Glittering turquoise waters, candid rocks drowning into the waters, the scent of lavender in the air. And perched daintily on the shore, a neat row of perfect little tables laden with paper-thin slices of tuna ham and melon, platefuls of swordfish salad with tomatoes and mustard and trembling dark chocolate mousses subtly enriched with olive oil.
Few countries can rival the combination of jaw-dropping seascape and extraordinary cuisine that you can find in Italy. From Sanremo in Liguria — home to the celebrated Paolo and Barbara and the delicious local shrimps they serve tartare style — to Carloforte, in Sardinia — where Da Nicolo serves the freshest tuna in every possible manner—every stretch of coastline has its own gastronomic gem. Even limiting yourself only to the most acclaimed restaurants, it would still take years to visit them all. It is, of course, a worthy endeavour to attempt. But if you are short on time, here are three of the best places to taste, breathe and see the sea the Italian way.
Clandestino Susci Bar, Portonovo, Le Marche
Le Marche’s northern coastline is a gourmet’s paradise. Haute cuisine purists will head to Senigallia for the double delights of Uliassi and La Madonnina del Pescatore, undoubtedly two of the best restaurants in Italy. But if it is the combination of views and great food that you are after, the place to go is a lavender-scented corner of the Riviera del Conero, the Portonovo bay.
Here Moreno Cedroni (of La Madonnina del Pescatore) runs his susci bar in the summer, a fish restaurant overlooking the Conero’s turquoise waters and pure white rocks.
Mind you, calling Clandestino a fish restaurant is utterly inadequate, almost as much as calling it a beach shack. Though it has a bit of both, Clandestino really is its own creature, a susci bar where the mis-spelling of the word sushi is deliberate because, as Cedroni says, here, the classic Japanese dish is reinterpreted the Italian way with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, aromatic herbs, anchovy brine and Carnaroli rice.
Like the bar’s name and concept, Clandestino’s food is highly innovative (which means it isn’t to everyone’s taste). Cedroni is equally capable of serving delicious cheese on toast (except that the cheese is smoked provola and it comes with courgettes and salmon), as he is of conjuring an imaginative ‘fucsia susci’ (tuna dressed with beets and pomegranade).
All this comes seasoned with soft music, crystalline waters and, in the evening, a memorable sunset. The only drawback is the price, which predictably hits the restaurant, rather than the beach shack, end of the scale. For more information and to book a table, visit www.morenocedroni.it and select Clandestino. Open only in summer.
Clandestino Susci Bar, Baia di Portonovo, +39 071 801 422
Torre del Saracino, Marina d’Equa, Campania
Sea, food and history come marvellously together at the Torre del Saracino, one of Southern Italy’s best restaurants. La Torre in question is an ancient watchtower—once an Anjou bulwark against the many Saracen raids that threatened this coastline—which overlooks the deep blue waters, pretty harbour and whimsical rocks of Marina di Equa.
In this idyllic setting, Gennaro Esposito — a local boy turned great chef who, unlike many others, has remained loyal to his land, its views and its flavours—cooks up extraordinary meals, which have earned him praise from critics far and wide (two Michelin stars and three forks from the Gambero Rosso guide, to name just two).
From his idea to combine the freshest local fish, cheese and vegetables, and keep their aromas as intact as possible, come intense bombs of flavour like John Dory with aubergine couscous, chilli honey and shellfish, prawn soup with buffalo mozzarella ravioli and tomato extract, or Esposito’s signature dish, ricotta soup with red mullet fillets.
It is a feast for the palate that is accompanied by great wines and ends with fabulous desserts or local cheeses. Well worth the trip—but if you can’t make it, Esposito publishes a monthly recipe for you to try at home (on www.torredelsaracino.com where you can also book a table at the restaurant).
Torre del Saracino, Via Torretta 9, Marina d’Equa, +39 081 802 8555
Il Pellicano, Porto Ercole, Tuscany
Perched high on a hillside, Il Pellicano, in Porto Ercole, has, quite simply, one of the best views in Tuscany. A sapphire sea laps jagged cliffs green with trees and shrubs. The odd boat lolls in the water, and tall cypresses soar high above the beach. Miraculously, the food matches all this.
The plates here are so beautiful they threaten to steal the scene — it is worth ordering anything with asparagus just for the sculptural perfection of their arrangement — but that’s just to prime the palate for the gustatory treats in store. Chef Antonio Guida creates a modern Italian cuisine that is at the same time flavoursome and delicate, creative and down to earth, from fresh ingredients sourced from small local producers.
So you’ll find ravioli — but they are filled with robiola cheese, salsify and Macadamia nut. A simple steamed cod fillet is flavoured with soya sauce, spring onions and herbs from the restaurant’s own vegetable garden. And the traditional Tuscan lamb is spiced with Indian vadouvan and enriched with creamed wheat, and Swiss chard stuffed with lemon-scented aubergines.
If you have ever looked at hotel restaurants with a wary eye, Il Pellicano will reconcile you with them. Granted, the bill may make you want to jump from the highest cliff, but this is a once in a lifetime experience. For more information and to book online, visit www.pellicanohotel.com.
Il Pellicano, Sbarcatello, Porto Ercole, +39 0564 833 418