Paesan Restaurant, Farringdon, London, 4/5

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Cucina povera means ‘poor/poverty kitchen’, and this restaurant specialises in traditional Italian ‘peasant food’. If I was reviewing food and service this place would get full marks. So when I have to mark them down for very small (but crucial) martini points it makes me feel bad. I even added a subjective point to this rating – because they make their own in-house olive-infused gin. They had run out when I got there, which was obviously devastating, and I only found out about it following detailed gin enquiries via one of their lovely, helpful employees. This gin is not on the menu and it’s made by their in-house ‘witch’ (La Strega) – their words, not mine. Furthermore, the olive gin is kept in the fridge, so at least it would be nice and cool for a martini.

All this restaurant needs to do for maximum points is keep the gin and martini glasses in the freezer. I would also recommend changing the music. It was a little too loud (does that make me sound old?) and wasn’t ideal for a martini, although the overall vibe was still a cool one, and of course the main stay of this place is food. My life might revolve around martinis but I concede that it is not the same for everyone else.

Otherwise, I would recommend that you try this place as the food is lovely and the service was extremely attentive.

Sometimes you get the impression that just about everyone who works in a restaurant is also friends with one another. There was a nice vibe in this place. The staff were smiley, helpful, knowledgeable as regards the menu and genuinely helpful. They even recommended good bars for us to go to in the area after normal closing hours – because that was where they went as colleagues after work. I take that as a good sign.

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To eat, I had truffle fries and spicy garlic mussels, which were delicious. We were also served really tasty antipasti at the beginning, It was the first time I had ever tried caperberries. They were tangy and crunchy and made a very good garnish for my martini. I may seek them out in future at Borough Market for when I serve martinis at home.
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And back to the martinis… Aside from the sad news that they had run out of olive gin, they served me a classic martini with dry vermouth. It was garnished with a Noccelara olive (my favourite) on a clear shard-like plastic toothpick (also used by Dukes Bar and the Savoy Hotel). I would describe the drink as a little bit too dry, although I sipped it very slowly, which ultimately was a good thing given the length of the night.

I have said many times that I prefer a martini with a dash of sweet vermouth, and apparently I am in the minority, but I don’t mind being in the minority. I’ve had plenty of practise at this. However, from a bar/restaurant perspective, what is important is that the server should ask whether or not the customer would prefer the martini dry or sweet. Also, as I said before, the gin and the glasses should be kept in the freezer. And finally, I would recommend a squeeze of lemon peel into the glass – in addition to the tasty olive – or at least the option of it.

Otherwise, I had a great night, with lovely food and wonderful company celebrating the birthday of a very close friend of mine from Sri Lanka. Bohuma istuti!

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