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The best restaurants in Italy

You could spend a lifetime in Italy and never tire of the cuisine. From Rome to Capri and everywhere in between, here’s how to take the culinary pulse of this food-obsessed country, writes Maria Pasquale.

Rome

While the Italian capital is a complex union of architecture and culture, its cuisine is remarkably pared back and no fuss.

Also called cucina povera, Roman fare is known for its simplicity and use of just a few top quality ingredients. Think twice-fried artichokes (carciofi alla giudia) and piles of pasta: amatriciana, with a rich tomato sauce; guanciale (pork cheek) and Pecorino Romano; carbonara, which has a creamy sauce made with guanciale, eggs, black pepper and Pecorino; and cacio e pepe.

Where to eat in Rome: My first stop to try these Roman favourites is always Roscioli Salumeria con Cucina, Armando al Pantheon or Da Enzo al 29. You can’t go wrong.

Innovative restaurants in Rome

When you’re done with the rustic and traditional, Rome has more than its fair share of innovative and fine-dining establishments.

The hottest place in town for pizza is the award-winning Seu Illuminati, where Pier Daniele Seu turns classic tastes on their head. Here you’ll find anything from liquorice, cocoa and coffee to tuna tartare and white truffle on your pizza.

For contemporary dining in the city’s prettiest garden, let female-run Pianostrada delight the senses with its soft and salty focaccia, baked daily and topped with things like prosciutto and figs.

And then book Retrobottega for some of Rome’s most cutting-edge and sustainable cuisine, inspired by the owners’ regular trips to the countryside to forage for ingredients including wild asparagus and herbs.

Sustainable cuisine at Rome's Retrobottega
Sustainable cuisine at Rome's Retrobottega

Ristorante All’Oro

Ristorante All’Oro, with its one Michelin star, is where fine dining and Roman cuisine collide. Riccardo Di Giacinto plays with local recipes and reinvents and serves them in a fun and surprising way. Like his riassunto di carbonara: a creamy instalment of the classic served in an eggshell.

Giuseppe di Iorio Aroma

The unobstructed view of the Colosseum is enough to convince anyone that a meal at Giuseppe di Iorio’s Aroma on the Palazzo Manfredi rooftop is worth it. The refined tasting menu has you sampling classic Italian dishes like risotto, carpaccio and ravioli.

Amazing Italian cuisine beyond the capital

Italy’s dynamic history and eco-climates mean dining on cous cous in the south, strudel in the north and a whole lot of regional takes on pizza and pasta in the middle. Only here can you be dining in an olive grove one day and a lemon grove the next. Or in a vineyard, castle, grand piazza or in the shadow of an imposing or ancient monument.

Start off close to the Italian capital on the Lazio coast. Here, the Cesar at La Posta Vecchia offers up a seasonal feast at the hands of chef Antonio Magliulo, who curates his own vegetable garden that is the menu’s centrepiece. Think pesto with fresh basil, parmigiana with homegrown eggplant, or Caprese with just-plucked heirloom tomatoes.

The Cesar - La Posta Vecchia italy
The Cesar - La Posta Vecchia © La Posta Vecchia

Ristorante Reale

From the green heart of Italy, Abruzzo chef Niko Romito now makes headlines wherever he sets foot – from Shanghai to Dubai and beyond. His celebrated three-Michelin-star Reale occupies a former 16th-century monastery and is pure pleasure, with a focus on transforming stellar ingredients – particularly organic vegetables – into works of edible art. There’s even an on-site laboratory where his team experiment with culinary concepts while you watch.

Hotel Il Pellicano

Old-world glamour meets contemporary chic at Hotel Il Pellicano on the Tuscan coast, where chef Michelino Gioia has more than earned his Michelin star. His outstanding menu is guided by the land, the seasons and local artisanal producers. Inventive flavour combinations include Orbetello eel and soy sauce, and oysters with foie gras.

Hotel Il Pellicano
Hotel Il Pellicano

Querceto di Castellina

Imagine entering a Tuscan vineyard complete with a never-ending dining table adorned with flowers and illuminated with fairy lights. That’s just part of the experience at Querceto di Castellina in the hills of Chianti. Dishes are cucina rustica – think chicken alla Diavola or arista (roast pork) – and the wines, as expected, are exceptional.

St Hubertus

The mountains take on new meaning at St Hubertus, with its coveted three Michelin stars. Here, in the Dolomites, chef Norbert Niederkofler creates inventive alpine cuisine using produce like mountain pine, juniper, flowers and obscure spices.

Desserts at St Hubertus Italy
Desserts at St Hubertus © Alex Moling
St Hubertus: best restaurants in Italy
St Hubertus © Alex Moling

Best restaurants in the south of Italy

In Puglia’s picturesque Polignano a Mare, Grotta Palazzese is probably Italy’s most photographed restaurant, and not just because the food is standout – also because the location is breathtaking. Built into a grotto, the ambience here almost outshines dishes delivered on tasting menus.

Il Riccio

On the island that has long been the playground of the rich and the famous, Capri’s Il Riccio is a casual cliff-edge seafood restaurant with a beach club and a Michelin star. Kick off with raw scampi and oysters atop ice-filled bowls, and end in the room of temptation – a neverending parade of desserts.

Il Riccio Capri
Il Riccio in Capri © Alberto Blasetti

La Sponda

Since the 1950s, La Sponda at Positano’s famous Le Sirenuse hotel has been the romantic backdrop for proposals and dinners for two. The mesmerising view, says chef Gennaro Russo, is full of stories – so, too, is his menu and the prized produce of his land, particularly lemons, tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.

La Sponda Positano
La Sponda Positano

Villa Treville

There are also many tales to be told by the old walls of Villa Treville, the former Positano home of Franco Zeffirelli, Italy’s celebrated opera and film director. Dining out on the maestro’s terrace, you can’t help but feel the presence of greatness.

Amalfi Coast

In Vietri sul Mare along the Amalfi Coast, new fine-dining restaurant Volta del Fuenti is inspired by the Campania region and is where chef Michele De Blasio expresses his contemporary creativity with historical influences. His menu excites with anchovy, algae and bergamot risotto, and a unique cold spaghetti with oysters and black pork.

Volta del Fuenti, Amalfi Coast, Italy
Volta del Fuenti © Stefano Scala

Villa Igiea

On the western point, Rocco Forte’s sophisticated Villa Igiea in Palermo is a former seaside villa turned luxury hotel with an outstanding selection of places to wine and dine. Follow the lead of locals and dip your brioche into almond granita, cool down in their ruin-enveloped swimming pool, have a swanky terrace apéritif and then dine on prized pink Mazara prawns.

Villa Igiea
Villa Igiea, Palermo

Country calling at Ristorante Cavallino

Emilia Romagna is the region where fast cars and slow food meet, and Cavallino in Maranello – a collaboration between one of the world’s best chefs, Massimo Bottura, and Ferrari – is one for the history books. In the town where Ferrari was born and in a sleek space inspired by Italy’s most iconic car, dine on Bottura’s creative Emilian delights like crème caramel made with Parmigiano Reggiano.

La Terrazza

Further north along the Italian riviera, take in the sights and sounds of the glamorous Portofino harbour at La Terrazza. Sitting within the legendary Belmond Splendido, the chic locale showcases classic Ligurian seafood fare and a selection of chef Corrado Corti’s signature dishes including his interpretation of trofie al pesto.

Gio’s Restaurant & Terrace

And then to Venice, where a meal at Gio’s Restaurant & Terrace on the Grand Canal might go down as one of your most unforgettable travel moments. Dine on Venetian classics like baccala`-stuffed pasta or the sardines in saor sauce. Then sit back and enjoy the show at this magical outdoor terrace and garden space that is a tastemaker’s delight

Gio’s Restaurant & Terrace Venice
Gio’s Restaurant & Terrace Venice

This article originally appeared in volume 42 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

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