Review: Nuraghe, Tufnell Park

It’s been on our hitlist for ever. And it’s crazy-busy on a Friday night. So why did we want to like the cooking more than we actually did?

A calm exterior, but inside the weekend buzz is tangible, no mean feat for a neighbourhood restaurant

So, finally, we’re at Nuraghe. We’ve tried many times – but it’s not open weekday lunchtimes, was closed over August, and full on a recent impromptu visit.

But now it’s a Friday night, cold and dark, and we’re offered the last free table in the window by smiling staff. I’m excited. If there’s one place readers have tweeted, emailed and cajoled us about, it’s this respected Sardinian in Tufnell Park.

The weekend buzz is tangible, no mean feat in a neighbourhood restaurant with quite a bit of competition these days. Packed at 730pm, by 8pm they’re turning people away, most happily agreeing to return in an hour or so later. The crowd is a real mix: creaking north London grans, a table of animated Japanese businessmen, families tutting at kids, couples conspiratorial.

To start? A glass of pink fizz from Venice: cherry red, aromatic, and quite dry. Good to peruse the menu with, which is quite short, rustic and without the flourishes on offer at, say, rival Sardinian joint Pane Vino on Kentish Town Road.

Starters are simply named (zuppa, or cozze) so we plump for a plate of polpo, at £9, to share. No attention, alas, is drawn to a chalked-up board of specials, which contain delights like raw swordfish and anchovy sauce, and which we only spy after ordering. Damn.

The dish arrives less than a minute later: tender, beautifully marinated strips of octopus, salty cured grey mullet roe, new potatoes – but absolutely fridge cold. We’re disappointed. Crispy Sardinian bread and olives are good though.

By now the staff are whizzing about, screaming babies are being escorted outside by parents, and the noise levels are escalating. It’s certainly a hectic atmosphere for such a tiny place. Too bright, of course, too, but its simple wooden furniture and lack of frills works in its functional way. It has a “holiday” vibe, we agree. Curious about the name, a waiter explains it means “ancient buildings”. Nuraghe, then, are a symbol of Sardinia and its culture.

It’s funny how buzzy wanes to boredom, and more than an hour passes with no sign of our mains. The wine – a light, elegant Valpolicella (£19) – is drained, and we politely ask if the dishes are nearly ready. The friendly manager reminds us just how busy they are, and we nod. It’s “like being on holiday”, we say again. We’ll just ride it out.

But when the food finally arrives, it’s baffling why the wait was so long. Al granchio, homemade cuttle ink ravioli filled with crab and mascarpone, is OK but rather perfunctory, with its unflashy sauce of prawns, garlic and tomato. Much better is malloreddus – traditional tiny dumplings made from semolina dough with an elongated ridge conch shape to catch the sauce. And what a sauce! Slow-cooked pork with fennel, saffron and tomato: big bold flavours which hint at why regulars keep returning to Nuraghe.

The charming service continues till we leave, with old-school complimentary limoncellos and smiles as we pay. I can understand why it’s packed: escapism, decent fare and a genuine buzz, with OK prices too, around a tenner for the mains (although same again for a starter).

But the truth is I found myself wanting to like the cooking more than I did. We’ll return to try those tempting chalked-up specials – perhaps on a less chaotic weekday evening.

This is box title
Kentishtowner Rating 6.5/10. Meal for two with wine, around £50. Nuraghe 12 Dartmouth Park Hill NW5 1HL

What are your experiences at Nuraghe? Should we have plumped for pizza instead? And have you had to wait too long – or were we just unlucky?

  • Show Comments

  • Ed Goldman

    There is only 1 Italian worth visiting in Kentish Town. Delicious on Fortess Road. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Fiona

    I’ve never had a bad meal here – the food has always been outstanding and the welcome ultra-friendly. Sounds like you just happened to go on a rare off night. It’s odd that you give Nuraghe an average review yet raved over The Vine where staff go around looking stoned and barely can tell you what time it is!

  • Andrew Crudgington

    Fair review. I’ve been going on and off for years – but the cooking can be very up and down but the owner is lovely. Worth dropping in on a weekday evening for just a pizza and a glass of wine. Ror Sardo classics on a budget I’d say you are better off with the various offshoots of il Bacio around Stoke Newington and Finsbury Park – or a place whose name i can’t remember at the very bottom of Kingsland Road!

  • Highstreet Ken

    Great review! It’s clear, honest and whilst i will be selective over what to eat and when to visit, I still do want to visit. Thanks.

  • Dominic Laurie

    It’s one of my favourite restaurants in London. Service always fast and impeccable and food yummy. Maybe an off night.

  • Kassie

    Good review. Got a real feeling of the visit. And still tempted to go! Have tried Delicious only by takeaway and was very disappointed. Will have to get out more!

  • DB

    I’ve lived on DP Hill for nearly 20 years and Nuraghe is the only place that has stayed in that spot. Many an incarnation has come and gone.

  • MR

    Give them another chance and maybe try a quieter weeknight. My wife and I eat there from time to time, and it’s usually very good indeed. The Malloredus is superb, but try the specials. We’ve had wonderful grilled squid, rabbit with barley and artichokes and many other delights. And Oscar knows how to cook fish. This is a husband and wife running a restaurant on their own, it’s not a gastropub or a corporate chain so please cut them a little slack on a busy Friday and enjoy the care, reasonable prices and personal service they provide. I would gladly trade the Bull and Last, Pizza East and the Vine for Nuraghe!

  • TuffyPLocal

    We also had a similar experience – had booked a table for 4 for 8pm on a Friday, it was almost 10pm by the time the food arrived! Smiles & small talk had faded, wine drunk, several bread baskets eaten, and in the end the food was nice but not amazing; we decided never again. The review by MR does help, perhaps it’s worth a quieter weeknight visit to support a family-run place – but I guess when we are so spoilt in this area, a 2 hour wait is too much to ask.