The Gannet is not a green-fingered bird. I will happily snip a bay leaf to flavour a casserole; aside from that, sipping a chilly glass of wine while languidly contemplating a herbaceous border is the limit of my horticultural endeavours. Everything in my garden is rosé.
Fortunately, there are top restaurants supplied with the freshest of ingredients by talented gardeners who cultivate superb produce in the unlikeliest of terrains. On a recent trip to the Sorrento Peninsula, I came across two such places.
The Cinque family’s San Pietro di Positano, perched on a rocky outcrop two miles east of the famously vertiginous town, is an extraordinary place, with a lift carved into the rocks to take guests from lobby to shore; or, as I did, you might stroll down the garden path, through spectacular terraces that seem to hang from the cliff face in wondrously Babylonian fashion.
At the hotel’s Zass restaurant, chef Alois Vanlangenaeker makes full use of this bounty. There can’t be many Michelin-starred restaurants with the audacity to have waiters in white dinner jackets serve diners slices of pizza at the start of dinner, but when the tomatoes and the mozzarella are as fine as these, it is a joy: my bouche was thoroughly amused.
Then a cluster of discs of raw and cooked vegetables, sprigs of herbs and salad leaves, all sparklingly fresh, dressed with a sauce made with Parmesan and spinach; then a lemon-scented fillet of John Dory, croutons adding crunch, pale green ribbons of leek lending colour to a painterly plate of food. Puddings – I had a raspberry millefoglie that sparkled with gold leaf – are supremely indulgent.
You can find consummate hospitality in a seemingly inhospitable landscape on Capri too. The organic gardens at the palatial Caesar Augustus in Anacapri – again, implausibly terraced into limestone – inspire Eduardo Vuolo, head chef of the hotel’s Terrazza di Lucullo restaurant, to create dishes that reflect both his immediate surroundings and a wider Italian aesthetic.
There is lightly cooked spinach simply draped across a plate, for instance, with bitter herbs and lemon zest; wobbly, just‑set eggs with a spear of asparagus, asparagus cream and the gentle hazelnut aroma of scorzone truffle; a luscious broth crammed with the chopped stalks, flesh and flowers of courgettes; then the firm flesh of ricciola (amberjack), cleverly matched with the bitterness of cime di rapa (peppery turnip tops) and a sweet garlic purée.
That such splendid food, at both San Pietro di Positano and Caesar Augustus, is served on lofty, opulent terraces with matchless views over the ocean adds immeasurably to the experience, but it is the fruit of the rustic, fertile terraces beneath that adds a unique, intense savour to each chef’s dishes: haute cuisine, indeed.