62-63 Long Ln, London EC1A 9EJ www.rabezzana.co.uk
The focus here is ostensibly on Italian wines but you don’t want to miss out on the food either at this revamped Farringdon Italian
The area around Farringdon and Clerkenwell used to be very Italian back in the day. Little Italy, in fact. My aunt lived there before the war and talked happily of the Italian community and how lively it all was. There was even an Italian church.
Today, all that really remains is a good Italian deli, itself now less busy since the Guardian moved offices and so no longer provides the shop with moneyed customers.
The other side of the meat market however, is Enoteca Rabezzana.
It is a wine bar with food, make no mistake about that. The portions are small, please don’t say’tapas’, but the idea is the same – lots of nibbles to pair with more than 120 wines by the glass from small producers in every corner of Italy, most of these are sourced directly from the owners.
It’s a cosy little place, an atmosphere helped by the small open kitchen at the back. Here is where Executive chef Federico Casali, who worked at Rome’s three Michelin starred restaurant, La Pergola under chef Heinz Beck, resides.
That last bit actually worries me slightly, as I recall a meal at one of Beck’s London restaurants some years ago that was very expensive and very, very dull. Beautifully executed visually, but totally lacking in flavours.
Sadly we are at lunch and so cannot dive into the wine list as much as we would like to. Instead we settle for a glass each – a Moscato Giallo or Yellow Muscat for the man who cannot drink red wine (the tannins) and a glass of Chianti Classico. Both are fine, no doubt we could have chosen more adventurously but on the other hand we know what we like.
There is a set lunch menu, which we eschew, although it looks good value with starter, main and glass of wine for £20.
Instead we hum and haw and then go for grilled octopus, beans,’nduja and a shallot, as well as dried stewed cod, red polenta and chicory.The octopus is very well-cooked, you can never be certain you won’t get a seriously chewy cephalopod.
Butter soft and with a hint of char, its chunky components are on a bed of borlotti beans whose texture tells us they have never been inside a tin. If anything, they are a little underdone.
It’s all fine, but where’s the’nduja? I don’t expect to get my face burned off, but I can’t taste it at all. The shallot is leathery and I wonder what purpose it was supposed to serve.
The stewed cod is rather interesting; fishy without being overpowering, but I could have done with a bit more salt. Bacalu has to be divested of its excessive salt, of course, but I think it should still have a definite saltiness about it.
Polenta has to be fried as it is here, or for me it’s just tasteless baby food. Yes, I know there are plenty of people that adore the stuff, but I maintain plain polenta is something you eat only when you have no other choice.Frying makes it a lot more interesting, and its texture along with the charmingly bitter radicchio, all work well with the fish. A good plate overall.
Mains are pretty much the same size as starters, which makes sense as it’s all’small plates’ but my Tonnarello al burro di lime, triglia e pesto di pistachio Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Tonnarello, lime butter, red mullet and pistachio pesto is quite a lot, really.
I definitely get the mullet’s flavour and textures, as well as the pistachio pesto, all good things that are tangled up in pasta that’s a shade on the undercooked side, but better to be over than under any day of the settimana.
The pasta shines glossy with the butter, but I don’t get the lime and I think more salt should have been in the pasta water. Maybe I just have a salt addiction, or possibly chef is just shy of salt?
J goes for a risotto made with what the English translation calls, probably accurately but prosaically,’turnip tops’ but Italians more romantically call Cime Di Rapa.
It’s a vegetable I once bought in an Italian market when shopping with legendary chef Franco Taruschio, himself under the guidance of his formidable wife Ann.
It’s a brassica and has the robust flavours of cabbage and broccoli,This, along with the Caciocavallo curd cheese stirred through, makes a hearty winter-shaded risotto that goes down rather well with the last of the wine.
Desserts are ever-changing on the menu, on our visit we have a Lavender panna cotta with a wine reduction and grape jelly and a passion fruit cheesecake.
The panna cotta is properly wobbly, shivering with anticipation, and the wine reduction an interesting and successful idea. The passion fruit goes down well with J, being rich and at the same time pleasantly astringent.
Verdict? A cheerful rustic atmosphere, and a killer wine list, makes this very much a place to eat informally. With a fluid menu that is inventive while always nodding to tradition, you won’t be bored as you browse the vinos.