Except perhaps for the flour and a few other ingredients, virtually everything that is prepared in Ravello comes from the surrounding hills or the sea below.
The local produce includes the seafood, the lamb, the chicken, the cheeses, the tomatoes, the eggs, the eggplant, the olives, the olive oil, the vinegar, the herbs, the potatoes, the strawberries, the onions, the peppers, the zucchini, the broccoli, and, of course, the lemons.
In the right hands these simple ingredients yield a bounty of exquisite dishes.
Great cuisines require accomplished restaurants to bring them to perfection, and Ravello offers some of the region’s best, and the meals are often served with stunning views of the Amalfi Coast or the valley that separates Ravello from Scala.
With nearly three dozen restaurants, there are plenty to choose from, so take some time out from sightseeing for a good meal, whether it is lunch at a simple pizzeria or a dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant.
Enjoy the pasta dishes, particularly those prepared with eggplant or any of the local varieties of tomatoes.
For dessert, try a local specialty: the lemon cake. And if you are enjoying a dinner, top it off with an ice-cold glass of limoncello, the local lemon liqueur that has become internationally popular.
Some of the finest — and most expensive — restaurants in Ravello can be found at the high-end hotels.
Rossellini’s, one of Ravello’s most highly-rated restaurants, is located in the Palazzo Avino (formerly known as the Palazzo Sasso). Rossellini’s new chef, Michel Deleo, was born in Campania, but brings considerable international experience to his new position. Prior to joining Rossellini’s, he worked at Le Crillon des Gourmets (2 Michelin Stars) in Paris, the Tantris (3 Michelin Stars) in Munich, at Le Gavroche (2 Michelin Stars) in London, and again in Paris at Le Côte d’Or du Saulieu (3 Michelin Stars) and the Astrance (2 Michelin stars). After returning to Italy Deleo was awarded 1 Michelin star while at the Restaurant Il Buco in Sorrento and later at L’Accanto in Seiano.
The Belmond Hotel Caruso (formerly known as the Hotel Caruso Belvedere) has recruited Mimmo Di Raffaele as its executive chef for its Belvedere Restaurant. Before coming to Ravello, he began his career working in Cortina d’Ampezzo and Porto Cervo. Subsequently, he opened the “Marino alla Scala” restaurant in Milan with designer Nicola Trussardi, and then worked at the Hotel Eden in Rome where he became the sous chef to Enrico Derflingher, best known as a personal chef to Queen Elizabeth II. He relies on local produce, instinct, and inspiration to create new dishes that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. Regarded as a rising culinary star, celebrities like Pierce Brosnan describe him as “extraordinary”.
The Hotel Villa Cimbrone, which opened a few years ago as a five-star hotel, offers a new restaurant, Il Flauto di Pan, which received a star in Michelin’s 2013 guidebook. The restaurant uses organically grown produce, innovative flavors, and spicy Eastern aromas to create highly distinctive Mediterranean cuisine.
For more affordable hotel dining, you might want to try the Villa Maria’s restaurant, which combines great food and spectacular views of the Mediterranean. After dark, you can gaze out across the valley at the lights of Pantone.
For simpler, more economical dining there are plenty of wonderful restaurants to choose from. If you want a spectacular view of the Mediterranean and friendly service, don’t miss the Villa Amore’s restaurant. A short walk off the path that leads to the Villa Cimbrone, it is often overlooked by tourists, but it is popular with the locals.
Located about a hundred meters from Ravello’s main square, the Piazza Vescovado, Cumpa’ Cosimo does not offer any views, but it is exceedingly popular with the locals, and for very good reasons: it is a friendly, family owned restaurant that serves simple Neapolitan cuisine at its finest.
But if you require a good view of the valley and are longing for thin-sliced, Neapolitian pizza, try La Vecchia Cantina, which also serves wonderful salads and simple pasta dishes.
If your interest in Neapolitan cuisine extends beyond consumption to its preparation, Ravello offers two popular cooking schools.
Ravello’s most celebrated and experienced chef doesn’t cook for a hotel or a restaurant.
She’s Agata Lima, a lifelong resident of Ravello, who now runs her own cooking school out of her ancestral home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
She started her career as a young child cooking for an American heiress living in Ravello. It was there that she got a chance to cook for the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini and such Hollywood celebrities as Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Anita Ekberg.
In 1953, after he tasted her now famous lemon cake, Humphrey Bogart dubbed her “Baby Agata”.
Affectionately known today as “Mamma Agata”, she runs a popular cooking school with her husband Salvatore, her daughter Chiara, and her son-in-law, Gennaro.
Mamma Agata has her own cookbook, featuring traditional Italian dishes prepared in a “simple and genuine” way, and she also sells her special brand of pasta, olive oil, and other Neapolitan specialties.
For those who want to get a more hands-on cooking experience, there’s nothing like a cooking class with experienced chefs and gastronomic experts.
In addition to providing special insights into the history and secrets of Neapolitan cuisine, the school helps participants prepare a variety of local specialties, including antipasti, first and second courses, side dishes, and desserts.
Classes generally begin in the organic gardens of the Villa Maria, where the students have an opportunity to pick fresh produce, while enjoying the magnificent views afforded by the gardens. [If you’re in the gardens don’t miss the small chapel, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, that is carved into the nearby rocks.]
In addition to tourists and amateur chefs, the Nonna Orsola Cooking School attracts professional chefs from around the world who want to learn more about Neapolitan cuisine.
Robert Walker, a lawyer, economist, and consultant who has worked in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years, is the author of Discovering Ravello, a short booklet on the history and attractions of Ravello. He and his wife, Chris Apel, first visited Ravello nearly 25 years ago, and have been frequent visitors ever since. His wife is an award winning artist who recently created a website (www.discoveringravello.com) to showcase her paintings of Ravello. He and his wife both lecture on Ravello. They live in Alexandria, Virginia.
...not to be missed!