welcoming and courteous – for the owners know how to run a happy establishment. They are Antonio and Aurelia De Angelis. I present to you photographs of myself with each of them. (They were taken on different visits – hence my change of clothes.) As the canned music played, I was shown to a corner table, and there settled myself comfortably on the banquette. Normally, I am not a fan of recorded music in a restaurant, but here its jolly rhythms and playful tunes seemed right.
Antonio De Agelis’s father, Francesco, became the chef at the Quisisana Hotel [see separate article] in 1931. Two years later, he opened a trattoria – Savoia – near the Piazzetta, which soon started to enjoy the patronage of the writers who were beginning to flock to Capri – people like Graham Greene. In 1951 the business moved to the present location, and ten years thereafter Antonio and his wife, Aurelia, took over. Now, in turn, they are helped by their own children, Francesco and Renata. So this is truly a family-run restaurant.
But you will know when you look at the wine list that this was no run-of-the-mill trattoria. Its pages contain some very grand bottles, with prices running from 20€ for a Sicilian white to 3,000€ for Mr Gaja’s 1997 Costa Russi. Most of the wines are from Italy, but Francophiles can be reassured that they, too, can quaff well. The following Italian bottles caught my eye: 2012 Tignanello (160€), 2010 Solaia (380€), 2012 Sasscaia (350€) and 2010 Masseto (900€). That ever-reliable white from the house of Antinori, Cervaro della Sala, can be had for 60€.
The food is exactly what you want in this environment: straightforward, based on good ingredients and full of true flavours. There is, of course, lots for the fish-lovers, but we carnivores are also well served. I began with asparagus with butter and parmesan, a dish particularly pleasing for I adore asparagus. Then it was first class pasta. This ravoli alla Caprese was precisely the sort of dish about which people – quite properly – rave. The pasta itself was beautifully soft and the classic combination of cheese and tomato was exactly as it should have been. My main course comprised veal escalopes in a sweet pepper and mushroom sauce, with the most wonderful fried onions. There is something just so satisfying about food as triumphantly traditional as this – when it is well done. Buoyed by nostalgia, I determined on a conclusion which would be an indulgent reminder of my childhood – a dish of lovely meringues, with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce. It brings a smile to my face just to write the words. (Allow 50€-75€ for four courses.)
And smiling was very much the theme of the evening, for this is the sort of restaurant in which it is virtually impossible not to have a good time. Dinner here makes a lovely ending to a perfect day on this beautiful island. In fact, the Ristorante La Capannina reminded me that I do not only love Capri. I also love old-fashioned Italian restaurants.