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September 1, 2014

Hidden Gems – Don Alfonso 1890

By Zahra Al-Kateb

The Amalfi coast has a range of glorious, if at times scary, coastal drives and gorgeous scenery. Given the number of tourists in the area, dining can be a hit and miss affair, but there is one superb restaurant. A few miles from the coast, in the sleepy village of Sant Agata, and perched on a promontory between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno, lies the fifth generation family-run Don Alfonso 1890, which has held two Michelin stars since 2002.

Alfonso Iaccarino and his son Ernesto run the kitchen, Livia Iaccorino looks after the front of house.  The cooking rooted in the local produce of the area, and the family has worked extensively with artisan suppliers over many years in order to gain access to the best produce.  Many of the ingredients are supplied from a farm, Le Perraciole, a few miles away on the coast near Positano, opposite Capri, which the family established in 1986.

The wine cellar is interesting in itself, and not just because of its 25,000 bottle collection.  The cellar is housed underground in a series of chambers that at their oldest date back to the 15th century. A stone staircase descends down in a series of flights, with wines at each level, until you finally reach an old well, which is now used for ageing cheese.

The tomato focaccia is reason enough to pay this restaurant a visit. It is ethereally light, precisely salted and generously topped with a stunning sauce of tomatoes. These tomatoes are grown on the restaurant’s own farm, the ripest tomatoes picked daily and brought to the restaurant in order to ensure perfect freshness.

Another excellent dish is lobster tempura: generous pieces of very fresh, perfectly cooked lobster inside a light, crisp tempura batter, with lemon, orange and honey sauce on the side, streaks of dark sweet and sour sauce and a julienne of vegetables.

A classic dessert of the region is rum baba. Here the baba, instead of the traditional crème Chantilly and Marsala, is made with a zabaglione made with champagne, resulting in a lighter dish. The family and staff are extremely welcoming and are clearly enthusiastic about the food they are producing. For me, Don Alfonso 1890 is a shining example of Italian cooking. If planning a trip here, bear in mind that the restaurant closes in the winter, usually from November to mid-March.

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