BY PALOMA LACY
As restaurant back stories go, this one’s a winner. Chef Dani’s cooking is hugely influenced by the flavours of his grandmother’s Roman kitchen so he called his place La Nonna.
I was lured there for dinner last week by the name alone, which conjures up of the boy chef learning at the knee of his grandmother.
I love fresh pasta but there’s something extra special about a menu influenced by previous generations.
La Nonna is compact – quite a lot of the space is taken up by the bustling kitchen, which makes for great theatre but doesn’t necessarily make for the quietest of dinners.
Like many Brixton Village eateries, they’re not for the faint-hearted come the cooler weather.
No heating and open door ways is the perfect recipe for a chilly dinner.
My gang and I opted to sit outside under the heaters, given the freshness of this particular autumn evening.
I’ve no idea why but fresh pasta somehow seems more filling than dried. I’m aware there’s probably little foundation for this but it’s a personal perception.
It was for this reason that we tried to go light on the starter front.
However, one bread basket suddenly turned into two – I blame the salty Sardinian cracker bread and home-made grissini.
Aubergine balls with pepper bagnacauda weren’t balls at all – more fritter shaped – but nonetheless exceptionally tasty and our table of four scrapped over the plate of three pieces.
We came up trumps with the rather small side salad, which arrived dressed with glisteningly fresh anchovies, the sight of which left one of our diners unimpressed.
For me, it was a winner. Fresh anchovies are better than their counterparts in jars. And the anchovy theme continued, chosen by the Italian at our table.
I should have paid more attention and taken this route as the aroma when it arrived was out of this world.
Tagliorini al Nero Di Seppia Nduja, mussels, anchovy pepper sauce, bread crumbs was the stand out main course, without doubt.
Pumpkin, leek and ricotta ravioli, sage butter, 24-month Parmesan was the safe choice and while delicious lacked adventure or innovation.
I know it, like it and wasn’t feeling confident enough to leave my comfort zone on this occasion.
And comforted I felt, until I realised I had missed a trick. Last to arrive at our table was Funghi Selvatici e Tartufo Mafalde – creamy wild mushroom sauce, four types of seasonal mushrooms, truffle paste – another vegetarian crowd-pleaser.
I’m a big fan of slow-cooked ragu. I’d love to try Dani’s, cooked for 12 hours, and a traditional combination of beef and pork and seasoned with fennel.
It is pasta or bust at La Nonna, though the pasta avoiders among us could easily form their own spread of small plates from the starters – arancini, meat balls and antipasti platters all looked good.
I’m not usually a fan of the more popular Italian desserts but was swayed by the Piedmont hazelnut gelato – fresh, light and with the just the right amount of sweetness.
A visit to La Nonna feels like connecting with culinary Italy and an entire world away from the kind of Italian food we believed was the real deal for so long.
Thanks, Dani and of course to you, Nonna. La Nonna. 7 Market Row, Brixton, SW9 8LB.
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