When I visit Ischia (usually over a May bank holiday), I tend to mostly eat at local, typical restaurants to savour my childhood flavours and dishes I so seldom eat otherwise. Yet this year, my family treated me to one of the islands’s top restaurant and indeed, one of Italy’s best food destinations: il Mosaico, two Michelin stars venue within the uber posh Hotel Manzi, in Casamicciola Terme town.
It was my first time here, but my family have been here a couple of times before, hence they had reserved one of the two chef’s tables the restaurant offers. Once past the frankly pretty kitch hotel’s reception area (but oh, so opulent), we walked right through the dining area and into the kitchen, only stopping short of the pass where a table for three had been set up for us. This was a first for me, so much more used I am to British chefs. I did not know much about Nino Di Costanzo, a local chef who has trained with major names (Arzak, Marchesi) and has returned here, his home island, to create an incredible place where traditional flavours are developed and transformed into technically perfect creations.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The first menu we were given was that of the waters (yes, water, around 15 choices); then we were given the wine list (massive tome) and the actual menus where a number of tasting options are available. We chose a la carte, and we were then given the choice of.. olive oil!
Again a first for me, a trolley full of hand picked extra virgin olive oils from all over Italy for tasting. We each picked two oils, individually poured into tasting dishes (dark blue, of course) and offered some freshly baked focaccia bread. A fabulous and original opening to the meal. And at this point, an unbelievable eating journey began. Under the watchful eyes of Nino himself, we were served a number of amuse-bouche, out of which my favourite was probably the tiny but perfectly formed ‘buffalo milk and caviar’, launched a few weeks earlier at the Strade della Mozzarella festival.
|Buffalo milk & caviar|
Also visually stunning was the ‘chef’s smile’, a number of small and intense morcels, which included a ‘liquid parmigiana di melanzane’. After the amouse bouche we thought we would get the starter. Oh no – Nino started sending us dishes from the various tasting menus, served in between actual courses we had ordered. My official starter was a delicate dish made with buffalo meat, buffalo mozzarella and anchovies, while one of the dishes that Nino sent us was probably my absolute favourite of the whole meal: Blackened cod, spices, cooked in an olive oil bath at 65c, with a soft mousse of potatoes and buffalo milk. Incredibly delicate but intense at the same time, laid out on a vivid blue ceramic dish, it will be in my memory for years to come.
My main too – I had ordered the traditionally sounding ‘Paste e patate’. What arrived on my plate was a painting, or maybe a sculpture. Colours, textures, flavours, blended together to give me the obvious memory of my childhood dish but in a completely upside down presentation, which included purple potatoes and 25 types of pasta, all cooked to the same al dente point. A feat and a feast, for sure.
|Paste e patate|
A treat for the eye and the palate. I cannot even begin to describe the other dishes we had, or I would be writing a novel. They were all visually incredible and delightful to eat. Nino was introducing the dishes personally and was so friendly and fun, telling us that the more we asked him to stop, the more he would send more food to us. Busy kitchen but he took the time to joke and chat, which was great and confirms my view that 2* chefs are extremely nice.
He then escorted us downstairs, where there is another large kitchen completely dedicated to pastry and desserts. We were served the pre dessert (tiny tiny ice creams and sorbets shaped like vegetables in a miniveggie box) and then the dessert proper. Echoes of the Fat Duck landed on our table: for the smoker in the family, Nino had sent the ‘No Smoking’, ice creams and ganache shaped like ciggies and fag packets, complete with ‘smoking kills’ header; for the man of the family he had recommended a dessert dedicated to Campania’s most famous apple, Mela Annurca, served on an ipad where a clip on the apple’s history and characteristic, played.
And for me, a shuffle to listen to the eponymous Pino Daniele’s song, and pieces of Napoli’s past and present, served over postcards of the city itself. For a Neapolitan who emigrated 20 years ago, this was a delight. Gorgeous flavours, textures of desserts and playful allusions. Yet it was when Nino invited us to watch a video he made, dedicated, to Napoli, in the next door cinema room that it really hit home and it was pure emotion.
|Napul’e’: Toto’, Maradona, la cuccuma and coffee, munnezza, San Gennaro, spaghetti.|
We took ours seats back at the table for the table side cabinet of petit fours (I could have eaten all, I limited myself to a delicious mini madeleine) and finally, we were accompanied back upstairs to the lounge where the chocolate cabinet was opened for us: damn, there were so many chocolates of so many flavours’ combinations, I could have spent hours there, but after such a meal I could only sadly manage one.
We paid our bill (which came to around 120Euro each inc. wine), we thanked Nino, and we walked back to the fresh air of May, full of food and full of memories. Il Mosaico in an amazing place, run by a passionate and very welcoming chef. I cannot wait for next year’s bank holiday!
Sustainable? I asked about fish provenance, and it’s all locally sourced via day boats (although no info on fishing methods). Most of the other ingredients are sourced regionally from Campania.
Dog friendly? Who knows!
|Matisse? Or raw shrimp, mandarin, passion fruit, ricotta.|
|Chef assembling Il Coniglio dish|
|Bufalo, Bufala, Alici – my starter|
|Semolina risotto, carbonara, squid fettuccine|