Trattoria Da Armandino - A Review
Trattoria Da Armandino - A Review
“La Bella Cilentana!” “Ah, the beautiful girl from Cilento” shrieks the relentlessly charming Armandino as he greets us for the third time in three days. His mischievous grin is persistent, only interrupted to entertain guests with wit and charisma on tap, completely free of charge. Dining on the Amalfi coast seemed to largely be an expensive story of silver service, white tablecloths and lifeless personalities. Armandino washes his hands with this, delivering the classic trattoria style of affordable, simple and personable dining that seems so scarcely available in this part of Campania. Located in the most idyllic little cove on Praiano’s secluded beach, diners at Armandino are treated to the stifled sound of the waves, interchanging with upbeat conversation and laughter. Trattoria Da Armandino is a world away from the serious and pretentious atmosphere that pervades much of the Amalfi coast, and is the reason we were not alone in gravitating there time after time for just one more taste of Amandino’s hospitality.
It’s 12pm on the dot. We have been sat basking in the sun for a good hour, our stomachs warming up as we gaze impatiently towards Trattoria Da Armandino. Without further a due, we launch ourselves the miniscule distance from the beach to Armandino’s doors to be greeted as the first customers of the day. Clearly slightly too keen, it appears we have interrupted the end of Armandino’s family luncheon. One of the youngsters is tucking into a steak, while the majority of the family take turns in passing round the biggest pot of pasta I’ve ever seen. Armandino is at the head of the table, smiling away in his usual spirited fashion. Of course our disturbance is no imposition to Armandino. After all, he treats all his diners like family, so our being there raises no eyebrows whatsoever. As time goes on, Praiano beach is gradually deserted by hungry holidaymakers. It’s 12:30pm, and Trattoria Da Armandino is full to the brim.
Different regions of Italy celebrate and showcase their own shapes of pasta, and Campania is no different. From the very large tubes of paccheri that kind of look like rigatoni on steroids, to the ribbon shaped mafalde - Campania is home to some of the less accessible shapes that you cannot find easily in the UK. I regrettably didn’t get try Naple’s calamarata; the clue being in the name, this shape mimics squid rings and is sometimes dyed with ink. One shape that I certainly wasn’t deprived of was Amalfi Coast originating scialitielli. As seen in the picture, scialitielli is like a thick fettucine and features in pretty much every restaurant along the Amalfi Coast. Trattoria Da Armandino makes a fresh batch of scialitielli at the point of ordering, and accordinglly asks patience of diners. Perfeclty cooked al dente scialitielli arrives around thirty minutes later, paired with the freshest salty clams, peppery rocket and silky extra virgin olive oil. By far - this dish was the simplest take on scialitielli I’d had on the Amalfi Coast, a world away from the bravely elaborate and underwhelming version I sampled in Amalfi that featured sichuan pepper and cuttlefish. Armandino’s scialitielli takes things back to the good old basics, relying solely on fresh, simple local produce and putting them at the disposal of a devoted Italian chef.
After exclusively eating seafood for nearly two weeks, I was starting to crave meat. But stubbornly I chose to continue eating regionally, finding the perfect compromise by ordering swordfish for my secondi. Meatier than most fish, it arrives grilled to perfection and pink in the middle - just how i like my steak. Not especially delicate for fish, but light enough that there was room for dolce. Plus there was no way we were going to turn dessert down when freshly made Amalfi lemon cake was on offer. It arrives bursting with intense lemony citrus, but is brilliantly balanced with sweetness. The sponge is so airy that the fork glides through, and within a matter of minutes it is no more. While the decision to share was in the interest of balance, sitting here thinking about this cake now makes me somewhat regret not devouring a whole slice to myself.
There seems to be a theme amongst some of my favourite restaurant experiences in Italy. They are all run by elderly people, who should be enjoying their retirement, yet intead choose to continue dedicating their lives to food. But that’s the thing. This is, more often than not, a question of choice. And they most certainly are enjoying themselves. These people have a genuine passion for food and have never perceived running a restaurant as ‘work’. In Armandino’s case - running a restaurant doesn’t appear to remotely resemble the gruelling demands of work, nor is it believable that his fixated smile could be anything other than a reflection of enjoyment. I can’t imagine retirement gets any better for an Italian than being surrounded by family and food.