A casual visitor to NW5 may miss the fact that there are two excellent Sardinian restaurants (Pane Vino and Nuraghe), a Neapolitan trattoria (Rossella), several pizza and pasta outlets, and, perhaps most hidden of all, a tiny Venetian bacaro. Yes, we know Delicious is not a bacaro, strictly speaking, but it sounds more romantic, doesn’t it? And anyway it’s small and you can share the dishes. So let’s go pazzo and use the b-word.
Delicious by Franco opened three years ago as a simple cafe, and in 2011 was revamped into Kentish Town’s most bijou dining room. The family come from Caorle, a coastal town in the province of Venice, and dotted around the walls are pictures from the area, including black and white images of the fishermen’s huts where Hemingway found inspiration for his last novel ‘Across the River and into The Trees.’
And get owner Gianfranco talking about Caorle and it transpires that the fish menu is based on a spider’s web of ancient recipes and family secrets. He invited us in to try some of them, keen to extend their reputation beyond that of a reliable pizza joint. Fair enough.
So yes, step inside and fishermen’s netting hangs from the ceiling, lilies are positioned on the bar, Venetian spirits gather dust in the corner. It’s red and white check tablecloth territory, for sure, but worldly jazz tinkles away on the stereo, and even at 730pm on a monday evening, it’s almost full with mostly Italian speaking diners. So it really felt like that old cliche – being on holiday.
The idea was to share dishes to taste as much as possible. We started with conchiglia di mare (main pic), a simple plate of large king prawns and mussels served on home made thyme bread with a delicious sauce made from garlic and, said the head chef after the meal, ‘something I can’t tell you’. Yikes. But the recipe deserves to stay secret: simple flavours, homely presentation. Win.
As big sardine lovers, we were keen to try sardine in saor caorlotto (right), marinated with sweet spring onion, raisin and black pepper. Served on yellow polenta – almost runny like a sauce – it balanced the sweet/sour savouriness nicely but needed an extra blast of seasoning for our salty old palates.
There’s a whole board of specials each night. Gurnard in acqua matta exemplified the ‘ugly fish/tasty dish’ rule, its light, appealing texture made fragrant by the pesto sauce (to think gurnard was once only used as lobster bait). But even better was a dish I would never normally chose: salmon (see pic below). This was an exercise in balance, the chargrilled flesh in smooth buttery prosecco sauce perfectly complemented by very bitter red radiccho de Treviso. Appealingly retro presentation, for sure, but its tasty moreishness was up there with anything else nearby. A real little discovery, in fact.
And don’t forget, being a Venetian joint, they love their Aperol and Campari. We enjoyed a spritz to start, then prosecco with our mains (although they serve house wine by the half and litre carafe too). A particularly good red is the Veronese Ireos (£28).
The key word to Delicious by Franco is rustic. Don’t expect Bull & Last or Colonel Fawcett-style intricacy. This is a place for an atmospheric low-key – perhaps riotous – impromptu dinner. And it’s unique, even now in Kentish Town’s multicultural, increasingly populated dining scene.
Words & Some Pics: Stephen Emms