Truth be told, I’ve always been grunt-y about having Italian when dining out. The thing about this cuisine (and no, I'm not just talking about pasta and pizza) is that it's probably the easiest to prepare at home, given that you have the correct recipes and freshest ingredients. It’s a cuisine that I seem to enjoy more when eating in, perhaps because I find it unpretentious despite the fancy shmancy names (if you're Italian you won't even consider them fancy because they're pretty straightforward in translation). And because when you put a plate or of something-cine ala something-ella con something-izzi in front of me the backdrop will always change into a well-lit Italian kitchen with stonebake ovens and clay pots and pans, with someone buzzing about a recipe handed down from generations of nonnas. Italian cuisine to me is rustic and comforting.
Italian pork sausages
So when we decided to use our TasteLondon card in Strada at Market Place I was a little bit hesitant. But as we get 50% off food, I didn't complain. The restaurant’s been newly refurbished and albeit a bit too dark for my liking (each table has a tea candle), it looked so much better now (long cosy tables) than how it was before (back to back round tables and literally rubbing elbows with the next guest). It was buzzing on a Tuesday night which was good. The menu is definitely your typical Italian but absolutely more exciting than Carluccio's. Off to a good start.
Starters and Carbs
We carboloaded for starters. We had the bread basket (a generous serving of ciabatta, grissini, focaccia with sundried tomatoes, crisp bread and walnut bread, £4.75) and hand-stretched pizza bread with tomato sauce & pesto (£4.25). The bread basket was twice the serving size of the Carluccio's bread tin although the I'd give Carluccio's plus points on the focaccia. Strada's version didn't taste as good, I think. The pizza bread, on the other hand, was great although I honestly prefer the garlic and rosemary ones.
We had the following for mains:
- Salsicce Mantovana (Roasted Italian pork sausages on rosemary infused borlotti beans with grilled polenta and chard, £11)
- Orata al Timo (Whole gilthead bream baked with lemon & thyme with roasted celeriac, potatoes & squash £15)
- Rigatoni Speck e Gorgonzola (Gorgonzola, grana padano & cream sauce, finished with northern Italian smoked mountain ham and rocket, £10)
- Tonno Nizzarda (Nicoise served without an egg! with capers and cannellini beans, £12.50)
I don’t eat pork but the sausages looked and smelled great. My friend's had it previously and he's obviously liked it to order the same thing again. The beans that came with were really nice, I had to stop myself from digging in to someone else’s plate. The nicoise is usually served medium, but my friend wanted hers well done and it came as requested. The rigatoni was shockingly flavoursome, despite its pale look. I'm not much of a white sauce fan but the cream sauce was quite a revelation.
Star of the night:whole gilthead seabream
The Scene-Stealer-Of-The-Night Award goes to my bream. I don’t remember the last time I saw a whole fish on a plate with its head. Brits normally like their fish in fillets so when the waitress placed my order on the table I was actually surprised - and so were the tables beside ours. The slight buzz in our corner had a momentary pause as punters stared at my plate. The phrase 'whole gilthead bream' on the menu completely slipped my eyes (it was a bit too dark!) and so I was really taken aback. I have never been so intimidated by a plate of food. The buzz came back and I gulped. Right, I thought. Might as well start attacking my fish.
The meat of the fish easily slid of the bones and with one forkful I knew instantly that it was one of the nicest fish dishes I've had since moving to the UK. The fish was ever so fresh and well seasoned. The sauce was flavourful but simple enough to not confuse one's palate. The side veggies were roasted to perfection and complemented the fish perfectly. A few minutes later I gasped and I stared at my plate (and so did our neighbouring tables). Save for the head (I still find it bizarre when people eat fish head w/ much gusto), I ate everything myself. It was indeed a very delicious meal.
Service was good, too. Staff = very attentive but not intrusive.
The bill came about to just £15 each (as we got 50% off food using the TasteLondon card) for starters and our mains with a glass of wine, some beer and extra drinks. Plus tip! Definitely a winner.
Strada Market Place
9-10 Market Place, London W1W 8AQ Tel: 020 7580 4644
To find a Strada near you click here.