Taverna del Capitano

Piazza delle Sirene (Marina del Cantone), Nerano, Italy

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This restaurant is situated directly on the beach of Marina del Cantone, on the Amalfi Coast, overlooking the Gulf of Salerno, built on the site of a fisherman's cottage. Chef Alfonso Caputo runs the restaurant with his sister, Mariella, who is the sommelier and seemed to look after the front of house. This is a family business, with the current restaurant opening in 1963. Sadly there was no Alfonso present this evening; apparently he was "busy"; clearly too busy to cook for his customers.

The dining room had a wooden floor and our table was just yards from the waves crashing on the beach. There were two tasting menus, at €90 and €110, but we went a la carte. The wine list was extensive, running to over 100 pages, and with a wine cellar opposite the dining room with over 12,000 bottles of wine. The list had plenty of choices at €25, and the Mark-up levels were generally quite kind e.g. Antinori Tignello 2000 was a bargain €90 for a wine with a shop price of €80. Oddly, some of the labeling on the list was incorrect: Opus One 1994 (€700 v retail price of €202) and Montelema Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 (€240 v retail price of €118) wines were listed as Australian, which would come as news to both those Californian winemakers. We drank Jermann Capo Martina 1999 at a fair €80 for a wine that costs at least half that in the shops.

To begin was an amuse-bouche of deep fried aubergine with fresh tomato. The aubergine was fine but the tomato with it was surprisingly tasteless, especially given the quality of the tomatoes that are available in the area (14/20).   Bread was made from scratch, and we began with flat bread and Grissini, followed by rather hard white rolls and brown rolls with fennel seeds (15/20). A starter of red prawns turned out to be the dish of the night. The prawns were large and palpably fresh, wrapped in a thin layer of potato and then fried. These were served with a rather bland red pepper sauce, but the prawns were very good and the fried potato worked well with the prawns (16/20). This was a lot better than a starter of mixed pasta with potato, essentially a base of mash made with cheese, and assorted pieces of pasta on top (13/20).

Things then nose-dived with the arrival of our main course, risotto with langoustines. The risotto in itself was reasonable, with pine nuts and raisins according to the description, though there appeared to be walnuts in addition.  However the rice was not the issue: the problem was the pair of large langoustines with the consistency of cotton wool. These were completely inedible, and there then ensued a debate about the cooking time of langoustines. I was on the side of whatever made them edible, perhaps two minutes tops. The manageress seemed to think that these tragic specimens, which were the consistency of mush, had indeed been cooked for less than two minutes.  If this was really true then either the langoustines were of poor quality to begin with, had been dead for too long prior to serving or had been poorly handled. None of these causes is acceptable in a two Michelin restaurant. We agreed to differ at this point and skipped to dessert.

A pre-dessert of ice cream of prickly pear and rosemary was not to my taste. The two desires we tried were a decent run baba with sour cherries on the side that had far too much rum but was at least moist (15/20). The other was a mix of several chocolate dessert elements.  Best was a milk chocolate ice cream served in a tuile, which was fine. A dark chocolate cake was also pleasant, as was a layered mousse with white and dark chocolate. A bread base with a layer of chocolate sponge had pleasant texture, and a mint and chocolate mousse rounded out an entirely competent dish (16/20).

Coffee had good flavour, served with a range of petit fours that had been made from scratch. The best of these was a biscuit with jam centre and a caramelised orange with dark chocolate, but a sponge was hard and a fairy cake was also too hard, while a mini lemon tart lacked discernible lemon, and a dark chocolate with cream was also much too firm (perhaps 14/20 overall).

Service was, not to put too fine a point on it, poor. There were just three tables taken at dinner, and yet at many points of the evening there were no staff in the dining room. I topped up the water myself. There was some cursory attempt at wine topping up, though pouring a vast measure and then disappearing out the back is not what usually passes for wine service in a Michelin starred restaurant. The bill, with no main course, came to €92 a head, with coffee priced at an ambitious €6.50 per person.

This was a long, long way from two Michelin star food, with even the very best dish around one star level, and many well below this standard. Perhaps the cooking is better when the chef deigns to turn up, but it will be a cold day in hell before I return here to find out.

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