Friday, 2 January 2015

Artusi in Peckham

Ricotta & braised radicchio
at Artusi Peckham

It's easy to tell when an area of London is heating up property-wise.  The nearest parade of shops start to get a lick of paint and an air of fresh-thinking.  SE15 is a case in point where the traders on Peckham's Bellenden Road now include ex-Ginger Pig butcher Charlie Shaw with his own Flock & Herd butchery; popular Thai street-food restaurant The Begging Bowl; Melange chocolate shop and cafe; and the very special grocer General Store where the shelves groan with foodstuffs from many London producers.  Here too is a little gem of a restaurant, Artusi at No. 161.

Taking its name from *Pellegrino Artusi, this determinedly Italian restaurant has Jack Beer as Owner and Chef (ex-Clove Club and Peckham Bazaar).  It's a relaxing kind of place with a short, understated menu and charming staff.  Simply furnished, the tables for two can be pushed together the length of the banquette seating to accommodate groups and a Long Table in the back, right by the kitchen action, can be booked for parties (seats 18).

The Evening menu may offer a starter of Seared Beef Heart with peppers or Burrata with braised radicchio.  Mains might include Venison Haunch with root vegetables or Cod with broccoli.  Expect a choice of a couple of desserts, maybe Chocolate Mousse, Tiramisu or Olive Oil Cake.  At Sunday lunch there's a set 3-course menu for £20.  Weekday lunches are even more pared-down.  The small, wholly Italian, wine list is reasonably priced starting at £20 a bottle/£4 a glass going up to a Barolo at £62.

Linguine with Duck ragout
at Artusi Peckham

This is simple Italian food of the kind that is so often done badly.  There are no hiding places, no tricksy flourishes or sauces to hide a multitude of sins. I've had several lunches at Artusi.  Each one has been exemplary.  They have included a dish of radicchio - two varieties, one intensely bitter and one mildly so - charred and paired with a whipped ricotta and dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Another time, pillowy ricotta served with braised radicchio and tomatoes.  Both dishes were juicy and big on flavour.  Squid with Potatoes was no looker but was a pleasing plateful of tender squid and waxy potatoes brought together by a fish stock-based emulsion.  The pasta dishes are served in two portion sizes at £6.50 and £10.50.  Spaghetti Puttanesca was punchy perfection, Linguine with Duck Ragout was flavoursome and well balanced.  A deeply comforting bowl of Beef and Pork Meatballs in a herby tomato sauce was simply served with parmesan.  A light as air Olive Oil Cake came with baked thyme-infused pear and caramel sauce.  Scoops of Ice Cream a - one Coffee and one Salted Honey - were served exactly as you hope, just-melting softness in a cold bowl.  It takes confidence to serve up ice cream quite so plainly but here it's not misplaced.

Expect to pay about £50 for two at lunch.

Coffee ice cream and Salted Honey ice cream
at Artusi Peckham

There's a modesty about Artusi.  It's the word that came to mind when on one visit a party of 5 arrived for a wedding celebration straight from the ceremony.  In a world where thousands of pounds are spent on the 'big day', this was a model of restraint and a delight to observe.  I applaud the Happy Couple's choices for their big day, and for the sweet way Artusi welcomed them.  Let's have more modesty, I say.

161 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4DH
Tel: 020 3302 8200

*Pellegrino Artusi made his fortune as a silk merchant which funded his twin passions of literature and food.  In 1891 he self-published La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte de mangiar bene (The Science of Cookery and The Art of Eating Well).  He was the first to include recipes from all regions of Italy in a single cookbook and is credited with helping to establish a national Italian identity following unification.  By the time of his death in 1911, sales of the book exceeded 200,000 copies.