We’ve said it before, but it’s easy to forget how impressive the food still is at Pane Vino, the easy-to-miss Sardinian restaurant opposite The Oxford (food critic Giles Coren still calls their linguine alle bottarga his favourite dish).
And, after our review last year, which provoked a huge volume of feedback, owner Stefania Berdini has been trying new ways to compete in Kentish Town’s now more crowded scene.
So did you know she now holds regular “pop-up” arts and crafts markets? The next is this Saturday, when you can swing by for coffee, and maybe peruse an early Xmas gift or two. And on the first Sunday evenings of the month she hosts Cinema e Cena (Movies at Dinner), the £20 pre-booked ticket covering a two course meal (with wine and aperitif) and Italian arthouse movie, shown on a huge screen covering the window (this Sunday, Nov 3, is recent Sicilian drama Terraferma).
And finally, to soften her restaurant’s perceived formality, she has installed a deli counter, offering good value walk-in/takeaway lunch options, Sardinian products for sale (such as olive oil by the can) – and now, a short menu of stuzzichini and zeitgeisty cocktails from Thursday to Saturday nights.
There is also that all-important on-trend cocktail menu: so expect Negronis, Americanos (which replaces the gin in the former drink with soda), and Campari Spritz (£7.50), the prosecco-based aperitif served in a flute with zesty twirl of orange peel. More bitter and full-bodied than this summer’s fashionable Aperol spritz, it’s certainly got the nuts to stand up to winter.The dishes, mostly prepared upfront, came quickly. Wafer-like folds of sliced cured meats were topped with a smoky, meaty slice of roast aubergine. At perfect temperature and all imported from Sardinia, we pulled apart the buttery bresola, crudo and our favourite – a darker, thicker goat prosciutto with a peppery rind.
The intoxicating waft of basil hit us before we saw the room-temperature creamy buffalo mozzarella resting on ripe tomatoes, drizzled with intense, fruity olive oil from a single yield. It’s the one she sells too in her shop, which reminds us we still need to pick some up.
The hot dishes arrived as we sipped an Americano: bruschetta and tomato was deeply moreish and garlicky; octopus so tender that we persuaded Stefania to explain how she did it. Without the space to hang the beastie in her kitchen, her trick of tenderising the tentacles is to pop them in the freezer for 24 hours before cooking. Bingo. They softly poked out of a crimson red tomato garlic sauce with waxy potatoes.
Next up, a plate of mussels (above): plump and bright orange, resting on a ball pit of yellow fregola. But all the dishes were pipped by what she calls simply “sausage and spinach”. Fluffy white beans, tinged with tomato and steaming with fat parma porker, bobbing in the garlicky red sauce. A real winter warmer.Stefana coaxed us into sharing a couple of desserts. The homemade tiramisu was air-light, its kick of caffeine living up to its meaning (translation: “pick me up”). Even better was a velvety pear poached in red wine, with cloves and spices – the perfect festive treat.
Most of these dishes are a fiver and the small plates are generous, so it’s insanely good value. Stefania knows how good her food is, despite the interior perhaps no match (in the eyes of some, anyway) for the industrial cool of Pizza East.
Additional words by Stephen Emms. Find Pane Vino at 323 Kentish Town Rd. Stuzzichini for two with a cocktail each about £40