I worked near Highbury Corner for a decade. Whilst gastro-ization rampaged inevitably through nearby Essex Road, De Beauvoir, Dalston and even parts of Holloway (the lovely Peche Mignon, Morgan M), there was, for years, little change in the food offerings around the noisy Upper Street/St Paul’s Road/Highbury Grove junction. The Alwyne Castle experimented with buy-in pub grub served at a terrifyingly slow pace (especially when a ‘quick’ bite was needed). The Thai Conner (sic) cafe held an initial attraction, but its identikit flavours soon paled. Don’t get us started on Highbury Barn (La Fromagerie excepted). The only place we loved – and continue to – is Trevi, the characterful Italian caff where trout with spinach and almonds and a glass of house red would rarely hit a tenner. The booths were miniscule, the staff laidback enough to turn a blind eye to our occasional canine companion.
Trullo opened a couple of years ago with a stellar pedigree (front of house from River Cafe/chef Tim Siadatan from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen) on that most notorious of things – the ‘doomed’ site. Several incarnations had failed, including the Gill Wing Cafe (and a revamp of it) as well as quite a nice bistro that listed a handful of dishes on a blackboard and served wine by the carafe.
The reviews came out and the place was rammmed. Too crazy for us to secure a table unless we were the kind of diners who booked two months upfront (and Mrs Kentishtowner is having none of that).
This is all a roundabout way of saying we were excited about our invite, having pressed our noses at its window many times. It is, if you like, the Pane Vino du jour (remember how brightly that NW5 star shone nearly a decade ago.)
Simple interior, paper tablecloths, dark scuffed floor, bright lighting darkening with the night to the flicker of tea lights from about 8pm, when jazz trickled out of the stereo, a smoky atmosphere descending (the hot kitchen is visible and miniscule – it’s a miracle how they do it). The small dining room soon filled with diners in celebratory mood: prosecco corks popped on every table.
A negroni was the perfect start to an evening of big flavours and simple presentation. The sommelier matched asparagus with creamy almond sauce, chargrilled al dente, with a medium-bodied Pecorino (the grape not the cheese). Grilled quail with chicken liver crostini was a beautifully burnt little luxury, sweet and pink; pappardelle (handmade ‘minutes’ before service, main pic) with Italian sausage ragu velvety.
The best thing we ate was a ‘bleu’ onglet with a smoky accompaniment of chickpea, fried aubergine and oregano, washed down with a fresh Allegini Valpolicella. The other main, lemon sole baked in the oven with spicy violetta artichokes, was simplicity itself; perhaps too much so. It needed something. More artichokes perhaps.
So? Eat here for simple flavours in a packed, buzzy restaurant. Desserts don’t disappoint, either: the chewy, crumbly frangipane of an Nespoli and almond tart, lipsmackingly salty caramel ice cream. Perhaps Trullo’s only problem – in our case – was one of expectation, making it harder to deliver the wow that meets the surprise of stumbling across somewhere. And that isn’t really a problem at all.
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms