The Gannet is very fond of his west London roost, but since every trendy new restaurant seems to be in Shoreditch, a more easterly nest would have prevented innumerable two-hour round trips for lunch. Even Stevie Parle, the former River Café chef whose splendid Dock Kitchen is a ruby in Ladbroke Grove’s dust, has launched his two most recent places in E8 and EC1. The first – Rotorino, in Dalston – has a southern Italian slant, while the menu at his latest – Palatino, near Old Street – is immersed in the cooking of Rome.
It is not a delicate cuisine. Deep-fried artichokes, oxtail stewed with celery and red wine, pasta with cured pig’s cheek and pecorino, risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella… robust, hearty food is Rome’s stock-in-trade.
At first sight, Palatino bears little relation to the trattorias of the Roman Ghetto. Smart, high-ceilinged, with mustard banquettes and an open kitchen, it has a serenity its cheek-by‑jowl Roman cousins lack. But the menu is unmistakably Roman. Parle is proud of his rapport with British suppliers, getting them to grow and rear the produce he needs, but even he has to import pajata, the intestines of an unweaned calf, cheesy with mother’s milk. He serves them with rigatoni, a rich, chilli-spiked tomato sauce and a scattering of pecorino, and it is as good as any you’d find in Rome.
Sourdough toasts are dressed with silky stracciatella, anchovies and slivers of preserved lemons; baked gnocchi alla romana, doused in brown butter and scattered with deep-fried sage leaves, are light, fluffy and soothing; creamy polenta is topped with fragrant, nubbly meatballs fashioned from chicken, pancetta and pistachio. Parle has, cleverly, made Roman food elegant without losing its soul.
Mercifully, 108 Garage, another new-ish opening that looks for all the world like a hip Shoreditch restaurant – bare brick, quirkily lit, with an open kitchen – is only a short stroll from Ladbroke Grove. Chef and co-owner Chris Denney has an arm-length CV – Nahm, Hambleton Hall, Piazza Duomo, The Square, among many others – and a talent for marrying ingredients that you might think wouldn’t even survive a first date.
Roast octopus, paired with wafers of golden turnip and nutty tahini, crackles with char from the oven; agnolotti are stuffed with lamb’s heart and drenched in a swede and dashi broth; an ineffably rich chocolate crémeux arrives with a scoop of Jerusalem artichoke ice cream and the crunch of toasted wild rice.
It is invigorating, exhilarating, playful cooking, plated with a painterly eye: dressed-up food in a dressed-down room, in the same idiom as Lyle’s, The Manor and Dabbous. 108 Garage is one of the most exciting new arrivals on the London restaurant scene; for the exiled gourmets of west London, The Gannet included, it is manna from heaven.