57 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4P www.pescatori.co.uk
In my immediate post uni years in London mid 1980s I worked as a copywriter in a certain advertising agency close to Pescatori. Most lunchtimes in search of a cheap sandwich I’d wander past Pescatori and slow down to take in the aromas coming out of the open windows and enviously regard the people joyfully eating.
It was a glimpse of paradise to me, surviving on a tiny salary nearly all of which went on renting a small flat. I dreamt of having lunch there, ideally with an account handler picking up the bill, but while over the next years I went on to have many lunches at restaurants around and beyond, I never did get to Pescatori.
So going in this week was a little nerve-wracking. They say you should never meet your heroes because they will often disappoint, and it can be true of places too. But this was a sudden lunch, the restaurant handily around the corner from where an old mate, himself now a creative director, works. And he was paying, so it seemed karmic.
The aromas were still great and the inside was still full of people unpretentiously enjoying Italian food; Italian is very much the food I’d want on my desert island please Kirsty, if you’re reading this. Pescatori is, as the name suggests, a fish fancier’s restaurant. Chalkboards display what’s special on the day, with no care for whether that’s a cool thing to do or not, and the place has a comfortable stylishness that has served it well for what seems like centuries, but is actually just over 45 years.. Prices aren’t cheap, but then fish isn’t cheap, especially not quality fish.
The CD has salt cured Cornish sardine fillets, olive oil and Amalfi lemon to start and says the lemon is a little too sharp, but otherwise it’s just the thing to eat on a warm day. I have grilled Cornish squid, gremolata and calabrian sausage and it’s almost perfect. The squid is deliciously charred and has deliriously wound itself into tight spirals of dense but tender flesh, while the sausage is a contrast in texture and taste. Not perfect? Well only because I personally would have liked a bit more fire in that sausage’s belly, more Nduja, but that’s because I love chili heat with squid.
The semi-circular booth we’re in is just right for two people not emotionally engaged; it allows space to sprawl a bit and to be not quite facing each other which is ideal for relaxed conversation, or in our case heartfelt laments over the state of modern day advertising. Be advised that social media is not the answer to everything people and content is actually not copy.
I go large on my mains; lobster with spaghetti in tomato sauce. Now usually I find lobster a bit like fillet steak – not really worth the money – but this is really fine. There isn’t too much lobster, which some people might regard as stingy, but for me this is a good thing as it lets the pasta shine.
The spaghetti has been cooked properly; the last few minutes spent thoughtfully absorbing the light tomato sauce and the flavour of the lobster. The spaghetti is of course perfectly al dente and I just shovel it in greedily. My shirt is ruined.
He has salt baked sea bass, theatrically brought to the table before being taken apart. The flesh is snow white, protected from burning by the salt crust which has drawn away some of the excess moisture while subtly seasoning the fish. It’s something of a gamble cooking fish this way, as you won’t know if it’s cooked properly until you crack the crust and by then you’re committed. This is exactly right.
Slumped on the banquette as if shot, oh pasta you are both friend and enemy, I muster the energy to order buttermilk pannacotta and mango sauce. The pannacotta comes not as the usual wobbly thing, but cut into crescent shaped chunks. This is an innovation I can get behind and the smoothness shot through with a slight granularity is extraordinary.
CD has Royal fresh berry tart and white chocolate ice cream and laps it up contentedly. I have a bite and the berries are firm and bursting with trapped juices. It’s ordinary in design but special in its delivery. And that, of course, is a food reviewer contrived way to come back to our starting place.
Pescatori is special in an unshowy way. The people who eat there are eating for pleasure, not because it’s this week’s must eat place, and that’s how restaurants in London used to be. Yes a lot of its lunchers are on expense accounts, but at Pescatori they are also the kind of people who radiate bonhomie not faux boredom. I hope it lasts another 45 years and continues to waft its Bisto advert style garlic fumes down Charlotte Street.