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db Eats: Palatino

db’s Lucy Shaw heads to Stevie Parle’s new Roman restaurant Palatino for fried sage leaves, butter-drenched ravioli and a charming Carricante from Etna.

The concept: We predicted that ‘Britalian’ (serving Italian dishes made with British ingredients) would be one of this year’s big trends and London’s love affair with la dolce vita seems to be showing no sign of slowing, with The Clove Club founders having opened Luca in Clerkenwell and The Salt Yard Group shining a light on northern Italy at Veneta in hip new restaurant mecca St James’s Market.

Also in on the Italian job is Stevie Parle, a former River Café chef whose expanding restaurant empire includes Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove, Craft in Greenwich, Rotorino in Dalston and Sardine in Hoxton.

His latest venture, Palatino in Clerkenwell, is named after one of the seven ancient hills in Rome. Having visited the city while working as a commis chef for The River Café, Parle views Rome as “Italy’s melting pot” and has created a moreish menu inspired by his memories of eating there, recreating classics and inventing new dishes based on Roman ingredients and culinary traditions.

Food heaven: spinach ravioli with squash

The décor: Visiting on a chilly midweek evening, there was a distinct whiff of weed in the air on Central Street where the restaurant is based.

On my approach, a group of teenagers push past me, their boom box blaring with a new grime track. Inside, I’m greeted by Selfridges yellow leather banquettes in a light and airy industrial space framed by an open kitchen boasting a pasta making machine and a wood burning oven.

Complementing the lemon yellow colour scheme, both the cast concrete bar and the chair cushions are a tasteful shade of grey. Above my head are low slung filament bulbs encased in giant glass globes. The overall feel of the 70-cover space is one of inviting industrial chic.

The food: In honour of its name, the menu is printed in the pleasing Palatino font on grey paper. Divided, as every good Italian menu should be, into antipasti, primi, secondi, contorni (sides) and dolce, it’s advisable if dining à deux to pick one course each from all of the sections and share the lot.

Parle’s time at The River Café is evident in his dishes, which let the purity of the ingredients and their punchy flavours shine rather than dressing them up with edible flowers and dots of elaborate emulsions. This is rustic yet elegant cooking that oozes Italian soul. Our night kicked off with a quartet of anchovies and straciatella on toast with preserved lemon.

Not to be confused with chocolate chip ice cream, straciatella is also a creamy buffalo milk cheese. With the crunch from the toast and the acidity of the lemon playing with the creaminess of the cheese and the salty anchovies, it was a triumph of texture and full-throttle flavours.

Chicken, pancetta and pistachio meatballs with polenta

The night also ended on a high note with a generous doorstopper of a slice of almond, lemon and ricotta cake, given added tang by slivers of sour rhubarb on the side. Both the almond and the lemon were notably present and correct, and the cake was wonderfully moist.

Signature dishes: Every trip to Palatino should begin with a fight over the last fried sage leaf dipped in mouth-puckering honey vinegar. The tiny crispy spears are joyful and left me wanting to recreate the dish at home. Having sent many a foodie into a frenzy, I was keen to try Parle’s signature dish: spinach ravioli rammed with squash, which didn’t disappoint.

The turtle green parcels are home to soft, earthy pillows of squash, but best of all, the dish arrived oozing in molten butter that left me having to exercise superhuman levels of restraint not to lick the plate – everything is better with butter after all. Another hit were the chicken, pancetta and Parmesan meatballs served on a bed of impossibly creamy polenta.

The dish tips its hat to Rome’s Jewish community and the addition of the crunchy pistachios was inspired. Not all of the dishes were winning however, the most disappointing being a trio of gnocci alla Romana with brown butter and sage, which promised so much but ended up being flaccid, dry and uninspiring.

The drinks: The drinks offering at Palatino is a delight for both oenophiles and cocktail lovers. The 45-bin wine list is divided into ‘classsic’, ‘unique’ and ‘special’ wines, all of which are available by the glass. I began the night with an intriguing glass of Carricante with a dash of Albanello from Etna producer Gulfi that offered notes of lemon rind, jasmine, almonds, gunflint and smoke.

Moving on to a red, I was charmed by a glass of Bruno Rocca Maria Adelaide Barbaresco 2011, an elegant and opulent marriage of blackberries, black cherries, plums, violets and sweet spices that convinced me Barbaresco is so much easier to love young than Barolo. On the cocktail front, I ordered a Port Flip for the road and was treated to a decadent take on a sour laced with nutty tawny Port, punchy apple cider brandy and lemon.

Who to know: Affable waiter Giuseppe Augugliaro with fill you in on Roman history and wow you with his wine knowledge – his recs are on point.

Don’t leave without: Checking out the evolving series of artworks projected onto a screen on the far wall when you walk in the door.

Last word: Palatino is a warm and welcome addition to London’s now thriving new wave Italian scene serving rustic Roman dishes that let their ingredients shine. I’d return for the ravioli alone. It’s also lovely to see genuine care and thought going into a wine list, which plays a starring role rather than a cameo.

Palatino, 71 Central Street, London EC1V 8AB; Tel: +44 (0)20 3481 5300

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