Find­ing lunch is the surest test of mar­riage

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Where I ram­ble, Mrs Jones gen­er­ally fol­lows. She suffers teeth­grind­ing, in­de­ci­sive ur­ban dither­ing with ad­mirable sto­icism. In Naples a few weeks back, we had been to mo­men­tous in­laid pietra dura 17th-cen­tury churches, vis­ited the Castel Nuovo and ad­mired the huge Hall of the Ba­roni, named af­ter the par­tic­u­lar ba­roni who got topped in its cav­ernous grandeur. Later, at the San Carlo theatre, we would get to see a pul­sat­ing tenor fight off mos­qui­toes, a bat, a lost seag­ull and six stacked jet lin­ers to belt out “O sole mio”. Right now, how­ever, lunch was the pri­or­ity; it’s why we travel.

Find­ing lunch, on spec, in a for­eign city ranks as the surest test of a mar­riage. My re­li­able Italian res­tau­rant guide was trapped in a Kin­dle, four years out of date. Trip Ad­vi­sor re­quires code-break­ing skills to de­ci­pher its runes. All that is left is in­tu­ition. Years of clump­ing back al­leys have schooled me. I can smell or per­haps spir­i­tu­ally in­tuit, that worth­while, rea­son­ably-priced es­tab­lish­ment, where we will even­tu­ally dis­cover com­pe­tent cook­ing in an in­ven­tive man­ner.

Be­lieve me, Mrs Jones is pa­tient. Even a walk through a Naples road tun­nel in the rush hour had been for­given. We had both now ac­cepted that to cross any road, she had to be pushed ahead straight into traf­fic, be­cause it would only ever stop for the bella figura. But on this great res­tau­rant jour­ney, she fi­nally asked “Isn’t this far enough?” Per­haps it was. Ex­cept that the good im­promptu find is, in­evitably, al­ways just a bit fur­ther on.

“It’s not likely to be on the main drag,” I said. “But we only want a salad…” “It looks more in­ter­est­ing a lit­tle way ahead.” A key dis­crim­i­na­tion.

We had passed the Gal­le­ria Um­berto I shop­ping ar­cade, big enough to hang hun­dreds of ba­roni, and worth a de­tour.

We missed the fa­mous Caffé Gam­bri­nus and only dis­cov­ered its overdec­o­rated charm later, eat­ing ice cream af­ter the tenor’s four en­cores.

By now Naples lunchtime was long past. We were in the Span­ish Quar­ter, mar­vel­ling at the ver­tig­i­nous streets. Scoot­ers ca­reered past, of­ten sport­ing a hus­band and wife in law-abid­ing match­ing hel­mets and a grin­ning tod­dler perched up­right at the han­dle bars with its naked hair fly­ing in the back­stream.

The shops were great: real gritty hard­ware and fruit shops and deep, bloody, ma­cel­le­ria caves. Good sig­ni­fiers. And, yes, at last, there was the per­fect res­tau­rant. Small. Ig­nored. Hand­writ­ten menu. In­gre­di­ents never heard of. Rab­bit in­cluded (heard of, but al­ways telling). It was Mon­day. It was shut.

Back we went to Naples’ great, al­most se­cret, walk­ing street – the Via Chi­aia. My dear, such shops. I guess if you op­er­ate a black econ­omy you have to spend it some­where. Fer­rag­amo, Prada, high-level Ar­mani sham­ing Bond Street for con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion of hand­bags. We were in ex­actly the right area for in­ter­na­tional salad bars crammed with mod­els sniff­ing at crisp­bread.

A friendly wel­come at Pescheria Mat­tiucci

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