Europeo Mattozzi, Naples: Irish stew and Dutch courage
Review date: October 20, 2014
While I would normally follow my nose and instinct to pick a lunch venue, in Naples I had been indebted to a guy called Arthur Schwarz for a great walking tour he had posted online. He combines his favourite sights with history and culture and, crucially, serious street eats along the way. This entailed a post-breakast arancino, a mid-morning espresso and sfogliatellla and a small pre-lunch gelato to help fuel my wandering through the chaotic city.
Following three wins out of three I also took his advice for lunch and hit up Europeo di Mattozzi. I’m glad I did. On walking in at 1.20 I was the first customer but it quickly filled up with business folks and families alike.
The former took a table behind me where I cheekily eavesdropped their conversation, they being five Italians and one Dutch guy, all suited up. Most memorable in an intriguing cross-cultural European encounter was the Dutchman ordering ‘Grilled fish and a diet coke’ to which one of the Italians said “Sorry no, we don’t have diet coke with fish, only wine”. He was only slightly joking. The second came when the Dutch guy turned down the offer of mozzarella because he was “too full”. The passive-aggressive reply was straight from central casting; “Coming to Naples and not trying the mozzarella is like visiting the Vatican and forgetting to pray”. Quite.
Back on my table I went for ‘Candele spezzato a Mano con ‘Genovese'”, in other words “Maccheroni with caramelized onions, meat, basil and Parmesan’. Little did I know that this was a Neapolitan classic. I’ll never be allowed back into Italy with this comment but the ragu covering the enormous tubes of maccheroni reminded me of an Irish stew, in the best possible way. Meat and onions being ever so slowly melded over gentle heat always works, as the Genovese amply demonstrated.
As I’m never quite sure of the right amount of dishes to order in restaurants in Italy, I also went for a melanzana parmigiana in honour of my wife back in Hong Kong. She would have wept vegetarian tears of joy. Like no other, a lesson again in simplicity, tradition and first class produce, the aubergine and Mozzarella seamlessly entwined.
It was then that I spied a Salone del Gusto poster on their wall – the very reason I was in Italy, the slow food movement. Here it was in glorious technicolor, the very best food at the slowest of slow motion, all local and all in season – as, in an ideal world, it should be.
The waiter twisted my famously rubber arm to try their renowned baba, a huge wedge of sponge which had the density of air, the rum somehow invisible but still everywhere, in every bite. 8/10
Mattozzi Europa is Michelin Guide recommended – not starred – and lunch came in at 44 euros with two glasses of Barolo. In a homely and rustic room, the walls covered in majolica, photos and awards, service was swift and polite.
It’s the impossible list, the reflection of a year of dining experiences which prove, despite everything, that Hong Kong is still one of the world’s greatest restaurant cities. These are not in any order of preference – and there are always some which I will have shamefully neglected or forgotten. Some may say they’re too …