Pizzeria Port’Alba is a Neapolitan institution. Laying claim to being the oldest pizzeria in the city and, indeed, the world, it can trace its origin back to 1738 and has been a restaurant since 1830. Because of being an original purveyor of one of the world’s favourite foods, there are a lot of trappings and expectations that come with that. That their wood fired ovens are lined with lava rocks from Mount Vesuvius is part of an identity that ties them to local history and the local landscape. However nice a detail like that might seem, however, or the old history of the pizzeria, it doesn’t necessarily make the food good. So, is it?
Well, the answer is yes, but in a qualified sense. Pizzeria Port’Alba undoubtedly makes a good real Italian pizza in a wood fired oven, but there is very little that really sets it apart from any of the city’s other quality pizzerias. Many of the other diners were from a variety of different countries, obviously drawn in by the fact that this pizzeria’s history set it apart from others. The waiters were obviously used to this and were helpful, combining my simple Italian with their simple English, at least when they weren’t distracted by watching TV soaps.
Professor Plum ordered local favourite, the basil, mozzarella and tomato Margherita discussed on Wednesday, while I indulged my previously mentioned liking for rocket on a pizza with one that combined the peppery salad with Italian ham. In this country, we tend to assume all pizza toppings feature tomato sauce and mozzarella, but while these were a core element of Plum’s dish, mine was simply the rocket and ham on a pizza base. While those elements may have all gone together fine, that does not mean that there was anything amiss with the pizza I was given.
In particular, the bases were a quality dough, well baked in their lava rock lined wood fired oven. Otherwise the toppings were pretty typical. For dessert we both ordered a Torta Caprese, a thick chocolate and almond cake whose origins lie in the island of Capri just across the bay from Naples. The cake tasted very good but was probably a bit of a large portion for something so dense and was served with whipped cream rather than the Neapolitan ice cream that I might have preferred.
In all, Pizzeria Port’Alba provided a pleasant Italian pizza dinner, but not, perhaps, one that might prove particularly special or unique.
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: I struggle to eat a whole pizza myself, but after our first pizzeria experience (a small place opposite the uni, but displaying the punchinello symbol that meant it made pizzas the traditional way) I gathered that the Napolese often leave the crusts, so that’s why I did. Which meant I had space for pudding too! There were a few other people about, mostly tourists like ourselves, and towards the end of the meal it became harder to attract the attention of the waiters because they were watching a soap on the apparently-ubiquitous-in-napolese-restaurants giant telly. The pizzas were slightly nicer than the tiny place we went to on our first night, but not dramatically so, and in general I’d rate this place as pretty average, though worth visiting for the history.