PESCHERIA MATTIUCCI: A LITTLE BIT OF NAPLES IN W11
It's always a shock when you leave behind the slightly suspect cooking of the UK and become re-aquainted with how they do things on the Continent. Decent food is a given there but there's also an understanding of ingredients and their preparation which we don't quite grasp in this country. Here, everything is effortful, contrived. There, it feels unforced and natural.
It's nice then to be able to report on a meal I had recently in Notting Hill which took me back to my recent trip to Naples. Pescheria Mattiucci is a small deli-cum-fishmongers-cum-cafe just off the Portobello Road. It doesn't have a sign so even though it was a Saturday with the market in full swing it was pretty uncrowded: a few people browsing the goods imported from Naples; a couple knocking back an espresso and yours truly.
There's no menu here and I suspect the majority of people visiting for food come in the evening as they only had a couple of dishes on at lunchtime. I ordered both of them and asked the genial owner if they could prepare one of the small selection of fish on display. He picked out a specimen of Pargo, which looked like a Sea Bream.
It's licenced too, so soon after arriving I'd parked my fat ass on one of the barrels that serve as seating and was sipping a very pleasant white from Campagna - one of several Italian whites on offer - whilst regaling the staff with tales of my recent Naples trip, complete with photos (no groaning please) and a little Q&A afterwards I munched on walnuts, broad beans, dried olives and some good bread with peppery olive oil.
The first of my dishes, a sort of roulade of Monkfish, the layers interspersed with pumpkin flowers and wrapped around some prawns. It came with a pumpkin puree, intense in colour and flavour, which was enlivened with a little chilli. Across the top were spread the small buds of pumpkin flowers. It had all the characteristics that I look for in a fish dish: flavour, balance and a light touch.
The second of my "starters" was a piece of meaty red tuna wrapped around more pumpkin flowers mixed with a creamy ricotta cheese. There were also some Neapolitan chillis in the mix which gave the dish a nice kick.
Lack of a proper grill in the kitchen meant my fillets weren’t cooked with the skin on making them less interesting than they could have been. Still a good delicate taste to the fish though. Sides of artichoke and a small blob of a oil-enriched potatoe puree made this into a proper main course.
There didn’t appear to be any dolci going so a couple of espressos – the proper, thick, handpumped stuff like you get in the Mother Country – rounded things off nicely.
A bill of just over £50 probably reflects my over-enthusiatic embracing of market-priced fish and the interesting range of Italian whites. In any case it was well worth the money considering you’d pay the same or more for a worse meal elsewhere in London. I know because I do so, on a regular basis.
Finally and crucially though, joints like Pescheria Mattiucci do make me think London isn’t yet a completely lost cause. Just a shame that after all the hype over a number of years we need the Italians to come and show us how to do things properly.