I think Italian food may very well be some of my most favourite food on the planet.
Bold statement I know.
I just love it all! The warm comforting flavours of classic ragu, the parmasen shavings which dress every meal, the sharp bites of bruschetta, the layered miracle that is tiramisu…
Oh geez, don’t even get me started on the tiramisu.
Let’s face it; Italian chefs, cooks, bakers, grandmothers – they know how to satisfy.
So when I heard that Piccolino’s were famed for putting an authentic Italian stamp on every penne, pizza and panna cotta that left their kitchen (and more besides), I knew I had to see what they were (spa)getting up to and gathered up my hungriest friends to find out.
I have a feeling that the Piccolino Caffe Grande bar is rarely unbusy. The vast marble bar acts as a stylish waiting area for patient diners, mostly made up of suits happily sinking vodka martinis which give away the restaurants popularity as a post-work layover following a hard day at the office.
Despite the flurry of activity around the bar, we were smoothly taken to our table where we enjoyed passing the drama of the roaring wood-fire pizza oven and were greeted by the friendly drama of server banter.
“Dare le ragazze un po ‘di vino per l’amor di Dio!”
I’m not entirely sure of the exchange between waiters, but it resulted in three glasses of melbec being poured and set in front of us; so who the heck cares.
We settled into our table, quickly sinking into emotions I imagine many ioutsiders experience when attending an Italian family meal.
Astonishingly hungry and ever so slightly terrified.
We ordered the Fritto Misto and Pane All’Aglio to start.
The Pane All’Aglio is a pretty grand way to describe garlic bread…but when it’s this good, the label “garlic bread” is a huge disservice.
The hand-stretched dough is delicately salted and soft, smothered half with buffalo mozzarella and fontina cheese and half with tomato and basil.
A favourite amongst many; each chewy slice holds comforting, cook-pot flavours and reems of gooey, elastic cheese that you’ll gladly wear on your chin with pride.
The Fritto Misto was revealed as a pleasing mountain of lightly fried king prawns, whitebait, calamari, softshell crab, asparagus and courgette with a side of possibly the best roasted garlic mayonnaise I’ve never had.*
*TMI but just the sheer memory was enough to evoke a teeny tiny bit of drool when I wrote that…
The bites were soft and crisp and utterly scrummy when dunked in the roasted garlic dip.
The perfect sharer between friends or heck, order it for one, I won’t judge.
Piccalino’s menu is extensive and offers everything from classic Al Forno’s to a mouth-watering selection of dry-aged beef. The sheer size of the menu makes it almost impossible to order as I debated between dish after dish (after dish).
I silently considered the ravioli before observing a diner on a seperate table being greeted with just 5 delicious pillows of hand-stuffed pasta; being the the kind of gal who enjoys eating ravioli by the trough-ful, I instead ordered the Rigatoni Con Manzo; a decadent dish which pairs tubes of rigatoni with a slow braised beef & porcini mushroom ragu – which I was certain would appease my appetite.
I don’t know quite what it is about the words “beef ragu” but every time I hear it my heart seems to flutter.
My co-diners ordered the daily special of Pumpkin Risotto, I mentally noted to steal a forkful while I distracted them with wine.
The ambiance of Piccalino’s is striking and glamourous whilst still managing to evoke a sense of relaxation and comfort. Long bench-style tables for large parties provide a communal dining and friendly feels, whilst the comfortable cushions allow for that perfect post-pasta relaxation.
The open pastry, gelato and delicatessen bars add a casual yet indulgent touch, the urge to steal looks at the hanging cured meats and plethora of cheeses proving just too much to resist, don’t get too excited though – apparently samples aren’t a “thing” in Piccalino’s (I asked).
Our mains arrived, and it was a pretty wonderful thing.
“Parmasen?” The waiter smiled as he gently powdered my dish with snowflakes of sharp, nutty cheese.
“Just leave the whole bowl,” I willed silently.
The chunky tubes of Rigatoni were cooked Al Dente and slathered heartily in the rich beef ragu, with soft and tender hunks of meat attending every other bite.
Comforting, satisfying and eye-rollingly good.
The Pumpkin Risotto was every bit as indulgent as it looks.
Pleasingly oozy; sweet hints of pumpkin were balanced by soft, creamy chunks of hard cheese, slowly mleting into the dish like quick sand.
It was everything a risotto should be.
With a streak of salty, crunchy pancetta, just for good measure.
We ate every single scrap, totally satisfied with our experience.
I have to hand it to Piccalino’s, despite being a chain; the restaurant shows no sign of churned out, conveyor belt food – just simple, hearty dishes that are rich in flavour and enjoyable to eat.
Just like mama used to make.
If you’re thinking of spending an evening in Italy, be sure to book. You’d be fusilli not to!
Okay, I’ve exhausted my puns now – just go, eat loads and enjoy. Saluti!