RISTORANTE IL RICCIO, CAPRI PALACE HOTEL
I like the idea of eating on the sea, but I am such a land-lubber that I fear that the reality of comestibles when I am not on terra firma always proves a little too much for me. Still, I do sometimes get quite close. On Capri I dined at a charming restaurant which really did make me feel that I was on a (very, very stable) boat – and it was a delight. The Ristrante Il Riccio is next to the island’s famous Blue Grotto, and an indication of the establishment’s closeness to the swirling waters is the fact that guests can arrive not only by land but also by sea – at the restaurant’s own jetty. I, ever cautious, chose the former, having taken the shuttle ‘bus from the Capri Palace Hotel, the luxurious hostelry of which the Beach Club Il Riccio forms a separate part.
The seven minute drive from the hotel was pleasant, for it was along lanes bordered by the manicured gardens, full of palms and exotic flora, of the grand villas which inhabit this part of Capri. Having alighted, I was led slowly – for I am careful with steps nowadays – down the pathway to my destination. And, once inside, my sense of the sea was very strong indeed – not only because the building was perched right on the edge of the cliff, but also because its abundance of wooden tables and chairs painted blue somehow suggested that I had reached Neptune’s cave.
Settled in one of the chairs, I noted the jolly canned music (by the popular group Abba), the good Schott glassware and the kindly attentiveness of the waiters in black (particularly the splendid Giovanni). But most of all I was captivated by the panorama before me. The glowing orange ball of the sun was sinking gently behind the island of Ischia and the lights of distant Naples were beginning to assert themselves as the darkness crept in. If this view were all Il Riccio had given me, the journey would have been worthwhile. But, of course, it was not. Along with the beauty of the setting came a jolly good meal.
It is no surprise that the talented chef, Salvatore Elefante, applies his bountiful talent to the bounty of the sea. One result was that he provided me with perhaps the finest dish I have ever eaten on Capri. This was a magnificent turbot, baked in a salt crust and served by the side of the table. The flesh of this fish was so succulent and so full of delicate but profound flavour that I was quite overcome with admiration for the culinary talent of the young Neapolitan chef. With what I regarded as a masterpiece I had excellent baked potatoes – and declined the offered accompaniments of mussels and clams (which do not agree with me). This was my main course. To begin my dinner, I had enjoyed some precisely seared sea scallops, the sweetness of which had been carefully balanced by the slight bitterness of artichokes (puréed, fried and fresh). Then I had tucked into good Caprese style ravioli with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil – a simple dish, well-executed and delicious.
The dessert brought a bit of peripatetic excitement. For Il Riccio has a Pudding Room, and each guest is invited to pay a visit to select what delights should be brought to the table to end the meal. I had never encountered such a chamber before. But, I thought, at least it demonstrates that I am still capable of locomotion at this stage of the evening. Inside were lots and lots of goodies – truly, this was a version of kiddies’ Paradise – and I was sorely tempted to over-indulge. After much pursing of the lips, I selected Anacapri tart (with almond, white chocolate and lemon), a rum baba with red fruit coulis and slice of apple pie with peach coulis. And it was the last which dazzled me. It was such a lovely, luscious pie and my choice of peach coulis to go with it must have been inspired by the gods of gastronomy. (This dinner of four courses cost 126€.)
The wine list has around 120 offerings. Apart from the champagnes, most are from Italy, although the exceptions include a tempting Puligny Montrachet (Combettes, Etienne Sauzet, 2005 - 310€) and the reliable New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Cloudy Bay (2012 - 45€). Prices run from 25€ for a red from Campania to 440€ for 2004 Cristal champagne. Super Tuscans include 2009 Sasscaia (255€), 2002 Solaia (180€), 2008 Tignanello (180€) and 2004 Ornellaia (180€). From my own drinking, I can commend to you one of the cheaper bottles, a local white with intriguing notes of kiwi fruit and melon (Taburno Coda di Volpe, 2012) for just 26€.
This restaurant is as delightful a place for lunch or dinner as you will find. The food is good – indeed, it can rise to the very highest levels – the service is charming and the setting is quite remarkable. Indeed, I now realize that I no longer need to daydream about eating at sea. I can keep my feet on the ground and go to Il Riccio.