Impossibly Romantic

by Jesse Stirling

Le Sirenuse – Positano, Italy

John Steinbeck wrote: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you are gone.” Positano was featured in the film “Under The Tuscan Sun” and Mick Jagger crafted “Midnight Rambler” in one of its many cafes. The town itself, perched on a cliff along the legendary Amalfi Coast, is pedestrian-only. The walk down to the Marina Grande winds you through a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and quaint bazaars selling lace, linen, ceramics, jewelry, olive oil, art, limoncello and all things Italian.

High above the hustle and bustle, accessible by car, sits the five-star Le Sirenuse hotel. The property is home to La Sponda, Positano’s finest restaurant, with a recent Michelin star to prove it. The cuisine is based on local, fresh ingredients and inspired by Mediterranean tradition. Sweeping views of the sea take your breath away as city lights twinkle below. Mandolin music floats in the background. The atmosphere is so charming; the service so perfect, the menu so brilliant and the view so magnificent, the experience can only be described as impossibly romantic.

Entering Le Sirenuse, you realize why the hotel has been an international hide-away for decades. Each area expresses its own vibe, from cozy and charming (the lobby) to hip and chic (the open-air Champagne & Oyster Bar). La Sponda restaurant is the crown jewel of the property. Passing through the indoor dining room, four hundred candles cast a seductive glow. We make our way to the grandiose outdoor patio to feast beneath the stars. Overlooking beautiful beaches, castles, cathedrals and ancient cobblestone corridors, you feel on top of the world.

Outside, soft breezes of southern climes gently embrace you. Musicians stroll between tables, while servers sport white coats and black bow ties. The scene is elegant and fancy, yet fun and relaxed at the same time. Scanning tables, you see people dining in dress shirts, in golf shirts and in t-shirts; families laugh together and couples stare longingly into each other’s eyes, savoring the moment. The decor is Grecian and open – lots of white walls with climbing ivy, old fashioned lanterns, big potted lemon trees, bubbling fountains and splashes of yellow and blue ceramic tile. Vincenzo Galani, Matre d’Hotel and Sommelier, warmly greets our party and encourages us to begin our tasting menu.

To stimulate our palates for the culinary journey to come, an aperitif cart rolls by. We sample champagne, rosé champagne and prosecco to awaken our taste buds. The first amuse-bouche is a simple yet flavorful parmesan and pesto creation atop a toasted cracker. The next small bite is a delicate and complex smoked tuna carpaccio with baby cherry tomatoes and cannellini beans lightly seasoned with olive oil, anchovies and salt. It’s now time to dive into the heavenly courses.

Highlights of the gastronomic paradise include: baby squid, tomato, cheese and caper terrine on garlic crouton; exquisite warm codfish soup topped with a poached egg, truffles and potato gnochetti; savory linguini served with clams, pesto zucchini and lemon sauce twirled into an exquisite tower; mild and flaky saffron John Dory, cooked slowly in olive oil at low temperature to give the dish an extra layer of complexity, topped with a crisp baby fennel cone and green tomatoes; Moroccan-styled beef tortelli with a sweet and spicy Genovese sauce consisting of local buffalo ricotta, black truffles and cinnamon; and tender veal sirloin seasoned with the juice of capers, Cetara anchoives and salted baby onions. We conclude with a richly delicious Valrhona Guanaja cake among other sweet treats.

The wine pairings are divine – delicate, dry local white wines with hints of floral notes, bold whites influenced by higher altitude volcanic soil, full-bodied reds and bio-dynamic offerings. The sommelier passionately describes how various wine attributes compliment food qualities. The service is old-school attentive, yet never intrusive. Each course is conveyed with zeal, and lives up to the hype. This is a once in a lifetime experience that you will pay a lot for, and it’s worth every Euro.

We take a moment to visit with Executive Chef Matteo Temperini, who joined Le Sirenuse in 2008. Temperini’s resume reads like a “who’s who” of the culinary world, working with Alain Duchasse in Paris, Alfonso Iaccarino in Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, along with stops at acclaimed restaurants in New York and his native Tuscany. When asked his favorite thing to prepare, Temperini responds, “I have no special dish. The most important thing is the quality of ingredients. I respect the French tradition, but I use less butter and cream. I like a more clean taste, to let the quality of the product shine, and Italy has the best product.” He continues: “I had no choice but to be a chef. My whole life I knew. But a chef is not just about cooking, you also need to organize the whole vision, manage every aspect.” With that, Temperini whisks us on a tour of his spotless kitchen, showing us where they make their own bread and pastries, telling us the proper way to employ copper pots, deservedly proud of every detail necessary to create his full five-star perfection on a nightly basis.

Everything about Positano is fabulous, but Le Sirenuse might be the best part of all. The ambiance is “off the charts” enchanting, relaxed, enjoyable and dreamy. We conclude the dinner feeling special, like royalty, having dined in the most romantic place on earth. The sweet siren song of Le Sirenuse will enchant your taste buds, enhance your love life and enrapture your very soul.