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Torre del Saracino

via Torretta 9 I - 80069 Marina Equa, Vico Equense, Italy

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This restaurant is set directly on the coast in Vico Equense, a little town a few miles from Sorrento. If you are driving here then be aware that the restaurant is reached via a sharp turn off the main coast road between Sorrento and Naples, down a single track road involving a series of hair-pin bends. This can be particularly stressful if, as happened to us, you encounter a delivery truck coming the other way and have to reverse back up the narrow track on to the busy main road in order to let it out. We went in the evening but I imagine that the view at lunch over the Gulf of Naples would be lovely on a sunny day.

The restaurant is built around an ancient watchtower, with an extensive wine cellar opposite the main dining room, and outside seating. The dining room is long and thin, with white walls and floor, and tasteful modern decoration slightly offset by unusually tacky Muzak playing in the dining room ("Strangers in the Night" was not the worst song played). The cuisine of chef Gennaro Esposito emphasises the local seafood, and has some modern touches. A team of ten chefs operate from a fairly small kitchen, on the night of our late season visit looking after seven tables of diners. The restaurant was established in 1992, and stays open for much of the winter (a lot of businesses in this area shut over the winter) usually closing for a month in February.

There was a very lengthy wine list available, strong on Italian choices but with good French choices too. We drank Jermann Capo Martino 2002 (a lesser vintage in Friuli, but Jermann does not make bad wine) at €85 for a wine that will set you back the best part of €50 if you can still find any. Villa Bucci Riserva 2005 was €50 for a wine that costs €31 in the shops. There were some bargains at the high end: Massetto Ornellaia 1998 was listed at €400, yet will cost you €445 retail.

An amuse bouche of courgette cream with warm pumpkin mousse and croutons in a shot glass had good pumpkin flavour, but was not quite warm enough (16/20). Grissini (bread sticks) were made from scratch in the kitchen, and were very good. These were better than a somewhat hard traditional white bread, though the kitchen showed that it could make good bread with a later and different white bread that was light and fluffy (16/20 bread on average).

A further nibble was a locally caught fish, amberjack, served on tomato cream and a light basil sauce. The fish was clearly fresh and nicely timed, the flavour of the tomato and basil both good, a simple but enjoyable dish (17/20). Conchiglioni (pasta shells) were stuffed with salt cod and herring, with courgette puree and anchovy sauce. Although the pasta was good, the effect of the salty anchovy sauce with the salt cod was simply too salty overall (15/20). Much better was rabbit ravioli with caramelised onions, the rabbit having strong flavour, the pasta having good texture and being nicely seasoned, the onions providing a hint of balancing sweetness (18/20).

My tuna with courgette and broccoli was pleasant, but with such a simple dish the quality of the tuna is everything, and while good (locally caught) it did not stack up with the best tuna I have eaten in the Mediterranean, let alone that in Japan (16/20). Red mullet was finely chopped up with spinach, red peppers and courgettes, then formed into a neat rectangular block topped with salad leaves. The effect was that the dish was quite pretty but the taste of the mullet in particular was rather lost, and the dish was also, unfortunately, over-salted (15/20).

The meal stepped up a gear at the dessert stage. First was pre-dessert of excellent mandarin sorbet, with lovely texture and deep mandarin flavour (18/20). Apricot tart was really a millefeuille with a layer of sponge, a crispy biscuit layer sandwiched with cream and chopped apricots. This was garnished with excellent raspberries and (oddly) kiwi fruit, along with red currants and a scoop of dried fig ice cream, the ice cream insufficiently sweet. This was a good dish, the apricots excellent, though the dish was let down a little by the ice cream (17/20).

Much better was a fairly traditional rum baba, served with wild strawberries and creme patissiere rather than Chantilly cream. The baba itself was dazzlingly light, moist from just the right amount of rum, and with excellent strawberries; I have never tasted a lighter rum baba (20/20). Petit fours were also good, including moist almond cake, flaky pastry rolls stuffed with cream, mini mixed fruit tart with superb red fruits and creme patissiere, and an excellent hazelnut macaroon (easily 18/20). Coffee was also really good, and was offered with a vast selection of different chocolates, from 65% up to 100% cocoa content chocolate from a wide array of countries.

Service was excellent, attentive and friendly. The bill came to €118 each, which seemed reasonable to me for food of this quality.

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