Head down Mele e Pere’s “apples and pears” – which is what the name translates as – and you’ll find a very cool, cavernous basement space, with a frighteningly well-stocked vermouth bar as its focal point, whose walls are lined with the kind of vintage posters sold by roughly five percent of retail outlets in this immediate area. It feels achingly Soho-esque to me, and yet somehow authentically Italian too. Which was the main aim, according to head chef and co-owner Andrea Mantovani – previously head chef at Arbutus, a stone’s throw away.
“The style of our decor was designed to give the restaurant an authentic trattoria look,” he says. “A trattoria is a relaxed family style restaurant but it can still have an elegant and comfortable feel. We’ve chosen vintage Italian Anglepoise lamps to sit alongside posters of classic vermouth brands like Carpano and Cocchi and rustic but elegant wooden furniture with some marble and copper dotted around – and of course our lovely copper-topped vermouth bar.”
Mantovani is also focussed on authentic Italian flavours when it comes to the cuisine – “as the rediscovery of traditional recipes with occasional twists”, he says – and her words certainly come to fruition in the case of the roasted beetroot salad with San Marzano tomatoes, walnuts and goat’s cheese: a heady blend of flavours with alluring texture mixes to match.
Mantovani actually recommends, as a starter, Prosciutto di Norcia with deep fried gnocchi fritti – “a nice combination of the sweet and salty taste of the ham with the crispy fluffiness of the gnocchi fritti”). We’re in full agreement when it comes to the main though: tagliatelle with braised beef ragu – a dish that manages to be refined and elaborate, and yet tick the “comfort food” box. Which is a dichotomy which really summarises Italian fare at its best. “I’ve tweaked my mum’s ragu recipe to create a rich and comforting family dish,” says Mantovani of the house speciality. “I love the feel of the al dente home-made pasta combined with the rich flavour of the beef ragu. Perfect comfort food!”
The T-bone steak alla Fiorentima and taglierini with Umbria black truffle are other standouts on a menu based on being authentically – but, crucially, not stubbornly – Italian. “I use the best ingredients I can from Italy alongside seasonal British products on the market,” says Mantovani. “Great Italian food should have a home-made quality to it and as such we make all our own pastas and ice creams every day.”
Whilst the food will leave you comforted, a lengthy post-prandial session at that aforementioned vermouth bar – which boasts London’s largest selection of a spirit whose modern iteration was first produced in 18th-century Turin, including varieties made with 20 botanicals produced and kegged in-house – will have you waddling out into Brewer Street emitting a warm glow this winter.