TWO NEW EAST LONDON ITALIANS WITHIN A SHORT TROT
FROM OLD STREET TUBE STATION
I can’t remember when Bocca di Lupo opened in Archer Street, but I think it must have been around 2009. Writing about it in The Irish Times I said that I had “gone to this restaurant in Archer Street, a thoroughfare so seedy that it could have been named in honour of the literary peer (as distinct from pier) of Weston-super-Mare.”
I went on to say that “this ultra-cool restaurant... has been created by Jacob Kenedy (sic) former head chef of Moro and his business partner, Victor Hugo. (I bet nobody has ever gone "oh you know, that guy at Bocca di Lupo, what's his name...?")
Anyway, Bocca di Lupo is as good as ever and I recommend it almost weekly to people looking for London advice, not just because it’s two minute’s walk from Piccadilly Circus. It was part of the first wave of the new Italians, the antitheses of the trattoria but now here are two of current wave.
Popolo in Shoreditch is not really on the radar at the time of writing (March 2017) but it’s only a matter of time. I liked the small downstairs bar surrounding the open kitchen, the wildly enthusiastic and engaged service and the fact that it takes both inspiration and actual dishes from (mainly) Italy and (a bit of) Spain.
I mean what’s wrong with pan con tomate followed by agnolotti stuffed with veal shoulder and served with porcini butter? I suspect the tomatoes were from Sicily, given that we were at the dawn of Spring, and they were ripe; it was also more a case of bruschetta in reality but who cares? A dish of pappardelle with long-cooked strands of hare meat was brilliantly intense in a lick-the-plate kind of way while scallops with lentils were as delicious to eat in an earthy, shouty kind of way as they were drab to behold. (I didn’t care).
The menu is essentially about sharing which, in this instance, is no hardship.
Popolo, Rivington Street, EC2A 3DU; 0207 729 4299
Nearest tube: Old Street
Palatino is the latest and fifth restaurant from Stevie Parle whom I just missed at Ballymaloe Cookery School when I taught the wine course there. His cooking career started after the certificate course there at The River Café in Hammersmith and his first restaurant was Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove direction (which I heartily recommend).
His Rotorino in Dalston is all about southern Italy rusticity while Palatino in Clerkenwell is essentially about the home cooking of Rome. Gnocchi alla Romana with brown butter, sage and a dusting of Parmesan were ethereal, gossamer things that for once did, indeed, melt on the tongue. Bombolotti (not a pasta you see every day) with Marcella Hazan’s authentically pale ragu were faultless and the aroma of which reminded me powerfully of my first trip to Rome as a boy.
Saltimbocca, properly trimmed, properly cooked but still moist, with the most buttery spinach I think I’ve ever had, was beyond textbook stuff while bream with pine nuts, raisins and vinegar was simple and, basically, Sicily heading north.
I’ll be back for the gelati which look suitably impressive and Roman.
Palatino, 71 Central Street, EC1V 8AB
0203 481 5300
Nearest tube: Old Street