Catch of the day

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Catch of the day

Posted from Ischia, Campania, Italy.

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‘Preparazione Al Momento Aperto Pranzo Cena’ read the notice by the door.

Da Assuntina doesn’t exactly invite you in. There isn’t much – any – of the polish, the sharpness, discrete good taste in various shades, the insistent waiter/touts, the menus in Italian, German, English and Russian (ah, there’s a sign of the times) of the more fancied ristorantes and trattorias around Ischia Porto. Assuntina’s is about as far removed as it is possible to be from them.

Inside: plastic tables and chairs, paper table cloths and napkins. Decor: clearly been done on the cheap: tongue and groove paneling; barrel ceiling, as if it had been an old storage area; white and that all-purpose Med blue colour scheme and yards, haphazard wall decorations, and yards of fishermen’s netting with bits of various sea creatures in it, along with a football painted in the Italian colours and a Forza Napoli sign.

And it was rather difficult to tell which of the people eating there were members of the family and which were customers. At a rough guess, family members outnumbered paying customers. There seemed to be a number of mothers at work in the kitchen at the back and a revolving cast of children and grandchildren out front. Papa, a tall, silent man with a certain dignity in spite of having his hair pulled back into a short, grey pony tail and a far-away look in his eyes that can come from excessive use of illicit substances or a stroke, did most of the fetching an carrying.

When I went in it was like a Bateman cartoon – The Tourist Who Came For Lunch At Assunitina’s. There was a perceptible break in the various conversations going on around the room. After that, everyone was careful not to stare.

Lunch? Fish, inevitably. There are some days when I yearn for a chunk of meat, but there wasn’t any point in going to somewhere like Assuntina’s and asking for the meat option. Antipasto: fat, sweet mussels; nice, chewy octopus; fine marinated anchovies with a hint of chilli. Primo piatto: penne all’arrabiata, with the bright, ripe tomatoes just broken and heated by the pasta. Secondo piatto: orate (bream) with green olives and a touch of chilli. Chilli had become a familiar theme. I know this was cooked to order because it took about 20 minutes to arrive. I couldn’t have cared less. The comings and goings, the succession of sexy women, the conversations in 3 acts mixing comedy and tragedy, the sheer range of hand and facial expressions, were quite enough to keep me from minding at all. And when the fish arrived, it was a delight, fresh and firm, the cooking juices and the oil thickened to an emulsion, chunks of nutty salty green olives providing weight and seasoning. Now that was worth waiting for.

And the bill was E32, including 1/4 l of white wine and a bottle of beer. (OK, Assuntina’s is in Trip Advisor, blast it, but I only found out afterwards.)

This was less that half the bill I paid for lunch at Dal Pescatore by the harbour at Sant’Angelo yesterday. E80, by far and away the most I’ve spent on a single meal on this voyage. It would have been more had I not stood firm in the face of vigorous attempts to get me to up my choice of dish.

I’d love to report in the face of these blatant attempts to ravage my bank account that the food was absolute crap, but it wasn’t. It was remarkably good. In spite of being served on a silvered plate, the raw fish selection was pretty damn fine. Admittedly, the oysters weren’t in the same class as those at Bentley’s, but the deep water prawns were fabulous, and the tartar (orate, I think) was immaculate. The zuppa del pescatore after was outstanding – scintillating shellfish, each cooked with absolute precision and served with a particularly pleasure-provoking shellfish-based juice and nice chunks of fried bread. I cleaned up with a text book lemon sorbet, slushy enough to be drunk through a straw. It all added up to as good a fish fest as I’ve eaten since the heady days of Franscesco ‘Perche No?’ Carfagna on Giglio. But at E80, even I was forced to ask myself if it was worth it. And if I have to do that, it probably wasn’t.

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Ristorante da Assuntina, via F. Buonacore 29, 80077 Ischia Porto. Tel: 081982693

Dal Pescatore, Piazzetta Sant’Angelo, 80070 Sant’Angelo, Serrara Fontana. Tel: 0999206