Tinello – a Touch of Tuscany in London:
Last year I fell in love with Tuscany. Two visits, one in late spring, the second in November where I discovered people with a passion for good, simple local food. There, I got involved in a whole range of perhaps rather predictable activities for a food lover (visits to vineyards, olive oil mills, to see raw sheep milk pecorino being made and to a white truffle festival). And then I came back to London and found Tinello.
When I was asked to review the restaurant I didn’t like to admit that I’d been twice before. Once by chance, we were in the area and trying to find somewhere to eat. The second time because I loved it and wanted to invite some friends to join me there. So this was my third visit and one where I was thrilled to meet head chef Federico Sali, who owns and runs Tinello with his brother Max and learn a little more of the inspiration behind Tinello. From a small village near Pistoia in Tuscany, Federico always wanted to be a chef. He told me that he started at catering school in Italy when he was just 14 and spent five years there, studying and working in local restaurants in the holidays. But, when he finished there was no job – and his older brother Max, who had taken the management route rather than chef route at catering school, was already in the UK. So, Federico came to England, to Bath, where he was thrown into a professional kitchen speaking almost no English at all!
Eventually both brothers ended up spending some time working at Locanda Locatelli and, encouraged by Giorgio Locatelli himself, set up Tinello in August 2010. And, for me at least the restaurant is a real treasure. The tinello is a small dining room next to the kitchen in Italian homes where family and friends eat informally. And the two brothers are aiming to provide an informal friendly local restaurant. We asked whether it was a Tuscan restaurant. No, Federico told us. Because they aim to use the best ingredients available – and sometimes those are from England. Their herbs and some vegetables come from the same supplier as Locatelli, just outside the M25. And Welsh lamb was on the menu. Equally, some of the dishes were from other parts of Italy. So, Tuscan inspired but not Tuscan. A subtle but realistic distinction.
We were of course, keeping the chef away from his kitchen, and on a day when he was launching a new menu. So, we chose some food from the menu and the chef added things we needed to try! And sipped on a glass of Ferrari Perle Metodo Classico while we waited. The wine list at Tinello is really impressive, with a great range of mid-priced wines. And, the sparkling wine section has a good selection of Franciacorta sparkling wines, while the red wine section is dominated by Italian wines. Our wines were matched throughout the meal for us, with impeccable taste, but in the past I’ve enjoyed the £14.50 house wine.
On to the food – to start Tuscan liver crostini. Which was just as I remember being taught how to make by Anna Binni, the octagenarian Tuscan chef I met last year. And have tried and failed to make again myself.
And some Soppressato – one of those meat dishes you get on holiday in Tuscany and can’t find in the UK. There are two types of Soppressata – a firmer spicier type a little like salami and Soppressata Toscana – which is made a little like brawn by boiling up a pigs head, picking the meat and then pressing it. I really like it, despite usually preferring lean meats. The plate we were served was very finely sliced, moist and well seasoned on a parsley and caper salad. Delicious.
And fried courgettes, an old favourite for me, which I will continue to order every time I visit Tinello – unless for some reason they are no longer on the menu. These fine strands of courgette are dipped in the lightest batter and then deep fried. I’m sure that it’s a very ‘un-foodie’ thing to like so much, but I could imagine myself sitting and snacking on them all evening if I ever managed to make them.
Chef also sent us a tiny bowl of pappa al pomodoro – a very traditional rustic Italian bread and tomato soup which tasted beautifully rich and filling. I was grateful it was only a tiny portion because I find it hard to leave good food and I’m sure a full portion would have been a substantial starter in it’s own right.
On to the Pasta course
I was keen to try the handmade nettle pasta with duck ragu because Federico had told us that it was a dish his staff had created when he was away. And, nettle pasta sounded good. The result is a slightly piquant pasta, with a rich ragu. But, then I am afraid I got a bad case of pasta envy! My dining companion ordered the pasta with Nduja and Burrata. I’d avoided it. Too many food cliches. Too many fashion statements in one bowl. Then I saw it and wished I’d succumbed. As it was I just got a little taste of the fabulously spicey nduja sauce, beautifully complemented with creamy burrata.
And once again a little taster from the chef. Gnudi are literally ‘naked’ pasta – well, pasta filling and sauce without the pasta. I’ve tried them before and do like them. And in all honesty if I hadn’t wanted to try to two dishes we did order I might well have picked the Gnudi. This is a spinach and ricotta gnudi, very light and delicate, served with a tomato sauce.
By this stage I was actually quite full. And the portion of steamed hake with ligurian courgette, clam and oregano was not for the faint-hearted. It was very good. Perhaps just a little salty for me, but wonderful firm, fresh and flaky hake.
My dining companion ordered the Welsh lamb, which arrived perfectly pink inside as ordered.
We also had a small taste of the Pan fried beef “bavette”, sprouting broccoli and roasted red peppers, which was delicious. It’s a french cut of meat that is quite easy to spoil – but which has real depth of flavour and texture when treated well
Now at this stage I really was defeated. I ordered a vin santo and some cantucci biscotti. What arrived with my vin santo was a huge bag of artisan cantucci. Which I love. And I got to take most of them home. I’m still enjoying them – a couple a day with coffee in the morning.
This was beautiful seasonal cooking, served in a comfortable and elegant surrounding. I particularly like the perfect service, white linen and attention to detail in both menu and wine list. It may be a neighbourhood restaurant, but it’s one I am happy to go out of my own neighbourhood to visit and where the level of service goes beyond informal dining, while somehow managing not to be stuffy.
Many thanks to Tinello and in particular Federico for making us feel so welcome
87 Pimlico Road
London SW1W 8PH