Tues–Sun midday–2.45pm, 6pm–10.30pm
‘Inspired by the tradition of Italian neighbourhood haunts, Pizzicotto is the lively sister restaurant to the 50 year old Kensington gem ‘Il Portico’. A local Pizzeria and Osteria where the humble pizza & neighbourhood cuisine is reimagined & the tradition of cooking over wood is celebrated.
Like Il Portico there is heavy emphasis on the ‘Terra Madre’ of Emilia Romagna with a tight network of small scale & artisanal food producers from the region supplying the restaurant exclusively and directly. On any given day you can find organic charcuterie produced by the same family for over 235 years, rare breed & wild produce, unfiltered & artisanal beers, Chianina beef, & daily handmade pasta. Our Pizze are made exclusively with stone ground, organic flour from a mill from the Apennine mountains, & proofed for a full 72 hours ensuring a complex, light, and delectable base. All before wood firing at 400 degrees.’
Bustling family-run modern Italian and pizzeria with a buzzy, happy vibe. On a miserable rainy March evening, everything about Pizzicotto was warm and welcoming. Through the garlicky, charred wafts emanating from the wood-fired ovens at the back of the restaurant, James, the manager, and grandson of the original proprietors, talked us through its food, wines and history. Both Il Portico—which opened in 1966 and claims to be London’s oldest family-run Italian restaurant—and Pizzicotto source extensively, though not wholly, from Emilia Romagna (Azienda Agricola Il Casello, a vineyard with which they have an exclusive arrangement, is located less than 25 km from where James was born).
Tongue and groove panelling is painted a modish teal, daily specials are written on a roll of brown paper hanging from the wall—a nice touch—and high stools at the central tiled bar provide extra seating, no doubt much needed at peak times.
Loyal regulars, locals and a steady stream of pre- and post- cinema goers in search of the perfect pizza—the Kensington Odeon is only a couple of doors down.
The night we visited a plummy and opinionated family at the next table spoke so loudly that I was able to record some gems for posterity. A public schoolboy (not ex—he couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16) declared with absolute confidence, ‘Never drive in Paris—cycling around the Arc de Triomphe I thought I was going to die,’ ‘…these spurious theories that claim to alleviate global poverty…’, and ‘Germans can speak Italian, but only with German accents.’ No kidding, Casper.
Later a middle-aged American couple, clearly regulars, came in for takeaway pizza and settled happily at the bar, chatting to the funny, sparky waitress who greeted them like old friends.
Pizzas, natch, and very good ones they looked too: thin, hollow-crisp bases, with some interesting toppings alongside the usual salami, anchovies, mushroom and artichoke, notably among the pizzas biancas (ie without tomato). Think D.O.P Gorgonzola, fior di latte, black truffle salsa & wafer apple; cream of pumpkin base, homemade salsice and raddichio salad; or fior di latte, sausage, pecorino romano & truffle honey.
We were there to review the main menu though, which is divided traditionally into antipasti, primi and secondi, with a separate list of sides and salads. My primo, Il Tortellaccio, three giant tortelli filled with porcini and ricotta, with a melted parmesan and poppy seed sauce, was exquisite: gossamer-fine pasta encasing the light yet richly flavoured filling, the delicate milky ricotta perfectly offsetting the umami of the porcini and parmesan. Andy’s Strozzapreti Romagnoli (twisted pasta strips with crema of Prosciutto, Squacquerone cheese & rucola pesto) was almost as yummy, the ham injecting welcome bursts of saltiness into the unctuous, creamy sauce.
From the secondi, Andy’s veal cutlet layered with melted Parmesan and 24-month old Parma ham, a kind of upmarket veal Milanese, was perfectly good, but a poor choice after the porcine cheesiness of his pasta—partly my fault, as I snaffled his first choice of main, filet mignon of Italian beef with a Modena Balsamic reduction. And what a piece of meat this was, easily the best I’ve tasted this year, nicely caramelised on the outside, perfectly tender, juicy and pink within, with complex, well-rounded flavours—an absolute triumph, and tribute to Pizzicotto’s impeccable sourcing from the ‘Terra Madre of Emilia Romagna’.
By now we were utterly stuffed, so shared a dolce of semifreddo made with ricotta and almonds, which was—stop the press—sweet, nutty and cold, with a slightly granular texture enlivened by the crunch of the praline. Delicious.
Although the extensive and well thought out wine list covers most of Italy, the wines James recommended for us were both indigenous to Emilia Romagna. We started with a Sauvignon Bianco Castelli Del Duca 2013, which was, as Andy noted sagely, ‘light, fruity and everything a Sauv should be.’ It slipped down very well indeed with the pasta.
The Guttornio 2011 (a blend of the complementary grapes Barbera and Bonarda) from the aforementioned Azienda Agricola Il Casello was as good a match for the beef as one would imagine grapes grown within grazing distance of the cattle should be. All very pleasing.
The house’s open-handedness with the obligatory post-prandial limoncello ensured we buggered off into the cold, drizzly night as happy as though emerging from a trattoria in the heart of the Terra Madre itself. In summer.