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The Galleria Principe di Napoli’s beautiful arcades and art-deco ceiling made of iron and glass – built in the second half of the 19th century at the site of an ancient grain storehouse – stood silent for long time. Once a buzzing commercial and cultural hub in the heart of the city, with two of its three wings connecting the National Archaeological Museum to the Academy of Fine Arts, the Galleria was confiscated during the Fascist era and used to project propaganda films, shutting down its shops and venues. In the eighties, it was used for public offices for a time before it was left abandoned. Recently, though, the space has been brought to life, thanks to a call for bids and a handful of businesses that took on the challenge, such as a bike shop, a B&B and the lovely Lazzarelle Bistrot, among others.

The Galleria’s latest addition, ScottoJonno, has literally revived a unique piece of local history. The original ScottoJonno first opened in 1883, created by entrepreneur Vicenzo Scotto Jonno – from the small island of Procida, off of the Gulf of Naples – in the wake of the local success of a type of venue known as the café chantant. A flamboyant symbol of Paris’s Belle Époque, the cafés chantants were lively cultural establishments with a focus on music and theater. They found fertile ground in Naples, mixing French allure with Naples’s peculiar local zest and dramatic bent, giving birth to a quintessential tradition based on a lighthearted atmosphere, joyful music and a bit of piquancy. Soon, this style of venue – a cheerful alternative to more serious places of culture such as theaters – became the most popular hangouts for the local bourgeois searching for casual, unbridled entertainment, and contributed to the Golden Age of the Canzone Napoletana (Neapolitan song).

In April 2023, ScottoJonno’s doors – some of which still bare signs from the space’s previous function as Council Treasury – opened again, matching the original spirit of the place with cultural projects, mixology and seriously good food.

Local entrepreneur Luca Iannuzzi took this project on, beginning with a painstaking renovation of the interior in which he and his team restored and recovered many of the space’s beautiful features – such as the original walls, plasterwork and Art Nouveau balusters – which had been hidden or painted over during its time as treasury.

Iannuzzi enlisted chef Marco Ambrosino to supervise the menu concept and ScottoJonno’s diverse team, which brings together many young talents from Naples and beyond. Ambrosino was also born in Procida, and returned home to Naples after a stint in Milan at bistro 28 Posti. His culinary skills go hand-in-hand with a deep anthropological interest towards Mediterranean cultures and a relentless search for flavors and traditions – the perfect person to lead ScottoJonno.

The new ScottoJonno is still in the process of defining its menu, which will stretch from breakfast to late-night every day. Regardless, its soul is already apparent: deeply rooted in the city’s heritage of food, culture, art and folklore, but with an unbounded contemporary feel.

On Saturdays and Sundays the place opens at 9 a.m. with an original breakfast: instead of the typical croissants and pastries, they bake their own interpretations, such as the strummolo (a laminated roll whose shape is reminiscent of a spinning top), or the sumac bun, which updates the ubiquitous Nordic cinnamon bun with the Mediterranean spice. ScottoJonno’s coffee follows the strong Neapolitan tradition of espresso, though a choice of filter coffees will be available soon, too, along the already present teas and infusions. Savory options skip eggs and bacon to instead pay tribute to the local institution of the casaduoglio (a simple shop selling mainly cheese and oil), offering an assortment of mozzarella and ricotta, matured cheeses, cold cuts and fish preserves, all of which can also fill the strummoli and buns.

From noon to midnight (and from 6 p.m. during weekdays, at the moment), the menu flips expectations by not including pasta. “I know this causes a bit of bewilderment, but we decided to create a real bistro,” Ambrosino says. “But people are getting used to this and appreciate our offer.”

Bypassing the traditional Italian meal based on antipasti, primi and secondi (starters, pasta dishes, main courses), the menu features a small number of dishes which – starting with their names, linked to local legends and characters – aim to tell stories about the history of the city. Colapesce (the catch of the day with sumac ponzu sauce and Mediterranean olive oil) refers to the legendary child who, skipping school to go swimming, was turned into a fish by his mother’s curse and disappeared into the sea. Ostricaro Fisico (an oyster with sweet papaccelle pepper juice, garlic and oregano oil, and olives) is a nod to the once-thriving oyster farming in the area, and takes its name from the fake “noble” title that the king of Naples granted to a local fisherman and oyster seller who was able supply him with his favorite food for a special dinner.

Geneve offers an unusual take on genovese, the essential Neapolitan pasta dish with its intense meat and onion sauce. Yet, again, no pasta here, but rather chicken in genovese sauce, burnt herb olive oil and crispy Provolone del Monaco cheese. “There’s no certain origin for the recipe and its name, so I took inspiration from the one I enjoy the most,” Ambrosino explains. “A Swiss ship called Genève was docked at Naples’s harbor in quarantine; when the pantry ran out of supplies, they started cooking what was left onboard: a soup of onions and bones. The recipe eventually arrived on land and was appreciated by local people who misread Genève as Genova, and called the dish genovese.”

A similar spirit permeates the drink list, supervised by renowned bartender Dom Carella, who comes to ScottoJonno from the bar Carico in Milan. Here, his superb list of spirits and classic cocktails are flanked by inventive signature drinks such as the San Gennaro (gin, fermented blueberries, bitter, pomegranate vermouth, buffalo butter) dedicated to the city’s patron saint; La Strega del Vesuvio (“Vesuvius’s witch”: Scotch Whisky, gin, celery and piennolo tomato cordial, coffee liqueur and marigold bitter); or Fontane delle Zizze (re-distilled pisco with jasmine, pear cordial and soda), inspired by the fountain of Spinacorona, also nicknamed the “boobs fountain,” where a siren extinguishes the fire of Vesuvius with the water gushing from her breast.

At the new ScottoJonno, patrons are invited to uncover the city’s stories beyond the table as well: scattered throughout the different halls where high ceilings and balustrades, Liberty décor and bizarre details transport you to the 19th century, perhaps half-hidden behind a plant or a chair, small QR codes can be found which link to the tales of more Neapolitan legends and traditions. Soon, music scholars from the nearby conservatory will bring back live music in the halls of the former café chantant where many artists found their springboard in the past. Those willing to delve even further into the city’s culture and history can consult the restaurant’s extensive library – a collection of over 1,800 books in Italian and English (and even searchable through a downloadable app), offering yet another way to find out more about the arts, poetry, philosophy – and legends – of Naples.

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Luciana SquadrilliGianni Cipriano and Sara Smarrazzo

Published on June 26, 2023

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