As we said last week in the first of our two-part special, Highgate Road trattoria Rossella is one of those true Kentish Town institutions.
It’s long been a locals’ secret, with its easygoing southern Italian cooking headed up by charismatic owner Luca Meola, a genuine people person who often attends to each table in turn, on first name terms with many diners.
And now it’s gone big. But before we find out about the new restaurant, which has just doubled in size, first let’s rewind a few decades.
A traditional trattoria in the truest sense, Rossella is inspired by the family’s Neapolitan origins – and the original restaurant they had of the same name back in 1960.
It was Luigi Meola, Luca’s father, who brought his love for Italian food here after moving from Benevento, near Naples, in 1978. He also called his first restaurant in Ilford Rossella in 1985 (no longer there), but for the last thirty years or so, he’s owned Luigi’s, a popular neighbourhood trattoria.
“When you’ve got a dad who owns restaurants, if you want to see him at all, you’ve got to go there – but you don’t just stand there, you work,” says Luca. “So I started from a very young age peeling potatoes, carrots, and washing up, and then working behind the bar, anything I could to learn to spend time with my dad.”
At this time he’d also spend long summers spent in the farm near Naples, where he would observe his family members harvest their olive oil and produce their salami.
“Without my nonna’s cooking in Benevento, I wouldn’t have ever fallen in love with cooking as much as I did,” he says. “Food brought all of us together as a family.”
After a professional chef diploma at Westminster, Kingsway College, and stint at The Orrery in Marylebone, the opportunity to take over the Highgate Road unit became a reality in 2011. “I was only 19 at the time, but to carry on the family’s legacy was everything.”
Fast forward to 2020 and, with the trattoria a proven success, Luca had been looking to expand for a while. Lockdown provided time to rethink and relaunch as a bigger, more ambitious space, taking over the former police station unit next door.
“The new Rossella brings together all our favourite textures, patterns and colours,” he says. The decor is the result of his architect and interior-design friends and customers, many from Highgate Studios, all kindly lending a hand.
Rustic brick and rich green tiled walls provide the backdrop for elegant marble and wood tables. Black and white framed images adorn the far side (above) of the farm in Italy, Luca as a kid – and even Luca’s grandad selling ice creams from a van on Prince Of Wales Road in 1972. And the original colourful painted mural is still in place as you enter.
But the best thing? The chic dining space has doubled. “There are about 60 covers inside, including a dozen for walk-ins, an eat-at counter by the bar, as well as a further twenty on the terrace.” And the buzzy open kitchen now makes a great focal point for diners to watch the chefs dart about.
**Special lunch offer** Any pizza, pasta or salad is currently just £8, Monday to Friday.
Rossella is now open daily from 830am until 1030pm daily. Follow @rossellanw5 and find out more or book a table via the website here
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