Il Grottino (Gourmet Chick in Italy)

Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her best seller, Eat, Pray, Love of her time in Italy “But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?“. My resounding answer to this would be no and especially not when in Italy. A trip to Italy is a lot about the delights that await at each meal.

Chestnut pasta with clams and pesto

I have just got back from a week in Italy starting in the Cinque Terre area, a collection of five villages clinging precariously to sheer cliffs that drop down into sparkling blue ocean. You can walk between the five villages and of course you can also expend a large part of your day eating and drinking. MTV boyfriend and I stayed in Riomaggiore where we discovered Il Grottino a restaurant serving proudly local dishes.

Situated on the main street of Riomaggiore, Il Grottino is a modern restaurant with a large outdoor patio that spills onto the street. The interior of the restaurant is carved into the cliff face which is evident from the exposed rock in the restaurant. On a summer night the restaurant is full although mainly full of tourists. Perhaps the locals are not quite so keen on eating these “typical dishes”. To begin, the blackboard special of stuffed mussels is described as typical of the region. The mussels are stuffed full to bursting with a dense mixture of eggs, parmesan, parsley and breadcrumbs and then placed back in their shells and teamed with a napoli sauce. The mussels are briny and the stuffing adds a welcome texture.

The mains on offer are mainly seafood or pasta. Grilled sea bream is butterflied before serving and as fresh as you would expect from this coastal town although smaller in size than the sea bream on offer at other restaurants in Riomaggiore. A local speciality that I have been told to try is the chestnut taglioni. Chestnuts are used in the freshly made pasta mixture and the taglioni is served with clams and a dollop of pesto sauce. The simplicity of the dish is admirable however it is hard to identify the chestnut flavour in the pasta.

Cheesecake with fresh strawberries

The dessert menu lists classic Italian dishes such as panacotta and tiramisu but it is hard to go past the cheesecake served with fresh strawberries. The cheesecake is served without a biscuit base although I am not sure whether this is typical for the region. A drizzle of an intense strawberry reduction adds sharpness and bite to the creamy cheesecake.

In a simple trattoria such as Il Grottino it is often best to order the house wine which is invariably decent however I ignore my own rule and instead opt for a bottle of Chianti which almost burns as you drink it. I will try not to make that mistake again in a hurry. There are better restaurants along the Cinque Terre than Il Grottino however it does provide an opportunity to sample some regional specialties at very reasonable prices. Meanwhile our search continues for that next lovely meal.

Details: Riomaggiore, Cinqueterre, Italy (Ph 0187 920938)
Damage: Reasonable

If you liked reading this you might like this review of the famous Donna Rosa restaurant on the Amalfi coast.


  1. I haven’t been back to the Cinque Terre since Eurailing in 1999 but would love to return. I remember staying in Riomaggiore and ending up on the same train as Rick Steves (who is generally credited/blamed for putting the Cinque Terre on the tourist map). Did you enjoy the area, generally? I’d heard it gets extremely crowded now.

  2. Hi GC
    Loved this one, we usually drive down the coast road from Genoa & stay at Aulla, which just by passes Riomaggiore, next time we’ll put in a visit, sounds good to me!

  3. We went to the Cinque Terre about two years ago. The best meal we had (we did have a few average ones!) was at a restaurant called Taverna del Capitano in Vernazza. I think it was somewhere near the harbour. Great food, they made their own wine and the service was very authentic!

    Enjoy the Cinque Terre – I thought it was really beautiful and quite unique!

  4. Gourmet Chick- great post. I love Italy and Italian food, eating in little trattoria….excellent. Never heard of Cinque Terre before, I’m going to have to do some investigating now.

  5. I’m sure you’ve been on holiday constantly for the last couple of months! That pasta dish looks so good. How I wish clams were more available to me.

  6. An American in London – I think it got a UNESCO listing around the same time so Rick Steves is not entirely to blame. I really enjoyed it, it was busy but we were there at peak time and once it got to night time the villages were really quite sleepy. As always with travel though I am sure it would have been a very different experience to be there 10 years ago so I am jealous…

    Lesley – Sounds amazing. I have just posted on Dau Cila in the same village which I would probably recommend over Il Grottino partly because of the spectacular views.

    Australian in London – I did not make it to the taverna but really enjoyed Vernazza – such a pretty town.

    Dan – well worth a visit. Lots more posts coming up on the region…

    Lizzie – I know I have had a bit of a travel run recently. Lots of work inbetween though!

  7. Interesting re: its UNESCO listing. I should have clarified that the reason I visited the Cinque Terre in 1999 was because I was carrying around the Rick Steves guidebook, so I’m not sure when he started singing its praises, but it must have been prior to 1999. I was happy to see him on my train because it meant (to me) that the guy actually does (or did) personally revisit the places he recommends in his books.

  8. this place looks amazing

  9. American in London – I think that counts as a genuine celebrity spotting in the travel/foodie world!

    Justin – Cinque Terre was amazing. Highly recommend.

  10. I ate here over my 30th birthday weekend and it was our last evening in Riomaggiore. We were quite happy with the meal and even the picky eaters left enthused about their choices – including anchovies! I’ve linked this post to my blog post about Riomaggiore.

    1. Jen – good to hear -it must be the place for 30ths!

  11. […] Il Grottina – we at here our last evening after skipping it on our first due to the wait (outside, in the rain). This place was worth the wait as we all absolutely LOVED our meals. The link for Il Grottina will take you to a review completed by Gourmet Chick. […]

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