Il Commandante – Naples

With the perennial popularity of Italian food worldwide, it seems almost foolhardy to not return to the source and see what the natives are up to these days. One place that is a good option is the romantic and historic city of Naples, an ideal place to combine a city break with a little culinary expedition. More precisely, head for Il Comandante, perched atop the Romeo Hotel with a prime view of the harbour below and bay beyond.

Executive Chef Salvatore Bianco earned his first Michelin star a while ago, so it’s a good time to go and see how it measures up for yourself. One of the most striking differences between Il Commandante and the slew of other lauded contemporary Italian restaurants is notable the minute you walk in. In stark contrast to the painstakingly constructed idea of simplicity and rustic earnestness that many hip, award-winning Italian restaurants try to nurture, Il Commandante is shiny, glitzy and rather showy.

It’s not exactly the cliché of opera, onyx and ormolu that one associates with classic Italian eateries, but it’s not far off. Or, rather, it’s a contemporary reworking of the form. Some might find this off-putting. But, if you have the generosity of spirit to enter into it, you can have a great time. Dress up, be sexy and take in the whole experience. The view alone makes it worth it. Hopefully you’ll be able to get one of the sought-after terrace tables, weather permitting.

This difference in tone and approach follows through in the menu; not so much how it’s constructed, but rather in terms of a tendency towards dramatic presentation. These really are dishes that fit with the tradition of opulent, grand dining. As such, it makes it an ideal choice for a special occasion. This doesn’t mean that dishes are overly rich or heavy; they are apace with the face of contemporary Italian cuisine elsewhere. That almost ubiquitous tasting menu is on offer, for instance.

For the greater part, however, Salvatore Bianco’s menu is a melange of the traditional Italian menu structure (antipasti, pasta, pesce, carne etc.) and a taut à la carte menu that is organised thematically.

But, as soon as you  peruse the menu, the clue as to that Michelin star becomes self-evident. Although it shares the trend towards light, fresh ingredients, there are creations by Bianco that are not all too familiar; not something you’d see on the menu of most upmarket ‘modern Italian’ restaurants.

Take, for example, the delicious starter of cuttlefish with cardamom citrus emulsion,
soy milk and black olives, the pasta option of candy-shaped stuffed pasta with
Provolone del Monaco cheese, spicy pumpkin, Chianina beef bone marrow and tongue
or the thrill of anise-marinated pigeon with hibiscus sauce, pear and creamy liver.

If you prefer to play it slightly safer, you might like a first course of the delicious cannelloni stuffed with ricotta, anchovy mayonnaise and broccoli cream and a hearty main course of pork fillet with carrot, beer and cocoa beans, the new “wonder ingredient” of haute cuisine. Fish and seafood are naturally well represented and there is a tight choice of pasta and risotto dishes that are far more unexpected than the usual classics. Desserts are equally limited, but those who have tried Salvatore’s ‘matcha’ green tea mousse with lemon sponge, raspberry and green soy seldom have any misgivings and the Chocolate sphere with banana mousse and tamarind is likely to keep lovers of the classics very happy, albeit with a new twist.

Naples remains relatively underrated, a working port that never quite gets the profile of the Eternal City with tourists. Those in the know, however, really rate it for many reasons. Il Commandante is yet another reason to discover Naples in 2016.



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