In celebration of summer solstice, my companion and I finally made it to Palatino, a new Italian in the heart of Clerkenwell. We’d been meaning to try out Palatino for a while now, especially since enjoying a drink or two here during Clerkenwell’s Design Week when Palatino had hosted an evening curated by the wonderful Bompas & Parr about the relationship between food, architecture and design. Very symbiotic it seems. And since the longest day of the year and record breaking temperatures are something, in moderation, to be celebrated, this seemed like an opportune evening.
Palatino is the latest one from Stevie Parle, the guy behind Rotorino, Craft London and Dock Kitchen, and draws from the traditions of Rome. Rome is probably my favourite city in Europe, and possibly worldwide, for its history (even wandering the streets is like walking through an open museum), its style and, of course, its food (and vino/aperol spritz). Palatino’s concept evolved from Parle’s visit to Rome organised by Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers when he was working for them at The River Café. And Palatino have set up shop in what’s become a centre for Italian food – with Isaac McHale’s new Italian joint Luca nearby, is Clerkenwell big enough for the two of them?! Stiff competition.
It’s unsurprising that Palatino took part in Clerkenwell’s Desgin Week. The space is very on trend – the yellow and grey colour combo is like something out of a Scandi lifestyle magazine. Housed in the ground floor of a new “pro-working” space called Fora, it’s just the right amount of utilitarian while staying cheerful and comfortable – even at our bar seats.
The menu focuses on Roman foods, reflecting the culinary melting pot of this Italian cuisine, taking influences from Jewish diaspora – yielding deep-fried delicacies such as artichoke heads trimmed, seasoned and deep-fried whole so they look like van Gogh sunflowers – as well as the Middle East and from further North and South. There’s a lot of deep frying and salty cheese. It’s not exactly “clean eating”; the only vegetables you see are sage and bitter greens, dressed in oil and vinegar. On this note, for starters, my companion enjoyed the Fried courgette flowers & honey vinegar (£4). Although the flowers weren’t stuffed as expected, the saltiness of the tempura batter was perfectly offset by the sweet honey dip.
Now onto the pastas, which are the main show here and looked Padella like in quality (though not price): oozy, umptious and totally seductive. My companion went for the classic Roman dish of cacio e pepe. For her, it had a perfect silkiness. The thinner quality of the spaghetti was also better suited to the pecorino and black pepper seasoning than Padella’s bucatini-esque thicker strands.
I went for the Nettle agnlotti and ricotta (£8/£14). The plate was almost swimming in a sauce of buttery goodness. Unsurprisingly, the freshly made pasta was fantastic – emerald green stuffed ravioli were as slippery and aromatic as you’d hope. Rich but delicate, the nettle flavour had a depth, a poetry that I’ve never encountered in a plate of ravioli. And the plate even looked like a work of abstract art: each agnlotti shape dancing in the pool of butter.
My only query about the food is why the pastas are served on plates rather than bowls?! Whilst “bowl food” is definitely somewhat of an Instagram hashtag trend, for me, pasta is ideally suited to bowl plates, allowing each spoon to be a well-proportionated balance between al dente pasta and the sauce – whether it be a ragu, a pomodoro, a pesto, or just, as in my case, butter. Not a huge issue, but the presentation of food is so important to its efficacy.
All in all, though, I really liked Palatino. It’s serious about feeding people well in an informal setting. Rome has landed in Clerkenwell.
Palatino, 71 Central St, London EC1V 8AB