Italy: home of pizza, pasta, fancy breads and all kinds of other wheat-based delights. Sounds like a coeliac’s nightmare, right? Wrong. Of all the countries I have travelled to since I had to begin eating gluten free, this Mediterranean destination is, by far, the one in which I have had least trouble finding me-friendly food. Albeit the story may be slightly different if you go to smaller towns and villages, but in cities at least, you’ll find a number of restaurants that cater to coeliacs; as well as a huge variety a gluten free foods in supermarkets.
My most recent Italian adventure took me to the stunning area of Sorrento and the island of Capri, and the gluten free offerings here most definitely did not disappoint. From fresh fish and salads to cheesy pasta and risotto, here are some of my favourite discoveries from my trip.
Situated near a couple of Sorrento’s main squares and the main shopping streets, this restaurant offers quite a few gluten free dishes. Head up the front stairs and you’re greeted by a huge seating area; if you can, try and get a table at the front on the pretty balcony overlooking the street. The staff totally understood coeliac requirements and were able to point out on the menu what was suitable for me to have.
While we waited, they bought out some bread, including a plate of separate gf bread for me (always nice to have), which I followed with the parmigiana melenzane and a caprese side salad for main. A really good sized portion, the tomato sauce in the melenzane was thick and rich, while the aubergine was cooked perfectly – plus, there was plenty of melted mozzarella in there, which came out wonderfully stringy.
About a 7 minute walk away from the town centre and tucked up a little side street in a garden setting (although they have a large indoor seating area, too), this eatery is definitely worth a making the short stroll for. Their website says that they ‘specialise in gluten free cuisine’ and they weren’t lying – their menu was so extensive and coeliac friendly, I barely knew where to start. However, I couldn’t go to Italy without having at least one pizza, and all on Villa Rubinacci’s menu can be made gluten free – obviously, I was sold.
After much deliberation, I went for a margherita topped with parma ham, and when it arrived, I wasn’t disappointed. Not only was it HUGE, but there was an abundance of cheese on top and giant slices of delicious ham covering it all. The base was good, too – thick and with a good crisp, without being hard and inedible. All in all, a definite success!
We Love Puro
They love Puro… I love Puro… Basically, Puro is great and was one of my favourite finds in Sorrento. While predominantly a gelateria, they also serve various drinks and coffees, as well as sandwiches and paninis (although not gf) and salads (some of which are gf). Staff are able to tell you which gelato flavours are coeliac-friendly (I became obsessed with the Stracciatella), and you can have it in a tub rather than a cone. The gelato here is so unbelievably smooth and creamy that it’s incredibly difficult to resist going straight in for the giant tub size each time, plus it’s all very reasonably priced, which makes it even harder.
Of the salads on offer, again staff are easily able to advise which are suitable. They’re all a very decent size for the cost, and you can have them to eat in or take away, too. My favourite had a base of peppery rocket leaves topped with big cubes of mozzarella, parma ham and pecan nuts, but their parmesan with roasted aubergine salad was delicious also. Combine delicious food along with a relaxed and cool atmosphere (hello, giant wooden swings), and you’ll understand why I was so taken with it!
From the outside, Fauno looks like the ultimate tourist trap: set on the edge of one of the main piazzas, with lots of outside seating and curbside staff trying to lure passers by through the doors. However, behind all this is a restaurant with a rather decent and separate gluten free menu, that has a variety of choices – from pizza and pasta to fresh fish and meat. A note on the menu denotes that some gluten free items will be cooked from frozen (namely the pizza and pasta); however, I imagine this is also the case in some other restaurants – they just don’t admit to it!
Either way, I had the ravioli stuffed with ricotta and topped with tomato sauce and basil, and I’d never have guessed it had been in the freezer – the pasta had a great, soft texture and tasted fabulous. Alongside, I was given several long gf crostini sticks and a large bread roll – which was genuinely one of the best gluten free rolls I’ve ever had. Not the most authentic meal I’ve had in Italy, but it was a quick pit stop before we left for the airport and did the trick (especially as service was very fast).
This traditional restaurant sits on the corner of two quaint alley streets and has an entrance on both, so if you accidentally miss it the first time, you’re sure to find it a few seconds later! There’s a separate couple of pages with gluten free dishes inside the menu, so lots to choose from for all three courses. To start, I settled on my favourite – a Caprese salad. Rather hilariously (though I was somewhat less amused at the time), I was presented with two small slices of mozzarella sandwiched layered between two slices of tomato – not quite what I had been aiming for!
For my main, I had been particularly delighted to see gf gnocchi, as I hadn’t spotted it at any other restaurant we’d visited in Sorrento. The bowl that arrived in front of me was huge, and the little dumpling balls were wonderfully soft and squidgy – not too floury or sticky as I’ve found some other gf gnocchi’s can be. However, the tomato sauce, paired with the large amount of cheese in the dish as well as the pile of grated Parmesan that my waiter piled on the top (despite my asking him not to), made the whole thing very rich and I didn’t manage to finish. A shame, as it tasted great – but if I’d made a return visit then I’d probably go for something less rich/carb-heavy.
Hotel Rivage Restaurant
I stumbled across this restaurant one night on a detour walk back to my hotel and, upon seeing their menu clearly marked with gluten free options, decided to go in. Situated on a hill overlooking the town, this eatery has great views, so try and get a table at the front if you can. Menu-wise, there was plenty on offer that I was able to eat, and I went for pasta with salmon and a creamy sauce, while my boyfriend chose a giant tuna salad.
The fusilli was very good, with a nice texture and bite – not too soft, but not al dente either; while there was plenty of salmon topping and the sauce was creamy without being too rich and sickly. I’ll be honest, the service wasn’t the best – the waitress seemed more inclined to flirt outrageously with the gentleman at the table next to us – but if you’re looking for very reasonably priced food with decent portions, then it’s worth stopping by.
I’ll say this from the start: eating here is definitely not a cheap option. However, when it comes to quality of food, service and setting, everything about this restaurant is first class. Tables are set outside in a stunning courtyard with gorgeous views, and from the moment we sat down, our waiter struck the perfect balance – he could not have been more attentive when necessary, but knew when to leave us alone to enjoy our meal. He was easily able to tell me which dishes on the menu were suitable for coeliacs and bought out for me four slices of the most deliciously fluffy gluten free bread alongside separate oil and balsamic dipping pots so there was no cross contamination from the regular bread my partner was served.
With fairly high prices for each course we just went for a main, and I ordered pan seared cod with tomato sauce and basil. When it arrived I was a bit taken aback at the small size of the portion (thank goodness for the bread to fill me up beforehand), but at Villa Margherita you’re paying for quality, not quantity – and in this case I cannot fault it. The outside was lightly crisped, while inside was genuinely the most beautifully fresh, flaky fish I have ever eaten. Ever. The smaller amount of tomato sauce it was served on was perfect, as otherwise it’s rich, full flavour would have completely overwhelmed the fish. They say the best things come in small packages, and Villa Margherita is testament to this!
There are several supermarkets dotted around Sorrento and Capri, all of which have plenty of gluten free snacks to help fight those hunger pangs. There’s a great variety of trusty ol’ Schar products to be found, including some chocolate chip cookies that I became a tiny bit obsessed with. There’s also another Italian gf brand called Zero Grano which offers some nice treats too, including these chocolate-filled wafers that are packed up in pairs – perfect for popping in your bag when you’re out and about.
A few other restaurants I discovered serve gluten free food but didn’t get a chance to visit…
Ristorante La Fenice: ristorantelafenicesorrento.com
Artis Domus: artisdomusrelais.it
Ristorante Donna Sofia: ristorantedonnasofia.com
Il Convivio: ristorantedonnasofia.com
Ristorante Bagni Sant’Anna: ristorantebagnisantanna.com
Ristorante Fuoro: ristorantefuoro.com