115 Westbourne Grove, London W2 4UP www.noce-restaurant.co.uk
It’s not easy finding a great Italian restaurant, in this case it means going all the way out to Westbourne Grove
Walking down from Notting Hill tube is a chance for the professional nosey parker to get his (or her) fix of envy inducing interiors. At this time of year, the lights are on, but there often seems no one at home.
Or perhaps they are simply away in one of the many other rooms of these large and beautiful houses. You can keep your oh so fashionable Hackney, this is where I am coming to live when the lottery balls drop my way.
The shops down Westbourne Grove reflect the well-lined pockets of the area, almost satirically there is actually a whole shop selling just Farrow & Ball paints. Mind you, there is also a bookmaker, which seems a bit odd. Can’t imagine who goes in there.
Noce (it means walnut) is easy to walk past, as it has just a small frontage and nothing stands out. That’s the way they like it apparently, the aim to be a quiet restaurant and bar for the locals.
It’s modern (ish) inside; certainly not faux-trattoria but cosy. Owner Ambrogio Ianese is a very experienced restaurateur, Italian with just the hint of an accent, he has a keen eye for great wines as well as, I found out after, a keen critical opinion on art and movies. Once the man behind Metrogusto, here he stillhas the services of head chef Antonella Serra the man who made Metrogusto so famous for fine Italian food
The menu is simple and, as usual, I stick to the antipasti and primi and dessert. I can’t do the full four courses anymore and it’s the pasta I want every time.
Superb mixed fresh mushrooms (plenty of porcini) on soft, unctuously oily, polenta have just enough garlic to point up the mushrooms and not mask them. Slivers of parmesan dance on the top. Simple, autumnal and perfect. You’d not get better in Italy.
A pretty plate of thinly sliced, pensively sharp, apple with a deeply-flavoured cured ham is equally simple in concept and relies totally on the quality of the ingredients.
Which is fine as they are first-rate. Crunchy morsels of Sardinian bread give the texture contrast needed to make the dish even more memorable.
We share three pasta dishes between the two of us, the first of clearly homemade stuffed pasta parcels pooled in butter and bursting with fresh ricotta and enlivened by lemon zest and lemon thyme.
The restaurant apparently gets its pasta from a man who makes it overnight, and this really shows in a dish of pasta tubes with a ragu of beef and pork. The pasta tenaciously gripping the sauce, which is just the right quantity to season the pasta and not overwhelm it.
All this is good but is upstaged by the last pasta - spaghetti with bottarga. Pecorino and pepper.
Bottarga is salted, cured fish roe, usually of grey mullet. The flavour is hard to define - a little like caviar, only more ‘rustic’ it seeps into the spaghetti and coats the tongue. It is one of my very favourite pasta dishes and this was a brilliant example.
And I have to mention the enormous and freshly in house baked focaccia, gorgeously oily and rich.
Dessert is fine, it was Walnut cake with pumpkin and amaretto ice cream, to be honest the walnuts are pretty solid and I have to apply spoon bending pressure to get through, but in the mouth the nuts soon give way to a creamy finish and the ice cream is marvellous.
Noce has an excellent wine list, ‘curated’ as we must say now, by Ambro and they stock a selection of the very superior Prosecco of Villa Sandi. On the white wine side, the Gewurztraminer Maso delle Rose Doc was an inspired choice for the spaghetti bottarga.
I’ve always wished I lived in Westbourne Park, but now having sampled Noce, that wish has become an obsession.