Fay Maschler reviews Enoteca Turi: Some masterful pasta, but come for the wine

Trading places: Enoteca Turi has moved from Putney to Pimlico: Daniel Hambury
Trading places: Enoteca Turi has moved from Putney to Pimlico: Daniel Hambury

In 1962 The London Daily Sketch ran a feature claiming that on one particular night the following people ate dinner at Soho’s La Trattoria Terrazza: Ingrid Bergman, Leslie Caron, Danny Kaye, David Niven, Gregory Peck, Laurence Harvey, Sammy Davis Jr, Michael Caine, Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton. They forgot to include Aristotle Onassis, who was also there.

I’m eating Italian food in SW1 attempting to explain to my young companion the influence on London’s restaurants of Mario Cassandro and Franco Lagattolla, founders of what became known as The Trat.

At the close of the Fifties two Neapolitan waiters who had met while working at posh West End restaurants sank their own money and a bank loan into Romilly Street premises that were previously a club called The Palm. A local character, Polish George, was commissioned to paint a mural of the Bay of Naples and the kitchen instructed to approximate Italian home cooking. It turned out to be an approximation but was liked well enough by Len Deighton, who name-checked the restaurant in his novel The Ipcress File. It was a coming together of the tail-end of rationing, an overture to the swinging Sixties and the notion that eating out could be recreation and seduction or vice-versa.

Mario and Franco opened more restaurants — eventually selling out and becoming millionaires — and their staff, having grasped the formula, left to open copies, many of them located in SW3 and SW1. Scalini, Sambuca, Sale e Pepe and La Famiglia are among the survivors to this day.

New to this area is Enoteca Turi, which last year, after 25 years — and with no connection to Mario and Franco — moved from Putney to Pimlico Road. It was hearing about the arrival of chef Francesco Sodano, also originally hailing from Naples with experience in various eminent restaurants in Rome, that made me visit — that and remembrance of good times past with Giuseppe Turi’s deep-rooted Italian wine list — here is an enoteca not a trattoria.

It occupies an address that was previously Tinello and, before that, L’Incontro. What were bare brick walls are now painted pale gold, a move that might be construed as a softening up for prices where “secondi piatti” (main courses) range between £25.50 and £29.50 with vegetable side dishes extra. There is no music, which I like, but my young friend says he needs a soundtrack to muffle the details of the property acquisitions coming from the man in red trousers sitting on his right.

Veneration of regionality is conveyed more legibly by areas — Puglia, Piedmont, Lazio, Campania, Veneto etc — being given in brackets after every dish than by the cooking which fastidiously distances itself far, far away from where nearly 60 years ago two former waiters understood the gastronomic Italian soul to reside.

Baked artichokes with spelt wheat, Pecorino sauce, parsley reduction and grated marinated egg yolk (Lazio, apparently) are spindly branches needing more thump from the Pecorino sauce and more texture contrast between vegetable stalks and wheat berries. Marinated rabbit, seemingly bludgeoned into submission by the process, comes with “organic English ricotta” — I wonder if the Italians have their own version of Stilton? — red chicory and a blob of black garlic purée.

In the main course oxtail has been unwisely prised from its bones and is zapped by an over-reduced and thus over-salted sauce. But the pasta course we choose to share — cheese and black pepper (cacio e pepe) tortelli with parsnip purée and diced, seared cuttlefish — is masterful, delicately balanced, delectable.

Another treat is setteveli (seven veils), a layered confection of chocolate and hazelnut heaven served with olive oil ice cream. Apparently it is a tribute to the winning dessert in a 1997 World Pastry Championship held in France. And then there are the wines. A dish of pasta, an indulgence of dessert, a glass or three of wine; that would be my approach to Enoteca Turi.

By chance this was a week of several Italian meals. Jason Atherton has turned his attention to the cuisine in the opening of Hai Cenato? (meaning Have you had dinner?) in Victoria’s Nova complex. Coretti — pasta discs — with aged beef Bolognese, tomato, sage-burnt butter and Berkswell cheese, is a standout assembly from a collaborator in the business, chef Paul Hood.

Assagi in Notting Hill has re-opened with the ground floor given over to a bar and pizzeria. The dough of the Margherita is irreproachable, the tomato sauce suitably reticent. Do as the Romans do has been advice well observed at Stevie Parle’s Palatino in Clerkenwell, but more of that another day.

Were Mario and Franco still with us they’d be interested and astounded. Happily, Enzo Apicella, the 94-year-old designer who set the scene for the timeless trattoria, is alive and Instagramming — viciapicella — wicked political cartoons. I bet Len Deighton likes them.

87 Pimlico Road, SW1 (020 7730 3663, enotecaturi.com). Mon-Sat, noon-2.30pm and 6.30pm-10.30pm (11pm Fri & Sat). A meal for two with wine, about £185 including 12.5 per cent service.