My friend Carla, estate agent graphic designer and vegetarian correspondent for Curious London, tells me that word on the street in the property world is that Earl’s Court is the place to buy right now. (Apparently Clerkenwell is also on the up, if you’re interested, but a two-bed flat there already costs a metric butt-tonne so it’s not really helpful for us lowly non-millionaires.) It was with this in mind I headed west to watch chef Theo Randall make pasta at his new restaurant, Theo’s Simple Italian. (Rumour has it he took the same evening class, ‘Naming Your Italian Restaurant 101’, as his buddy Jamie Oliver.)
I was interested to see what he’d done with the place, as – estate agent gossip aside – a hotel restaurant in Earls Court doesn’t quite get the pulsing racing as much as, say, a hot new no-res Soho small plate-ateria. It was quiet at when I arrived at 5pm but quickly became pleasantly abuzz; there’s a deli selling the same ingredients the pros are using in the kitchen, and a bar with high stools and bowls of deep-fried pasta run-offs in lieu of crisps, a smart, simple idea that reflects the core ethos of the restaurant.
We spent the first while watching Theo crank silky strips of butter-yellow dough through a device that very closely resembled the Sylvanian Family laundry mangle I had as a child. We all gave it a whirl, which would have been good exercise had the end result not been a glorious tangle of golden carbohydrate, and packed it up in little boxes for us to take home. We also learned to make pesto, which is a) a great use of the pestle and mortar you bought at TK Maxx ten years ago in a fit of misguided enthusiasm, and b) so easy you’ll be forever ashamed you once paid actual money for the ready-made stuff. The recipe is at the bottom if you fancy giving it a go – you can bung it in soups, pastas, all over almost any random veg, or in dirty great dollops on bruschetta.
But on to the actual restaurant food. As the name suggests, it’s all very simple, with a focus on premium ingredients. The smallest of plates, Cicchetti, included focaccia (£3.00), lightly battered calamari fritti with a zesty aioli dip (£3.50) and – my favourite – a bowl of lumpy pork, beef and veal meatballs (£3.50), lightly spiced and wallowing happily in a piquant tomato sauce. Hot on its heels was the Black Angus carpaccio (£9.50) and creamy burrata (£9.00) from the antipasti menu, the latter served with a bed of sweet, fresh tomatoes and drizzled liberally with good olive oil.
It’s worth going for a pasta dish – the pappardelle with meaty oxtail ragout (or should that be ragù?) was fabulous – but the boozy risotto with castelrosso cheese (£11.00/15.00) was one of the best I’ve ever had. Not pretty to look at – risotto never is – but smooth, creamy and comforting.
I was excited about the Veal Milanese – £38 for a whacking great slab on the bone that serves two – but, although the crunch was crispy and satisfying, the subtlety of the veal was rather lost and the end result wasn’t much different from the chicken version at a Carluccio’s. (Theo, forgive me.)
Dessert-wise you’d be mad not to go for the signature lemon tart, but if you’re one of these adventurous pudding people there’s a sambuca semi-freddo with coffee essence going for six quid.
Italy is my absolute favourite European country for food. We are going to Sicily in a couple of weeks and my tongue is quivering in anticipation like a chilly chihuahua. Last year we went to the Amalfi Coast and one of the best dishes I had was gnocchi, Sorrento style. It was simply pasta, fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, but nothing short of gorgeous in the gob. Theo’s food reminded me very much of that – all flavour and no fuss.
You know what else is all flavour and no fuss? This pesto recipe, prised from the culinary brain of Theo himself. (Well. I asked nicely for it and here it is, but that doesn’t sound as wonderfully dramatic.)
Theo Randall’s Easy Peasy Pesto
Serves 4 (or, you know, one. If you’re hungry.)
1/2 garlic clove, peeled
handful of basil leaves
2 tbsp pine nuts, preferably Mediterranean
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
240ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for sealing
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Crush the garlic with a pinch of sea salt in your trusty TK Maxx pestle and mortar, or on a chopping board using a spoon – the garlic should form a soft paste. I myself have an industry-grade garlic crusher my flatmate bought me one Christmas because I don’t believe in using less than three cloves for literally anything, but that is just personal taste.
2. Transfer the garlic to a food processor and add the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and 2 tablespoons water. Blitz until all the ingredients are finely chopped and a smooth paste has formed.
3. Add the olive oil and pulse for 2 seconds (but CAREFUL..!!!! If you pulse longer the oil will emulsify). Check the seasoning.
Hey pesto! (Sorry.) It lasts for up to a week – to store, spoon in into a jar or bowl and add a layer of olive oil to the surface to stop it from going minging and brown. Then cover tightly.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.