The name of Russell Norman’s Farringdon trattoria may translate as ‘ugly’, but, says Zoe Perrett, Brutto is a beaut
Yeah I’m beyond fashionably late visiting Brutto, but that’s down to the similarly tardy opening of the Elizabeth Line, without which Farringdon was a right faff for this Isle of Dog-ian. Now I can zip from Canary Wharf to Farringdon in just 9 minutes, the world is my oyster – and Brutto is my local tratt.
And what a tratt, at that. Russell Norman’s never been a chap to deliver duds, and a year-and-a-quarter after opening its doors on the former Hix Oyster & Chop House site, Brutto remains packed at every service. Great for them, not so great for us bowling up on a Thursday evening in December, wing and prayer to hand in lieu of a booking, fully prepared to wind our necks in and, in seasonally-apt style, be informed that there’s no room at the inn.
But we have a kernel of hope in the fact that LB and I seem to have luck in our favour when it comes to being granted instant access to insanely popolare Italian gaffs; vis New York’s Don Angie, which reportedly gets 400 booking enquiries a day, yet our chancing it one Saturday night was rewarded with a table at which we enjoyed of the best dinners we ate that side of the pond. If everyone has a guardian angel looking over them in some aspect of life, then ours clearly has a penchant for pasta.
And indeed fate (or more probably Brutto’s GM, Monique Sierra) smiles upon us on this occasion too, in the form of Table 8 – a sometimes-present two-top carefully tessellated into Brutto’s floorplan leaving just enough room for the waitstaff to nimbly dance – quite literally when a particularly groovy synth-pop song comes on – between us and our neighbours.
There’s an exacting art to table spacing, and Russell and team have painted a gingham-tableclothed masterpiece here, creating a proximity to one’s fellow diners that’s intimate without being the slightest bit intrusive. The same crowded-not-cluttered vibe is echoed in the picture-laden walls, the draped-napkin-style lampshades which resemble the ghosts of Nonnas past, and the general, gorgeous hustle-bustle and hubbub of a busy restaurant doing its thing.
It’s Christmas – or near enough – so in spite of sparkly water usually being my most extravagant tipple, I treat myself to a cocktail. The addition of grapefruit soda to my negroni-based-bev is one that’s both delicious and dangerous; rendering this typical sipper so gluggable that I’ve downed it before LB’s even raised his dry martini.
The chicken liver toasts we’re sharing to start call for wine and, just as LB calls for a list, UB40 start singing about the Red, Red sort – which of course is precisely what he’s after. An exceedingly well-priced Beaujolais is full of red fruit and bright acidity – the fermented-grape equivalent of Madagascan chocolate. The pâté, meanwhile, reminds me of a food memory far more glorious than it sounds on (digital) paper: a particular kind sold in Sainsbury’s in the late 80s (although four year-old me never slathered it on St. John sourdough). Don’t for a second think this is a diss: its bright yellow-and-red label is carved so deeply and fondly into my memory for good reason.
To follow bread we have pasta, which seems only sensible given that achieving extra personal padding currently costs less than turning on the heating. Locanda Locatelli’s tortelloni in brodo has long been one of LB’s death row dishes; with its robust, hearty, fittingly Florentine character, Brutto’s is a very different beast, but it, too, instantly joins his pre-mort menu. For me it’s mushroom tagliatelli because, magical or not, I’m always fond of fungi – and I like this chantrelle’n’chestnut affair a lot.
LB’s already panicking he’s too full to do his main course justice, so I suggest he dons his recently-acquired reading glasses and summons up an alter ego – a la Superman/Clark Kent – who’s still hungry. Whether it’s the method acting or the sheer allure of his Tuscan beef shin stew, he makes a fairly heroic effort when it arrives and, after a sneaky spoonful of a stew so rich thick’n’ flavoursome it could almost be rechristened ‘Meat Jam’, I assume the role of selfless sidekick to help him out still further.
On my own plate are fat pork and fennel sausages, earthy, herby braised green lentils, and a sinus-clearing dollop of Dijon mustard – a triumvirate only a fool would argue leaves any tastebud untingled, and a dish in which the bangers are banging. Celery and tarragon pep a green salad to a level that has LB declaring it his best ever, while a bowl of tiny roast potatoes are up there with my Godmother’s God-tier ones.
Always craving something sweet – although heaven knows why when he’s got me – LB orders an affogato, and puts paid to the espresso-drowned vanilla ice-cream faster than Santa on a mission to get through every mince pie left out for him on Christmas Eve. Given its immediate proximity and the fact that party season is upon us, I attempt to capitalise on his caffeine buzz by proposing a post-prandial pop into Fabric before we head for home, but he’s not having it (and after all those carbs, I doubt even a doppio would have done the trick).
An eyebrow-raisingly reasonable bill later, we reluctantly leave Brutto’s cosseting embrace, utterly enamoured. There are few restaurants that feel totally transportive, but this place sits amongst their number: to dine at Brutto is to feel safe, cosy, joyful and utterly removed from whatever’s happening outside its four walls when you’re inside them. I reckon a full apocalypse could be raging on Cowcross Street (and let’s face it, with the permacrisis that is 2022 it’s an entirely probable prospect), and still everything would seem alright for the duration of your dinner. Respite at first bite is a thing, and it’s a thing to be celebrated.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
- Brutto, 35-37 Greenhill Rents, London EC1M 6BN
- Visit Brutto’s website here
- Find @brut.to on Instagram
Main image: Resy