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.
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?