A couple of Sundays ago, I had pizza on my mind. Now, without a local Neapolitan pizza place nearby, I had to turn to nearby Beckenham, the home of Sapore Vero, a traditional pizzeria that was recommended to me by Selina of Taste Mauritius (another Croydon local!). From East Croydon station, we took a tram all the way to Beckenham (TFL zone 4) and found ourselves upon a quiet little high street with a few restaurants. Sapore Vero was tinier than we expected but later on in the night, they opened up the cafe next door as well to customers (I guess they own that too!).

I was thrilled to see that the Italian fizzy water Ferrarelle was on the menu! I like its fine bubbles and it’s difficult to find over here; it was certainly a good start! And we didn’t have to wait too long for our meals from the huge wood burning oven at the front. Blai’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni (£8.65) was delicious, all covered with what was clearly a homemade tomato sauce.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

My Milanese pizza (£12.95) was excellent. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, DOP Nduja sausage from Calabria, aubergines, fresh Italian sausage – a fantastic combination and altogether a delicious Neapolitan-style pizza. Good dough, good toppings.

Pizza Milanese

We couldn’t turn down dessert when we heard that like the rest of their food they were homemade! My order of their homemade tiramisu (£4.95) turned out to be the largest I’d ever been served! It was so huge I could barely finish it. Good stuff though, if a tiny bit dry.

Tiramisu

Blai’s homemade panna cotta (£4.95) turned out to be an entirely more modest affair. But though it was small, it was perfectly set and not too stiff, as some panna cottas can be.

Pannacotta

Excellent pizza in Zone 4, South London then! I’m glad I finally got around to trying Sapore Vero.

Sapore Vero
78 High Street
Beckenham, Kent
BR3 1ED

My Instagram feed probably gave it away but I was in Belgium last week for work. Sadly, the excitement of the novelty of Belgian food has now worn off for me – it was probably the endless chips, dairy and mayo that did it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chips, dairy and mayo but when encountering some combo of the three at almost every meal….well, yeah, I needed a break.

On our last night in Leuven, we were, to our relief, brought to an Italian restaurant. I think I’d been expecting an average Italian restaurant, perhaps catering for the cheap-and-cheerful student population, but what I was not expecting was a brilliant Slow Food restaurant. And that’s exactly what Ristorante Rossi is.

We had all been booked in for their €35 3-course menu; there’s also a 5-course menu, an a la carte option, and occasional themed menus that reflect one particular region in Italy. The restaurant itself is quite small and quaintly decorated with vintage Italian signs and red and white checked tablecloths. On that Thursday night, the place was packed (Leuven, being a university town, has a busier Thursday night than Friday night. On Fridays, the majority of the students go home.) and buzzing, and the food on the surrounding tables looked excellent.

Anyway, first was an amuse of vitello tonnato on crostini. I love that classic combination of creamy tuna sauce with mild and tender veal.

Vittello Tonnato Crostini

Next was a giant pea and cheese arancino sat on a bed of pea puree, drizzled with pesto. This generously-sized ball of fried risotto (about the size of my fist) went down easily and I may have also helped myself to my friend’s unfinished portion. I clearly had no idea of the size of the next few dishes to come.

Pea Arancino with Pea Puree and Pesto

The pasta course was spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with mint. This was fabulous (such an unexpected combination) and I could have gorged on this for my entire meal. But good thing I didn’t. I was again offered my friend’s extra ravioli but I just couldn’t manage anymore, especially when I saw the fish that was to come!

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Mint

Our main course was that fish I saw – I’m not entirely sure of the species but it was a white fish that flaked easily and had been cooked with a delicious crispy skin. This was served with a celeriac puree, a creamy gravy, green beans and to my utter surprise, seared foie gras! And that little blob of dark green in front? A pesto of parsley and pistachio, from what I could gather – gorgeous stuff.

Fish with Foie Gras and Celeriac Puree

Dessert wasn’t included in the menu and I opted to share a massive serving of tiramisu (€6,50). This was gorgeous, with lots of coffee and quite light, just as I like it. Look at those distinct layers!

Tiramisu

I forgot to get a photo of the little squares of chocolate cake that came with coffees and the bill – the two layers had been sandwiched together with cream and Nutella! Dreamy!

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Leuven (not sure if the students from the main university go there!) – our meal (with drinks and desserts) worked out to €50 per head. I definitely recommend it and definitely also recommend making a booking before you go.

Ristorante Rossi
Standonckstraat,2
3000 Leuven
Belgium

I can’t believe this was my first time at Donna Margherita in Clapham – I really do believe I must be the worst and most un-up-to-date of the London food bloggers out there. Whatever. We were there one weekday night as part of a large group from work to try their Neapolitan specialities. At our table, we chose to share a few starters before moving onto mains.

A Neapolitan selection of fried goodies (A’ fritturin) kicked off our meal – I found these even lighter than those I encountered in Naples, and hence enjoyed these greatly. There were potato croquettes, bite sized arancini, fried polenta and fried matchsticks of aubergine and courgette.

A' fritturin

Meatballs (E` purpett) were fine…. sorry, not mindblowing but perfectly fine in a simple tomato sauce.

E` purpett

Finally, a parmigiana di melanzane (A’ parmigian e mulgnan) was silky and cheesy and gorgeous (have you ever encountered a bad version? I haven’t.). I could have had a large portion of this for my main course.

A’ parmigian e mulgnan

Blai and I split two main courses. Porchetta was an innovatively spiral cut bit of tender herbed roast pork belly layered with aubergine puree and served with spinach. I can never turn down a good bit of porchetta and this was indeed a most tender and crispy-edged good bit.

Porchetta

A side of friarielli was just as I remembered it in Naples. The wonderfully bitter green had been braised to melting softness in plenty of garlic, chilli and olive oil.

Friarielli

A pizza Romana was pretty solid but by this point in the meal, we were feeling a bit too full to enjoy it.

Pizza Romana

From what I could see of my colleagues’ dishes, it looked like their pasta dishes were also excellent!

I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of the tiramisu we shared (as usual, we found our second wind for dessert)! As it was already quite late that night (our dishes took quite a while to come out as we were such a large group), there were only a couple of tiramisus left. Our tiramisu was excellent.

At our table, we ended up tucking into our friend’s Tortino di ricotta as well! This was a dense cheese cake that was utterly gorgeous.

Tortino di ricotta

It’s a fun buzzing place with excellent Neapolitan food; I can’t believe I never visited before – actually I had no idea that they served specifically Neapolitan cuisine. There are still a few things on the menu that I’d like to try and I hope to return sooner rather than later!

Donna Margherita
183 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TE

Donna Margherita on Urbanspoon

I had no plans for my birthday and was willing to just let it pass this year with no major event to mark its happening. Work has been busy and it’s been difficult balancing it with any semblance of a social life/blog. My husband wasn’t going to let me get away with that though and booked us into Bocca di Lupo for dinner. I was thrilled! He never really does this kind of thing and he remembered that I’d been wanting to try it for ages. Yes, this was the first time at Bocca di Lupo for both of us and we planned to eat our way through their multi-regional Italian menu.

We each started with a Bloody virgin Sgroppino (£4.00), blood orange granita mixed with fizzy water and we could have drunk this all through dinner if we could have afforded it! Brilliant stuff.

Bloody virgin Sgroppino

The aperitivo, antipasto and primi on the menu were more exciting to me than the secondi and we mainly forcused on those. I’d heard great things about their pasta and we had to try two. The Linguine with the brown meat of spider crabs and tomato (Veneto) (£8.00) had the sweetest tomatoes and very savoury crab meat scattered through.

Linguine with the brown meat of spider crabs and tomato

Ricotta ravioli with broad bean puree and pecorino (Puglia) (£7.00) were tender little parcels of delicious ricotta. Definitely making this one at home.

Ricotta ravioli with broad bean puree and pecorino

What’s a sand eel? was a question that came to mind when ordering the Fried squid, sand eels, courgette and lemon (Veneto) (£9.50). They’re not true eels but long thin skinny fish that are delicious when fried. And what a revelation the fried lemon slices were! They’re wonderfully bitter and refreshing.

Fried squid, sand eels, courgette and lemon

The Artichoke alla giudia (Roma) (£5.00) were smaller than those we had in Rome but they made up for it by giving us two of them. Excellent.

Artichoke alla giudia

As we had filled up with the primi, we kept it quite simple for the secondo. We ordered 200g of Pork neck with honey and rosemary (Toscana) (£8.00 per 200g) to split and also shared a side of Erbette – baby chard with garlic and chilli (Liguria) (£6.50). While the pork was fantastic, the erbette was a bit of a let down, mainly because it had been cooked very authentically in the Italian way – almost boiled to death!

Pork neck with honey and rosemary

Erbette - baby chard wtih garlic and chilli

We went to town on the desserts: we were perched at the bar right in front of the guy putting together desserts and by the time we’d finished our savoury dishes we knew exactly what we wanted for sweets. My Blood orange (sorbet with brulee meringue) (Sicilia) (£4.00) was the frozen orange shell filled with blood orange sorbet and topped with lots of sweet meringue burnished brown. The combination was very good though the meringue could have been a bit less sweet for me.

Blood orange sorbet with meringue

Blai’s Burnt almond granita with bitter chocolate sorbet (BDL) (£7.00) had him in utter raptures. Utter silent raptures. I could barely get his attention while he ate it and he became indignant when I helped myself to more than one taste! No dessert has ever inspired this kind of response from him, so yes, it’s excellent!

Burnt almond granita with bitter chocolate sorbet

After a bit of digestion time, it was decided that we required another dessert to cool us down before leaving (it was a very warm evening). A Blood orange granita with almonds and mint (Sicilia) (£6.50) it would be! Yup, very good…but it can’t top that almond and chocolate combination.

Blood orange granita with almonds and mint

Sure a meal here’s not cheap (and hence why it was only a special occasion that warranted a visit) but it’s excellent. Don’t expect to rock up and get a table though – bookings are recommended at least a week or two in advance. Thank you for a fabulous birthday dinner, Blai!

Bocca di Lupo
12 Archer Street
London W1D 7BB

Bocca Di Lupo on Urbanspoon

I was going to go all out for my last dinner in Ischia – could I get through perhaps four courses: antipasto, primo, secondo, dolce? I was very keen to try one of Ischia’s most famous dishes – Ischian-style rabbit. While one might think that the only food on the island is sea-based, it turns out that rabbit is a popular meat there, with farmers raising them inland. After wandering through Ischia Porto and Ischia Porte for a while, I found Da Raffaele, which was one of the few restaurants that served individual portions of the rabbit. Many other restaurants require one to order an entire bunny in advance. Good, the place looked promising and busy and the restaurant’s location along Via Roma made for some fantastic people watching during my meal.

I started with Brushetta, that famous toast lavished with plenty of olive oil and beautiful tomatoes. I liked that you could order it by the piece here, perfect for the solo diner.

Bruschetta

Pasta time! Linguine alle Vongole was exactly what I wanted. Perfectly al dente pasta with salty clams and sweet tomatoes.

Linguine alle Vongole

And here was my secondo of Coniglio all’Ischitana. Here, portions were stewed with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, chilli, rosemary and parsley. It was delicious if a little freaky when served with its lungs and heart intact!

Coniglio all'Ischitana

I couldn’t fit in any dessert! What a shame – I bet their offerings would have been good!

Ristorante Da Raffaele
Via Roma, 29
Ischia Porto, Ischia
80077 Province of Naples
Italy

The next day, after a slow and leisurely breakfast, I checked out of the hotel, transferred to the ferry port and while waiting for the ferry, I ogled a nearby fruit stand.

Look at those stacks of cherries!

Fruits

What an amazing variety of tomatoes! I wish I could have carried some back with me.

Tomatoes

Anyway, a ferry ride and I was back in Naples. I caught the bus to the airport and then found myself there at lunchtime. Perfect. A Fratelli La Bufala (there are branches of this Neapolitan chain in London too) pre-security was a good choice.

I started with a small plate of the vegetables on display at the front. The tender dark green leaves of the Neapolitan Friarielli saltati were perfect – dark, bitter and so so moreish. Melanzana a funghetto was not with mushrooms as the same may imply but silky soft aubergine cooked with tomatoes.

Friarielli and Melanzane

A Margherita pizza was very good. Sure, it wasn’t da Michele but it was excellent for airport food.

Margherita

Fratelli La Bufala
Viale Fulco Ruffo di Calabria
Aeroporto di Napoli Capodichino
80144 Napoli
Italy

I’ll just quickly mention here how fabulous the food was at Milan Linate airport too, where I changed flights both ways. Are all Italian airports like this? Ah, not just airports I’ve just discovered but also railway stations, highway rest stops and big downtown shopping districts – it’s the Ciao Ristorante! It’s self-service and affordable and the food is very very good indeed. All the airport workers lunching there were a good sign. Here’s some of my lunch on my flight out – bresaola with parmesan and rocket and a fantastic strawberry cake.

That’s it from Italy this time! All my photos from Naples and Ischia can be seen in this Flickr photoset.