Level 2 Barbican Centre Silk Street London EC2Y 8DS www.barbican.org.uk
Suffering a bit of dÃƒÂ©jÃƒÂ vu, Nick enters Fortress Barbican to sample a new Italian.
Walking the windswept byways of the Barbican residential areas, a bit lost and trying to find the Barbican Centre proper, I feel a strange sense of deja vu – I’ve been here before, even though I know I haven’t, then it hits me; I’m back at university.
The harsh concrete, the ramps that lead to dead ends, deserted car parks or locked fire doors. Staircases that threaten to descend to Hades and a general air of bleak desolation. Yep, it’s my old university alright, even though the Barbican was actually opened in 1982 around 20 years after my alma mater and was, like it, the last gasping of Brutalism the favoured architectural style of architects who didn’t have to live in it.
Going into the centre itself it becomes more like the South Bank. More cast concrete and 60s shapes and upstairs in Osteria (still referred to as the Gin Joint on the lift signage), it’s rather like the Royal Festival Hall not just because it serves an arty theatre and cinema crowd but also in its design.
And that’s good; they have kept the original style vision intact with the carpets, tables and chairs all perfectly in period and with gentle soft hotel lighting. Through the large windows there’s a fine view of the lake from our table and also of the old church, sat rather apologetically in the middle and no doubt thinking’how did I get here?’
The restaurant has ditched the gin on the lift sign and gone for a new Italian vibe and a menu overseen by Anthony Demetre of Arbutus, Wild Honey and Deux Salons fame. Those other restaurants have a pronounced French accent, but clearly this was not seen as an obstacle to creating an Italian eatery and the helm here is taken by Head Chef Patrick Leano.
They have a negroni menu here and I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for a negroni, with its vaguely antiseptic and medicinal notes. It comes crunchy with ice and sharpens the appetite, which we will need as we intend to do the full Italian four courses.
From the ancient slicer cheerfully on view comes a selection of house-made Italian cured meats along with mixed olives and a bowl of rather good, not too peppery, olive oil. The meats are all flavourful and soft and partner well with the bread while that negroni keeps me happily entertained trying to drink it without the straw going up my nose.
J meanwhile sinks his teeth into some grilled cephalopod with potatoes and peppers and some capers dotted about, the flavours all well-combined and the octopus easy to eat and the portion the right size for setting things off without damping things down.
On to primi and J goes for veal taglietelle with nduja a very good choice I reckoned and I wished I’d got in there first. I have a forkful and it’s just as I expect with a rich simple meatiness, a sparkle of spicy heat and silky pasta.
My own ravioli of cime di rapa dish (it sounds better than turnip tops, its UK name) is a sea of buttery goodness buoying up tautly packed ravioli that have soft curved surfaces with toothsome edges, all dusted down with lightly matured parmesan. Only a few, as I had chosen a small portion, but just enough as I find out when the mains arrive.
Slow cooked beef in red wine, bramata polenta, roast onions is only a medium sized plateful but still a bit daunting at this stage of the proceedings. The beef falls apart to only a gentle prodding, it’s flavour a bit muted I feel but still pleasant.
Bramata Polenta is basic polenta really, but this has been cooked very well.Rich and creamy and not the boring nursery food it can all too often be. I like the roast onions, slippery and strong that skid about the plate flirting with my questing fork.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœBit overcooked’, says J about his monkfish, Tuscan white beans and orange dish but he enjoys the sweet citrus against the flesh and the way the beans add bulk without being bulky. To be honest, we may be a bit full by now.
However vanilla panna cotta with Champagne rhubarb is ordered and the forced rhubarb is very good, although the panna cotta a little too loose for my taste being a bit custardy. J’s Pear and almond tart, with the chocolate replaced by ice cream as he can’t do chocolate, gets a thumbs up from a by now recumbent position.
With a pre-theatre menu available, guaranteed to get you into your seat by curtain up, and a bar to louchely lounge in, Osteria meets the requirements of its location and clientele very well delivering food that punches above its weight.