North London's Cultural Guide

Rossella: everything you need to know about the all-new NW5 trattoria

We speak to owner Luca about his family's long love of food, and the new dining room and menu

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.

Owner Luca Meola in the kitchen. Photo: Rossella

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.

The brand new dining room. Photo: Rossella

“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.

Elegant: space for walk-ins. Photo: SE

“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.”

Idyllic: now, a much bigger terrace. Photo: SE

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.

Family portraits. Photo: Rossella

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.

So what’s on the menu?

Bruschetta. Photo: Rossella

The menu now spans everything from pizza and pasta to exciting new meat and fish dishes. Antipasti includes homemade rosemary focaccia, olives, zucchini fritti (tasty bite-sized courgette pieces in batter), Italian salads and, of course, juicy bruschetta and buttery garlic bread.

Starters offer up the creamiest of burrata (add San Daniele prosciutto for maximum impact); a moreish aubergine parmigiana, its layers of aubergine butter-soft in an unctuous tomato sauce; calamari that’s light, crisp and tender; and wonderfully juicy king prawns in a rich lemon and garlic butter sauce.

Pastas, pizza and more. Photo: Rossella

You can also nibble on platters of meats and cheeses sliced fresh to order at the counter, including salami milano, salami napoli, bresaola, coppa and, our fave, pistachio mortadella. Cheeses include a fiery gorgonzola piccante, the creamiest of burrata, a 24-month aged parmigiano reggiano, a milder goats cheese and even a truffle-laced pecorino.

The pasta section combines classics like spaghetti bolognese (with its six-hour reduced ragu) and carbonara (order it with or without cream) with new items like ravioloni di carne, a filling of beef and veal in a classic Napoli sauce.

Diablo. Photo: Rossella

And the pizzas are all made using a traditional Neapolitan method ensuring a thin and crispy pizza every time (vegans can order plant-based mozzarella for £1 extra, while amazing gluten-free pizza is just £2.50 more.). All the classics are present and correct: Napoli, with capers, anchovies, black olives and basil; Rocca, with rocket, prosciutto San Daniele and 24 month-aged Parmigiano Reggiano, the always-popular simple Marguerita, and the Verde, with chargrilled aubergine, courgettes, peppers and basil.

On our most recent visit, we loved the Salsiccia, with pork and fennel sausage, caramelised onions and basil, and, on the Pizza Bianca list, the Tartufo & Porc, with fresh truffle, porcini mushrooms and basil, the truffle expertly employed so as not to overpower the dish.

Vitello Parmigiana
House special: Vitello Parmigiana. Photo: Rossella

For mains? An extensive all-British sourced meat and fish section includes highlights like sea bass with prawns in garlic butter, or baked cod fillet, its flesh just-opaque, wrapped with prosciutto on sauteed potatoes and roasted Mediterranean vegetables. Carnivores might prefer veal Milanese, a special Vitello Parmigiana (pictured), or a rustic polenta dish with fennel sausages, grilled courgettes and rich tomato sauce. Then there are chargrilled lamb cutlets with red wine sauce, and very well-priced steaks: a 200g fillet is just £17, including sauteed potatoes, while a T-bone is £22.

Irresistible: tiramisu. Photo: Rossella

Dessert? The all-time Italian classic, home-made creamy tiramisu, is air-light, with a small boule of vanilla ice cream and single espresso to pour over; or try an easygoing chocolate mousse cake enriched with hazelnuts on a sponge base served with vanilla gelato. There is also affogato, vanilla ice cream with hot espresso, and Torta Della Nonna, shortcrust pastry filled with creme patisserie and covered with almonds and pine nuts. Accompany it with a limoncello or a meloncello, made on the family farm, a powerfully bright-orange digestif made with melon with a 35% ABV kick.

Before dinner?  Start on the terrace with an Italian aperitifs like negroni, Aperol Spritz, or lesser-known Rossini (a red bellini). And as Luca’s family have a vineyard in Benevento, it’s almost rude not to try a glass of their rich and full-bodied Aglianco that works especially well with the cheeses and meats. And, of course, there is a very strong list of Italian classic wines, including a full-bodied, dry Chianti Riserva.

Finally, as we reported last week, there’s a new all-day deli and cafe adjoining the restaurant. Find out more about that in our separate feature here.

**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

This is a sponsored post in association with Rossella. If you are a local or London-wide business who would like to speak directly to thousands of readers, please email: 

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