October 23, 2021

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Pino, London: ‘Its arrival is a bit like the announcement of a royal baby’ — restaurant review

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Pino, an enoteca and osteria on Kensington High Street, is a new venture from the same family as the more swish and established Il Portico a little further down the street. Its arrival is a bit like the announcement of a royal baby. It’s got a direct line of descent from London’s great trattoria boom; it is family-run; it’s independent; and, it’s Italian . . . all very good reasons why I really want to love it.

The restaurant faces the entrance to Holland Park and the Design Museum, which sounds idyllic but, in truth, just means some park gates and a modern building obscure the view of the much lovelier modernist gem, the former Commonwealth Institute. What could be glorious is a bleak and exhaust-scoured junction, into which Pino has gamely pitched a small terrace. From here, one sashays through to a blingy little bar and rather tunnel-like dining space.

There is a small open kitchen at the back of the room, which means that unless you’re sitting on the front row of the terrace and sucking an exhaust pipe, everyone’s dinner will be rushed past the back of your neck.

The menu looks good although, on the night I went, absolutely nothing like the menu on the website or the other menu on the booking site. There’s a wide selection of tapas, a handful of mains, a couple of which, I was informed, were “off”, and a decent range of pizzas and focaccias, apparently “sliced to share”.

I don’t know why it is that I find such imprecations intrusive, but I bloody well do. Call me paranoid, but I always read them as “these servings are big, you should share, fatso”. And anyway, the last person who told me to “share my food nicely” was my mother, who only got away with it because my sister was being sick in her pushchair and my brother let me play with his Action Man.

For the mains there was a big bowl of squid-ink ravioli, filled with aubergine and monkfish

Also, can I just say now, while the rage is still flowing, never, ever paint the inside of a restaurant blue. It lends everything a doleful and sepulchral tinge. The fritto misto was actually very good but had trouble asserting itself visually in the gloom. Vitello tonnato was probably a wiser starter choice. It is actually designed to be the colour of support stockings, so one isn’t too distracted from some nicely handled, thinly sliced veal and a reasonably muscular tuna sauce.

For the mains there was a big bowl of squid-ink ravioli, filled with aubergine and monkfish, doing backstroke in a shellfish bisque. It was an oddly inverted dish, with a filling that was mainly texture, wrapped in an over-chonky pasta and then rescued with a fantastically punchy bisque. It seemed unfair to have forced it against its will to be ravioli when it obviously had ambitions to be a truly great soup.

Pearl barley risotto with beetroot and goat’s cheese was a brave attempt but somehow emphasised the heaviness of the barley and the earthiness of the beetroot in a combination that satisfied but might never delight.

There was a bit of fuss around the (excellent) desserts, which involved getting some of them fetched from Il Portico and apologies from a very touchy-feely maître d’. I’m sure that a hand on the arm can establish a bond of trust and love with the customer, but — I don’t know, maybe I’m an uptight Brit — I usually need an introduction and a couple of cocktails before we get intimate. Right now, I’d be quite keen to see a vaccination card too. The rest of the serving staff were charming and enthusiastic but seemed to be running everywhere and tumbling over each other like a basket of puppies.

Throughout the current crisis, like most reviewers, I’ve been holding back on bad reviews. I’ve had a few absolute disasters but, because I love this business and all the people in it, I’ve quietly torn up the receipt, gone home and bitten my metaphorical tongue. I think that should probably end now because I don’t think Pino’s problem has much to do with Covid-19, more with opening too precipitously.

Much of the menu is extremely promising and will get better. It’s been a little more designed than was strictly necessary, so the room has a few flaws. But in the main it’s kind of adorably inept and running on enthusiasm — a bit like a teenager.

Yet Pino comes from good stock. Its parents have a reputation for respectability and rigour, and I trust that between them, as a family, they might be able to sort it out.

Pino

267 Kensington High Street, London W8 6NA; famigliaportico.co.uk

Tapas £4-£24

Mains £10.5-£78

Follow Tim on Twitter @TimHayward and email him at tim.hayward@ft.com

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