Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: Eating out
Tom’s expectations are confounded by the delights he finds at a new Italian arrival
‘Tissue-paper thin’ slices of silken San Daniele prosciutto served with fried two-cheese ravioli
‘New Italian restaurant opens in Notting Hill.’ Seven words guaranteed to fill me with dyspeptic gloom. Because the very last thing this part of town needs is yet another overpriced, underwhelming Italian restaurant. They seem to spring up every other week, fecund with hope, like porcini after the autumn rains. Before withering away, doomed to an eternity of dumb parmigiana, claggy pasta and Kevlar-coated calamari. Up until now, only Assaggi has managed to rise above the mediocre morass.
But Brasseria certainly looks the part, a handsome open-plan room, with flashes of colour, good acoustics and plenty of space. In the day (and it’s open from dawn until dusk, no mean feat in a time of chronic staff shortages) the place is flooded with natural light, while at night, things get a little softer, sultry and more subdued.
Running the front of house is Roberto Veneruzzo, formerly of Locanda Locatelli, and one of the very best. His immaculately dressed presence is a sign they’re taking things seriously. I’ve now been twice, and the food is reliably good, with a menu that flits all over Italy. No regional monogamy here, just old-fashioned crowd pleasers and greatest hits, something for every whim and desire.
OK, so I could do without the guff on the menu about ‘our now famous’ chopped chicken Milanese. Famous where, exactly? While the entry for their Classica pizza asks the question, ‘Tomato and fresh buffalo mozzarella, what more does one need?’ Less chummily cloying chitchat, for a start.
That aside, I like Brasseria very much. Prosciutto, silken and softly piggy, is sliced tissue paper thin, and served with a pecorino and scamorza fried cheese ravioli. I love fried cheese. There are mighty rings of calamari, the splendidly soft flesh wearing a crisp, grease-free batter.
Old-school Italian-American meatballs are all buxom, bada bing, beefy bounce. Bucatini cacio e pepe is gutsily strident, with peppery honk and ovine tang. They cook the pasta properly too, so there’s still bite.
Service is slick and warm, dogs very much welcomed and the room has an easy, unassuming buzz. I’m sure you could linger here too, a long lunch turning into an early dinner. These are, of course, early days, with the Christmas rush still to come. Whisper it quietly, though, but Notting Hill might just have a new Italian that’s well worth shouting about.
About £35 per head. Brasseria, 290 Westbourne Grove, London W11; brasserianottinghill.com
DRINKS: Olly celebrates the return of sherry
The greatest honour of my career was to select and blend the legendary Tio Pepe Palmas range this year with winemaking royalty Antonio Flores. I’ve always loved sherry for its heritage and range of flavours. These fortified wines from southern Spain are back on UK shelves like never before, with every flavour from sweet Pedro Ximenez to dry Manzanilla (wine’s answer to a martini).
WINE OF THE WEEK Tesco Finest Cream Sherry NV (18%), £6. Cracking value! Tastes like liquid mince pies and served chilled is a sweet, spicy festive delight.
Morrisons Fino (15%), £5.25. Britain’s best-value Fino – incredible when served cold and paired with green olives.
Taste the Difference very Sweet Pedro Ximenez (18%), £8, Sainsbury’s. Sweeter than Christmas pudding and just as rich. Serve cool as a sumptuous treat.
Solear Manzanilla 2020 (15%), £10.99, Waitrose. Pristine power with ocean-like salinity, this is bone-dry brilliance. Chill it!
Tio Pepe Una Palma (15.5%), £12.95, thewine society.com. Savoury as well as refreshing, serve cool with nibbles and glimpse how great sherry can be.