The quiet town of Sorrento has quite the night life past 9 PM, meaning that early tourists and late night locals eat at ristorantes from 6 PM all the way until midnight. The Red Lion, or Il Leone Rosso, is located just off Piazza Tasso, the main plaza in the city, and provides fresh local fare for both parties alike. For a taste of what Sorrento has to offer, travelers need look no further than this.
Located on Via Marziale, The Red Lion is an easily recognizable ristorante. A large electronic sign points the way for visitors from Piazza Tasso, and the restaurant itself has a large white overhang covering the outdoor seating areas. The front of the restaurant belies the huge amount of space indoors, which has “air conditioning”, but really relies on one working air conditioner and a set of fans; it can get hot in there very quickly. Still, the restaurant has a very warm atmosphere, and proves its ability to use fresh local fare by displaying today’s catch in the front entrance.
We were seated very quickly due to arriving at the early (“tourist”-like) time. All of the staff spoke very good English, which was quite impressive; the owner even came out to greet and serve us wine and antipasti. I should mention now that the wine he recommended, a sweet red wine, was simply amazing, with a hint of strawberry added to the taste. But I digress, on to the food!
For starters, we had three dishes: proscuitto di parma with ham and mozarella, an seafood platter, and eggplant parmigiana. The proscuitto was excellent, and with the melon in season, this was the best possible time to have the dish. The mozzarella was also moist and flavorful, and added a good contrast to the powerful taste of the ham. The seafood platter had a mixed bag of octopus on toast, a deep fried fish, and some garlic steamed shrimp. The taste was flavorful and very good; however, the octopus was a bit much for me. We’re not talking sushi style octopus, this was an entire baby octopus, head and all. It was rather strange to me. The final antipasti was my personal favorite, an eggplant that was filled with mozzarella and marinara sauce. The flavors worked very well together, creating the best appetizer of the bunch.
With Sorrento being so close to the ocean, it should come as no surprise that the Red Lion specializes in seafood dishes. All of our main courses were actually seafood dishes: we decided on a lobster linguini, a seafood spaghetti, and a papardelle with mushrooms and shrimp.
The lobster linguini is something of the restaurant’s signature dish, and comes complete with half a lobster and noodles with cherry tomatoes. Very simple, but the boiled lobster packs a lot of taste that makes up most of the dish. The light noodles serves to complement the lobster centerpiece.
The seafood spaghetti is another dish that does not use a tomato sauce, but combines mussels, shrimp, and clams in a garlic broth with noodles and sliced cherry tomatoes. Like the lobster linguini, the noodles take a back seat to the rich flavors of the seafood. The clams have a sweet taste to them, and the garlic broth adds a nice touch to the shellfish. It’s also nice to see the pasta is homemade; unlike store bought pasta, there is quite a bit of substance to them.
The final dish was the papardelle with wild mushrooms and shrimp, which is a good blend of what Sorrento has to offer. The nearby hills provide the funghi, and the shrimp is from the local fishermen. The papardelle is a humongous pasta, but is the correct pasta to use for a dish like this. The rich brown sauce made from mushrooms and the shrimp (again cooked in a sort of garlic broth) works well with the unusually strong taste of the pasta. I actually prefer this to the lobster linguini, and it’s well worth the price of admission.
The Bisticca, or grilled beef steak, is the only non-seafood dish ordered, and again the simplicity of it all delivers a lot of taste. Seasoned with only a bit of oil, some salt, and served alone on a small plate, it’s actually quite a big cut of meat, and if you think about it, is a great buy. I am amazed that nobody even thought of asking for some steak sauce or any sauce whatsoever; it was simply that tasty.
The staff was courteous and nice enough to provide a dessert platter and a shot of limoncello, the local after-dinner favorite. This is an incredibly strong drink made exclusively in Sorrento, and its lemon base gives a strong contrast / fitting end to the dinner. The dessert platter has a mash of all the available desserts at the restaurant, so it’s hard to pinpoint them all. I did like the chocolate mousse and tiramisu, but would avoid the fruit tart in the future. Still, for this being “gratis”, it was a pleasant surprise.
The Red Lion is one of the best restaurants in Sorrento for both tourists and locals alike. Head here for some good seafood dishes, and the occassional meat dish. It’s a good deal, too. Enjoy!
**Easy to find
**Fresh local fare (Gordon Ramsay, eat your heart out)
**Warm, inviting atmosphere
**Fresh fish for 45 Euros? What?
**Seafood antipasti not for the faint of heart
Via Marziale, 25
80067 Sorrento NA, Italy