Bella Italia: Positano Here We Come Again

Positano bites deep ... It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.
— John Steinbeck, 1953

"So is this place, like, super famous?"

This year we brought a Chinese crew of three couples, friends of friends, to Positano to share our love of this dazzling, historic and romantic getaway on the Amalfi Coast; and to introduce this lesser-known part of Italy to our well-travelled friends who can pave each step of their air miles in banknotes.

"I'm afraid to inform you that no, this place is not very famous," I told Mr. Hu; "because it's the secret little getaway for those in-the-know."

 The daybeds at Villa Tre Ville, where you skip barefoot across lava-hot sun-baked rocks to jump into the cool sea.

The daybeds at Villa Tre Ville, where you skip barefoot across lava-hot sun-baked rocks to jump into the cool sea.

Sure enough we hung out with a fêted film & television star, whose adorable daughter I taught to make fresh pizza at the new (soon to be officially opened) Villa Tre Ville Beach Club; musicians, deejays, designers, magazine editors and models.

But this is no Ibiza with peacocks strutting around (I eat peacocks for supper, specifically at Mr. Yang's country estate). Despite Positano's glamour and elegance, it's a precious cocoon of pure relaxation, where everyone can take their decorated hats off, breathe deeply and make new friends and family over simple, fresh Italian food with endless glasses of Aperol spritz and chilled white wine. As one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, "This is where God goes on vacation."

 One of endless terrace lookouts from the one and only Villa Tre Ville Positano. Here at the former residence of renowned director & producer Franco Zeffirelli, lush gardens send all types of flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs bursting into life, from the ground up and the sky down -- like these cool beans.

One of endless terrace lookouts from the one and only Villa Tre Ville Positano. Here at the former residence of renowned director & producer Franco Zeffirelli, lush gardens send all types of flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs bursting into life, from the ground up and the sky down -- like these cool beans.

Gorilla Choz and I have established this as our yearly summer getaway, as have many others before us; we met a cool couple who was in their seventh Positano year. But an added bonus for me was to get inspired by simplicity once again.

 The morning harvest of sun-ripened tomatoes at Villa Tre Ville, which we eat every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Villa Tre Ville tend three types of tomatoes: San Marzano, beefsteak and cherry tomatoes, all of them with a flavour that reminds you that tomatoes are fruit.

The morning harvest of sun-ripened tomatoes at Villa Tre Ville, which we eat every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Villa Tre Ville tend three types of tomatoes: San Marzano, beefsteak and cherry tomatoes, all of them with a flavour that reminds you that tomatoes are fruit.

It's not easy working in food, and when the pressure is on, it's tempting to over-complicate things or engineer food products with aesthetics, glam ingredients and profitability in mind. Italy will slap some common sense back into you and wash your muddled apron clean.

The food of the Italian south consists mainly of fresh garden salads, highest quality mozzarella (whose birthplace is in nearby Naples), seafood and grilled vegetables. I think the photos give you a pretty good idea of what it's all about. They ingredients are kept as pure as possible so it's easy to see what each dish contains, simple enough to attempt bringing these flavours to life in your own kitchen, if you can acquire the best-quality ingredients. Bonus: with this Mediterranean diet, we ate like pigs but maintained mermaid figures. I defy you to find a juice cleanse that can pull this off!

Gallery 1 (blue plates): the food at the Villa Tre Ville Beach Club. Clockwise from top left: grilled prawns and scampi (which have more lobster-ish claws, like langoustines); shrimp salad with cucumber, rocket (arugula) and fried baby zucchini; flame-grilled chicken & pork skewers, lamb chops and french fries; mussels in simple marinara with crisp, thinly sliced bread; grilled squid salad on rucola with cucumber and yellow cherry tomatoes; flame-grilled chicken & pork skewers with green and red peppers.

Gallery 2 (white plates): the food at Villa Tre Ville. Clockwise from top left: grilled vegetable tian of aubergine (eggplant), zucchini and tomatoes with piped ricotta cream, fried baby zucchini and black sesame; grilled swordfish with a simple salad of cherry tomatoes and spicy wild rocket; prawns grilled on lemon leaves with garlic herb breadcrumbs and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar; the cotoletta, a Milanese-style thin chicken cutlet breaded and fried, best with a spritzle of fresh lemon juice.

Gallery 3 (above): spaghetti, the food of love, made and served with love at the Villa Tre Ville dining terrace. Top left and right: scampi, mussel and clam spaghetti in a "white" garlic sauce with a pinch of chili; classic clam spaghetti in a "white" sauce of garlic and parsley with a pinch of chili.

Gallery 4 (above): we love (real) pizza. Testing out Villa Tre Ville Beach Club's new seaside pizza oven that uses a wood fire to blister the dough to perfection. Since every pizza is freshly rolled out and made to order, it was like the big kids' Build-a-Bear workshop. Here's our extra-crunchy mussel and clam pizza. Jaykay, the shells stay on in the oven to protect the sweet sweet mussel and clam sweat from the scorching heat of the pizza oven, which gives this pizza so much gorgeous seafood flavour. We were also treated to a perfectly fried meatball in a rich, fruity tomato sauce and a freshly plucked leaf of zesty Greek basil.

Gallery 5 (above): hangovers need to be fed, too; and they have an appetite all their own. Clinical explanation or excuse for all-day snacking? No judgment on that, just mix another drink. Clockwise from top left: cheeses and the typical rustic bread; Gin Mare, a new discovery at Villa Tre Ville -- a refreshing Mediterranean-inspired gin distilled with rosemary, olives and thyme; mozzarella-filled calzone draped over with tissue-thin slices of Parma ham, cherry tomatoes, Parmiggiano cheese and rocket; San Pellegrino sparkling water, the exclusive drink of princesses, fairies and Villa Tre Ville residents ('cause fizzy piss is posh piss); the epic panuzzo sandwich, consisting of pita-style pizza dough sandwiching melted mozzarella, rocket, tomatoes and home-made potato chips (was it that obvious we needed one, chef?); Aperol spritz, a daily sunset ritual.

 If there is a more accurate depiction of Heaven... I demand to see it at the Met.

If there is a more accurate depiction of Heaven... I demand to see it at the Met.