Back in January I told my husband we were going to a fancy restaurant for his birthday and asked him to Google it. ‘Looks good. Hang on, it’s in Italy’… ‘Yes, I’m taking you to Italy for dinner!’ I said smugly, glad that my surprise had been successful. The next day he text me saying he’d been doing some research and found another not-so-fancy restaurant that looked even better than the fancy restaurant I’d chosen. Who says romance is dead?
I’d asked some of my friends about where to go in Italy for a lightening visit in mid-January. Blue Monday to be specific – the most depressing day of the year. I’d toyed with Milan, Pisa and Florence but settled on Naples for two reasons: pizza and Pompei. I will admit that I may have had a tiny ulterior motive to nerd out but I’ve always wanted to go, and Murtie loves Italy so, really, everyone won.
We flew out of Gatwick at 8am on a Sunday morning, arriving in Naples around 10.45am. A sketchy 25 minute taxi ride later we were dropped off in a high-rise residential area, wandering the maze looking for our Airbnb, Lorenzo’s Art Studio. We were greeted by our host, Jeanette, who popped her head out of a first floor window waving and shouting ‘Katty! Welcome!’. She kindly let us leave our bags in the apartment so we could head out and explore, leaving us a key and instructions for how to get in later.
Our first port of call was something to eat, and for two people who hadn’t had breakfast that only meant one thing: Neapolitan pizza. Back home in London I’ve been to a few places ‘inspired’ by Neapolitan pizza, but I’ve always been left disappointed by too much dough.
As we waited for our earmarked restaurant, Insolito La Pizzeria Gourmet, to open at midday we wandered up and down the streets near the Cattedrale di San Gennaro, eyeing up the pastries and sweet treats on display and trying to decipher the graffiti on the buildings. No doubt the owners thought we were a bit weird arriving as soon as they opened, but we were hungry, and English, and on time. We ordered a pizza each – mine a margarita with mozzarella, mushrooms and tomato, Murtie’s with mozzarella, anchovies and capers (they’re the wrong way round in the photo!). We could see the dough being spun and stretched through a window into the kitchen and within 10 minutes two enormous pizzas landed in front of us.
We cut them down the middle, took half each (we’re food sharers, most of the time), and demolished them. As we were nibbling on the last bits of crust a group of 20 Italians came into the restaurant and filled every chair. It was like something out of a sit-com as three generations (we assumed) helped small children and little old ladies cram into any spare seat, including the two at our table. A delightful grey-haired Italian man doffed his cap at me when he sat down, and a stylish lady in a sensibly big coat sat next to Murtie. With zero Italian between us we smiled and made ‘the food is yummy’ faces before leaving the family party we had found ourselves in.
Day 1, 1.30pm
With full stomachs we walked to Piazza Garibaldi to catch the train to Pompei. It took us a little while to decipher the ticket machine but finally bought our tickets for about 5 euro and waited on the platform for our train to arrive. It was a almost a double-decker with a ton of empty seats, and spotless. There’s nothing I love more than staring out the window of a train at the changing landscape and watching the comings and goings of ordinary people getting on and off the train.
The entrance to Pompei is a 20 minute walk from Pompei station and we arrived around 3pm. We bought our tickets and walked around the site for 2.5 hours. I won’t go into detail about Pompei because you just need to go. I can’t believe it’s taken me 29 years to finally go there – a person who grew up religiously watching Time Team, the HBO series Rome, and spending most weekends of my childhood watching oranges flung from ballistas at Rockbourne Roman Villa in Hampshire (100% go there too, it’s awesome).
We had a 40 minute wait for a train after leaving Pompei so we settled in to a bar next to the station called Open Bar. Our drinks came with a tray of nibbles – a custom I think English bars should really get on board with. You can’t beat a bowl of olives and a bag of crisps with your G&T whilst it’s pouring outside.
Our journey back took almost two hours because our train stopped mid-journey… and was promptly cancelled. It was a shame as we had been enjoying the (assumed drunken, perhaps they were high on life) escapades of four Spanish girls who were singing and challenging all the men on board to a salsa dance off. An older gentleman and his partner, who’d clearly been enjoying the entertainment too, kindly explained in broken English that the train had been cancelled and we could get another train from the opposite platform. We all got off the train and the group of Spanish girls, now with two Italian boys in tow, sprinted across the tracks. We were sensible tourists and took the subway, picking up the alternative train.
We were starving by the time we got to the restaurant Murtie had chosen for his birthday dinner, Antichi Sapori Partenopei. We were welcomed as if we’d walked into someone’s home – our host, a friendly Italian lady, asked where we were from, handed us glasses of Prosecco with our menus and read the specials, recommending every single one. An Italian couple next to us joined in giving their recommendations too. A group of tourists from Serbia and Germany took a table in a corner and joined the melee. I slurped my Prosecco and grumbled to Murtie about how much I hate Brexit.
We ordered a starter of salmon carpaccio, which I didn’t take a photo of because we were so hungry (sorry!) and two pasta dishes which were recommended to us: ricotta ravioli with shrimps and chive butter sauce, and courgette spaghetti (served Neapolitan style, which I was told is proper al-dente).
The food was unsurprisingly incredible. Pasta just tastes different in Italy – however I make it or cook it, it’s never the same texture or taste as in Italy. Same for the pizza to be honest, there’s just nothing like it. We finished off our meal with a dessert each – I had a chocolate torte and Murtie had a vanilla berry cheesecake, and both were off the chart.
By this point we’d finished a bottle of red wine made in the vineyards on Mount Vesuvius and 2 glasses of prosecco. We were stuffed, merry and eventually wobbled back to our Airbnb at midnight.
At 8.30am Murtie handed me one of the chocolate pastries gifted to us by our Airbnb host, Jeanette. By 11am we’d eaten the whole box, which was a perfect start to the day. I text Jeanette telling her we were ready to leave and she replied saying ‘We have no guests today, take your time!’. We were so grateful she let us leave our bags so we could wander round Naples before leaving for our flight at 4pm.
We set off in search of more pastries and bought some local delicacies in a bakery called Pintauro. Murtie had a Sfogliatella – a Neapolitan flaky pastry filled with a sweet ricotta filling, and I had a Taralli Napoletani, a savoury round pastry which tasted of rich black pepper and almonds. I finished off Murtie’s Sfogliatella as he said it was too sweet, but it was perfect for my sweet tooth. The bakeries in Naples are amazing and I snapped a few photos of the treats on offer.
Unfortunately the heavens opened around noon and did not stop. We walked to the restaurant Murtie had chosen for lunch and joined the soggy ‘queue’ of people waiting outside. Sorbillo is one of the most popular restaurants in Naples, purportedly serving ‘the best pizza in Naples’ and founded by Gino Sorbillo, the man who introduced Neapolitan pizza to the world. When I say we queued, we stood in a mass of people trying to work out what the queue etiquette was, finally deciding pushing to the front and giving a man with a clipboard our names was the accepted approach.
The wait was only 15 minutes as we’d come after the lunchtime rush. The menu was in Italian, so with a little help from Google Translate we ordered our pizzas with anchovies and mushrooms. Hats off to Sorbillo as the pizza did not disappoint – it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten. As for ‘the best in Naples’ accolade, well, I will have to come back and eat all the other pizzas to be able to decide.
We left Sorbillo around 3pm, our feet still soggy from the rain and in need of something sweet. I found a café nearby that did good hot chocolate according to TripAdvisor, and we arrived at Caffè Ciorfito a few minutes later. We sat down at plastic tables and were served the most amazing coffee and hot chocolate, with complimentary mini pastries and lemon sparkling water.
My hot chocolate was thick and luxurious and I enjoyed every spoonful. I literally had to eat it with a spoon, it was the best.
At 4pm we went back to our Airbnb to pick up our bags. We chatted with Jeanette for 45 minutes about her flat, her son, and coming to Naples from the Philippines. She was absolutely wonderful and I implore you to stay in her Airbnb. It’s one of the best I’ve experienced. Even in the pouring rain she kindly walked us to a cash point and the taxi rank to get to the airport.
We got on the plane feeling absolutely stuffed and content. Despite the weather, Naples was full of character, history and really, really good food. I have no doubt we’ll be back.