Book Review - ALFONSO

Wednesday, 25 February, 2004
Jos Baker
The flavours of Italy captured in a cookbook from a Michelin-starred restaurant

You’ll find Don Alfonso 1890 at the toe of the Italian boot. And it fits snugly into the tip of the gourmet pyramid.

Those who have experienced the food at this Michelin-starred restaurant (I’m one of that privileged band) share a smug insider’s delight. Those who have yet to make the pilgrimage to Sant’Agata to experience inspired Mediterranean cuisine, can now enjoy the recipes at home. For Alfonso Iccarino (grandson of the founder) has compiled a covetable cookbook, rich in family history.

Available in English, Alfonso’s is a paean to freshness and flavour, celebrating Mediterranean tradition, skilfully updated for today’s taste. Food is neither is overwrought nor over-garnished. Its appeal lies in the creative pairing of fresh seasonal ingredients, each flavour distinct, yet contributing to the whole. ‘Just as fine wine is made in the vineyard, great cooking is grown in the field,’ maintains the master chef. And then, ‘It’s a question of proportion, attention, love – and timing – like everything else in life.’

Sadly, readers will miss out on the warm, embracing hospitality of the Iccarino clan, whose enthusiasm permeates the pages. Nor will they taste those dew-fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit picked twice-daily at the family farm at the point of the Sorrento peninsula, opposite Capri.

The island shimmers across the water, centrepoint of a breathtaking blue vista. I know. I made the precipitous journey down the mountainside to the joyously organic companion plantings of fruit and olive trees, plump peppers and riotous aubergines – which then made their appearance at lunch and degustazione dinners that set my tastebuds singing.

I left the wine choice to the sommelier, who matched each course to distinctive, regional wines, a hint of salt testifying to the maritime location of the vineyards.

Not that the wine selection is limited to Italy. The multi-levelled restaurant cellar – descending vertically through centuries of excavation to a Roman tunnel in the hillside – holds a treasure-trove of bottles from the winemaking world. Suitably cobwebbed and at a perfect, constant temperature.

Having sampled dishes featured in the cookbook in Italy, and then reproduced them back home, I can testify that the recipes work and are well within the scope of enthusiastic amateurs – though I confess my presentation fell lamentably short of the originals and alluring full-page photographs.

The book is a flip-through coffee table delight. Buy it and try it. You’ll convert to the Alfonso slant on Italian cuisine.

(Published by Bibliotheca Culinaria, 61,97 Euros plus 20 Euros for shipping. Order through