Renowned chef Stevie Parle was a savvy child. Growing up in Birmingham, he preferred to help prepare the family meals rather than do the washing up afterwards – in this way, the passion that would shape his career was born.
At 16, Parle’s natural talent and enthusiasm led him to Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, and on to his first professional cooking job at The River Café in W6. Parle was just 17 - the youngest cook Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers had ever employed at their famed riverside restaurant, where he learned to master superlative Italian fare.
Then it was on to Michelin-star chef Skye Gyngell’s local and seasonal cooking at Petersham Nurseries Café, before Sam and Sam Clark’s Moorish dishes at Moro in Exmouth Market. Each of these acclaimed London venues sowed a seed of varied creativity which would later form a theme in Parle’s own restaurants.
Chef and innovator Parle was a pop-up restaurant trailblazer with his Moveable Kitchen, serving his own style of cooking in unused restaurants. In 2009, at just 24, he opened Dock Kitchen at Portobello Dock near Ladbroke Grove, west London. Parle had arrived.
Variation is key to his cooking. Dock Kitchen offers a seasonal, farm-to-table menu, while Rotorino in Dalston serves Southern Italian plates. British cooking stars at Craft London, with Southern French fare at Sardine in Islington.
And now there’s Palatino, a neighbourhood restaurant specialising in simple yet elegant food inspired by memories of Parle’s first trip to Rome when he was 17. Recipes are based on ancient dishes, gently tweaked, including bream with onions, pine nuts, raisins and vinegar; chicken, pancetta and pistachio meatballs with polenta, and freshly made ravioli with spinach and squash.
Across all five venues, the menus are producer-led. The dishes stem from traditional roots, and the design and atmosphere are of equal importance. “All our restaurants are different brands and quite distinct from one another,” says Parle. “By adding a constraint [a specific cuisine for each] it gives you some boundaries to work within but still allows you to be creative.”
Such varied dining requires an equally wide-ranging wine list. Parle’s 45-bin choice at Palatino, with more than 30 all-Italian grape varieties, offers a perfect opportunity to discover unusual styles, regions and rare vintages by the glass. Here, the chef-proprietor reveals his wine wisdom:
What is your approach to drinking wine?
I like drinking wine; I like the act of enjoying wine - preferably at home. I’m privileged and lucky enough to have visited a lot of vineyards and I tend to drink wines from producers I know, or have met. I like to think about them and visualise the place that has produced these wines; the people and their stories.
At The River Café we used to have an annual trip with David Gleave MW, which always stands out in my memories. When this isn’t the case I want to drink something that leaves a certain “taste” of where it’s from - retaining its craft and identity.
What do you love about food and wine, and matching the two?
Good food is good food and good wine is good wine. I think the two things often go together anyway and we shouldn't look past this too much. I prioritise the overall dining experience and I want my guests to be happy, to enjoy themselves and be relaxed. Of course some things are best paired together in certain ways, but I want this to seem effortless and not overdone.
Parle cooks up food and wine pairings for us from his new menu at Palatino:
Selvapiana “Vigneto Bucerchiale”, Chianti Rufina Riserva, 2012
£26.04, Exel Wines, Buy it here
This is a reserve from the Selvapiana house in Chianti Rufina - refined, elegant and with something of the rustic appeal to it. It’s one of the best buys and a real benchmark in Italian wines. Pair it with Bombolotti ragu “Marcella”, a hearty pasta dish inspired by the Italian food writer Marcella Hazan.
Proprieta Sperino Coste della Sesia Rosso “Uvaggio”, 2013
£26.46, Richard Granger Wines, Buy it here
From Alto-Piedmont, Luca De Marchi, son of the now-legendary Paolo (Isole e Olena, Tuscany), stumbled across this old family winery some 15 to 20 years ago. The Nebbiolo base is blended with more local Vespolina and Croatina and the result is a delicious, rich, fruity red. I really like this one, it’s great to drink on its own or with antipasti and more. It’s elegant, slightly peppery and a fun, easy-drinking style. Pair with the Speck on our antipasti menu.
Lagrein, Erste + Neue, Alto-Adige, 2015
This is a really unusual grape variety, only grown on about 400 hectares. It’s big, bold, has a tight fruit content and is going down a storm with guests and the staff, too. We can’t quite put our finger on it, but we all love it. Pair this with most meat dishes, ideally with our Saltimbocca.
£19.99, Christopher Keiller Fine Wine Services. Call 02380 582259
Lambrusco, Solco Paltrinieri, Modena, NV
This is great and shouldn’t be sneered it. Cheerful, delicious and yet still serious with long-lasting taste, it’s a great drink with snacks and ideal with our fried sage leaves with honey and vinegar.
£15.95, Buon Vino, Buy it here
Barolo “Cicala”, Aldo Conterno, Piedmont
Why not? We are really happy to offer all our wines by the glass and we think this is a perfect, benchmark Barolo. It’s luscious, rounded and extremely elegant and with the ’99 vintage it’s a great find. One of the best wine producers in Piedmont and we think everyone should try it. This is ideal with our pork chop, served with a sauce of anchovy, olives and cream.
From £131 (depending on the vintage), Hedonism Wines, Buy it here
Nuria Stylianou is our WSET-qualified wine and spirits columnist. Email her on nuria.stylianou@@nu_on_the_vineand follow her on Twitter and Instagram