Thursday, 17 October 2013
Restaurant review: Trullo, Highbury Corner
I seem to have been pigeonholed for birthday presents. After a wonderful lunch at The Corner Room a few weeks ago, I found myself on the receiving end of another birthday meal. I’m certainly not complaining though, and excitingly this time, the choice was ours.
Scrolling through Twitter every day I read about swathes of exciting restaurants, and this combined with being generally indecisive, caused a problem. I have a long list of places that I have been dearly wanting to visit for ages. I had a lot to think about. Was it going to be a poshy yet scrimpy lunch at a famous restaurant in town or something a little more relaxing? The St. John, The Empress in Victoria Park and even a return to the excellent Hawksmoor were all flying through my head. But in the end it turned out to be a much more local affair.
Trullo was always an excellent choice. I love going out to Italian restaurants. The small, bustley and intimate nature of the ones close to my home are always full of family atmosphere and have housed many memorable nights. I get to sit down and eat a pizza as big as my head and sup on limoncello. What more could you want? This is all well and good, but I yearned for an Italian experience a step up. A feast of small antipasti, a taste of pasta followed by a chunk of meat or fish; food made famous by the much lauded yet back-breakingly expensive River Café. I’ll get there one day, but for this occasion, the menu at Trullo fitted the same mould.
I often walk past on my way home from work and am always impressed. A small space, decorated minimally yet tastefully. Always packed. So it was exciting to finally be walking through the doors with intent. The ground floor was crammed with tables full of laughter, chat and clinking of glasses. I really wanted a piece of that action, so I felt slightly deflated when we lead down the stairs. Basement dining areas are often an afterthought; damp, gloomy and hastily converted to accommodate a few extra tables at the expense of the diner’s experience. But I was pleasantly surprised as we were ushered into a little alcove in a room full of the good kind of character. In the same vicinity a lady was eating pasta at ease, with just a book for company. Cannonbury ladies gossiped on another table, whilst a young couple were discovering that one another had hands. Staff were shirted, mustached and casual, and contrary to some online reports, friendly and attentive throughout. Up for a joke yet only present just when needed. Perfect.
I have to admit that I was slightly daunted by the wine list, sorry, wine book. I was also too stubborn and silly to ask for a recommendation. So good old reliable prosecco it was, which was bone dry and refreshing. But it would have been good to explore this further, and how they work with the food. The menu itself was short and confident, with just a couple of choices for each section. Absolutely everything looked amazing.
First was a brace of figs, roasted to melting and oozing gorgonzola. Rocket salads have become a cliché, but the sweet fruit, tangy cheese and peppery leaves were the perfect start. Two small plates then signaled the primi course, and what I had been most excited about; the pasta. I often make it fresh at home, and it’s just about my favourite thing to eat. My beautifully al-dente pappardelle came with fall apart beef shin ragu that tasted like the best Bolognese sauce you can imagine. I was a happy bunny. Katie went for the pumpkin and sage ravioli, which again tasted glorious.
In normal circumstance that would be it; a heavy bowl of pasta, then home carrying a groaning and content stomach straight to bed. But we were just halfway through. As per usual, my eyes went straight for the fish, in this instance a roasted piece of hake bathing amongst clams, mussels and chickpeas. Like the pasta it could so easily have been stodgy, but again it combined bold flavour and lightness. I’m a sucker for a fish stew and this one was bang on. Lightness is something that could not be said for Katie’s pork chop. There were a few sharp apples and buttery potatoes on the plate, but really it was all about the impressive chargrilled piece of pig. I haven’t eaten much recently that has brought back vivid childhood memories, but I may as well have been sitting on a checkered rug eating a fragrantly marinated piece of meat that my dad had just plucked from the barbeque. Fancy food step aside, this was big, rustic and delicious food.
As the figs were the perfect start, the little panna cotta that sat wobbling between us was a dreamy end. The distinction between it and a French crème caramel may have been slight, but with slightly bitter caramel and vanilla-packed, unctuous cream I couldn’t give a damn.
You know when you’ve had one of those special dining experiences when you leave with that contented silence. There was no rushed over-analysis of every minute detail. There were no minute details. Everything we ate was delicious. Seriously delicious. A shrewd critic might have judged the slightly limp ravioli, the simplicity or rough presentation of the pork. But what Trullo achieved was so much better. The food and setting harmonised and flooded nostalgia, even to a Midlander without an Italian bone in his body. You can have your trendy-yet-bare hotel restaurants with micro herbs and puree smears. This is food that I will always want to eat.