Nestled by the water, I steady myself for a night of fine dining at Indaco on the island of Ischia; a place that defines serenity with its abundance of thermal pools and enchanting history.
Upon entering, I am addressed by first name throughout the evening – a simple gesture which feels as intimate as the setting: pristine white splashes of enormous splayed umbrellas, towering over ivory tables on which flickering candles are gently placed.
The effect of the dazzling white against the rustic stone cliff backdrop, with matching flowers dotted along each entrance, makes for a truly magical setting.
The dulcet tones of Ella Fitzgerald crooning gently is the finishing touch; imparting serenity to solo diners and romance for couples.
Testament to the restaurant’s success, Indaco is fully booked – that too on a Tuesday night, at the end of the bustling summer season.
It seems I’m not the only one dining alone – impressed, I see a whole row of tables set up for those dining solo in the prime spot facing the water, each of them a solo girl traveller like myself. Times are changing!
I am served a local white wine from Ischia called Biancolella, grown in southern Italy. I regret not picking up more bottles of this during my travels.
To start, I am served a range of amuse bouches, comprising everything from a tartlet filled with cheese and smoked aubergine, to a buffala mozzarella cannolo.
On to the first dish – seaweed puff pastry with white prawns and dry tomatoes.
Initially the unique presentation of the dish unsettles me and I am startled for a moment, thinking I have been too eager with the wine and mistakenly ordered a puffer fish.
After prodding gingerly, I am relieved to discover it is made from plastic and is just a prop.
There are just three elements to this dish. The puff pastry has the exact look of an Indian poori without the crispness – more of a wafer-like texture. The tomato is but a thin sliver of skin and the taste of the prawn is evident but not overpowering.
Nothing tastes much like it usually does, if that makes sense – it’s like each ingredient has been carefully prepared to taste like a grown-up version of itself.
The oyster ceviche with flowers throws me for a loop. I know ceviche usually renders everything to silkiness, and admittedly I’ve had most kinds of ceviche except for oyster.
The result is oyster minus the obvious saltiness, with a slight herbal flavour which is frustratingly familiar, yet I’m not able to identify the exact variety.
The texture of the oyster is retained, ending with the requisite slight crunch of a single salt grain. The flowers add a very slight sweetness to the dish with tones of lemongrass. I later discover the herb in the dish is spirulina in oil.
The next dish looks like two fat legs splayed across a flurry of leaves and sawdust.
In actual fact, they’re red prawns from Sicily, resting on a bed of shaved macadamia nuts. Covered in kumquat gel, they hold a tart sweetness, bordering on sour due to the citrus notes.
Next we have dumplings with long green beans, sea scallop, black truffle and cream of marsala wine.
I have a feeling the offering at Indaco will be a far cry from the usual offerings at my local Chinese. I’ve never seen dumplings that look like this, but I’ll go with it.
A single string of pea-green spaghetti sprawls supine across the plate. I take each dumpling and toss it in my mouth to experience it in its entirety; scallop which has soaked up the coarse, earthy flavours with a rough texture from the truffles, chewy from the earth.
The next dish of red potato mousse, Calvisius caviar and noble milk curd aromatised with sea fennel is possibly the fanciest comfort food I’ve eaten.
The slight saltiness from the caviar offsets the sourness from curd and the mushy texture of potato brings a warm, comforting feeling. The whole thing comes across as a luxury version of sour cream with potatoes.
At this stage of the night (two wines down) I welcome the carbs with open arms.
The final course is upon us already – oxtail osso bucco, palm heart and wild strawberries with balsamic vinegar. I’m excited to dig into something hearty for the last course and the osso bucco oxtail is just what I’ve been craving.
I am however, once more taken aback by the presentation. First of all, it looks different to any osso bucco I’ve ever seen – round yes, but these teeny tiny rings encase what looks like miniscule globs of meat.
The sharp sweetness of the strawberry tones down the heaviness of the meat against pasta which is cooked al dente. Not the meaty heftiness I was hoping for, but a pleasant dish nonetheless.
Indaco makes the task of finishing six courses almost effortless, as daunting as the number may seem initially. Each course is typically dainty in size yet powerful in its identity, building on each flavour as one traverses through the menu.
It is the unique lightheartedness of these dishes which summarises the strength of the establishment along with impeccable, warm service amidst a majestic setting.
Indaco is located at Piazza Restituta 1, 80076 Lacco Ameno, Ischia.