Mele e Pere opened in the heart of Soho in February 2012, but that neighbourhood dates back centuries. In the Middle Ages, what is now Soho was known as St Giles Field, land belonging to the Convent of Abingdon, with its leper hospital. In 1536, the land was taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall. In fact the name “Soho” first appears in the 17th century and is thought to come from a former hunting cry. The 1st Duke of Monmouth used “soho” as a rallying call for his men at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685.
The Earls of Leicester and Portland developed the land but Soho was never a great address. Immigrants settled in the area, including French Huguenots, but by the mid-19th century genteel folk had moved away and Soho took on another persona. When I was growing up in the 1960s Soho was the place to find iffy pleasures, and they were in full view. Doors with X in neon above and ladies of the night gracing street corners were the norm. But there were restaurants, and artists including writer Dylan Thomas and jazz musician George Melly frequented these streets in the 50s and 60s. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Henry Jekyll had his other self, Edward Hyde, living in Soho.
Modern Soho still has a bohemian character but most of the seamy side has disappeared. Restaurants and bars are popular with locals and tourists, but with quantity there is the danger of quality taking a back seat – although there are some gems here.
Mele e Pere is a consistent favourite. Its small dining area on the ground floor gives no sign of the characterful restaurant and bar below. The décor is eclectic with bookshelves holding soda syphons, and industrial wall lights which would look at home in a 1930s drawing office. The tables are wooden with tastefully mis-matched chairs. One has a sense that this carefully designed space has naturally evolved into its casual and quirky self and I trust the owners won’t think of changing a thing.
Those owners wanted to create an authentic neighbourhood Trattoria and I believe they have succeeded. One can enjoy a celebrated home-made vermouth, some small plates, or a full feast. The space is flexible and it’s open from 11am till late so an ideal spot for tourists who find themselves craving lunch at 2.30 or dinner at 4.45. The menu is predominantly Italian with international flourishes but all dishes done well. There is a fresh and seasonal daily-changing bill of fare with British produce as well as Italian ingredients. Mele e Pere seem to make everything in house and the standard is high.
We enjoyed a glass of both red and white vermouth, also made on the premises. Ascolana olives with spicy nduja is a must-try along with your drinks. Nduja is a spicy, soft and spreadable pork salami from Italy. The olives are sizable, flavourful and deep-fried, making them thoroughly addictive. A light starter is Crudo of tuna, Sicilian watermelon and almonds. This is cool and colourful and a great foil for the heat of the olives.
I enjoyed a dish of potato gnocchi with a buttery sauce and shavings of white truffle. Yes, truffles are decadent and luxurious but these white truffles are milder and less earthy than the more pungent black truffle. The flavour lingers as a pleasant memory.
For those looking for a more meaty option then Mele e Pere have a rib-eye which would do credit even to a dedicated steak house. This was a 28-day-aged Surrey Farm rib-eye with delicious glaze. All their meat is sourced from farms across England and is processed in Surrey, adhering to the highest standards of quality. The side dish of broccoli and chilli was a colourful garnish along with the traditional chips. When we travel to France we often order the classic steak frites, saying that we can’t do it like that here. Italy has the best reputation for food and we insist that nobody cooks like that in the UK. Here at Mele e Pere we can find the best of both culinary worlds.
The Italian wine list showcases independent and biodynamic producers. There are all the classic Italian and international grape varieties and many available by the glass or carafe; and it would be rude not to have a good red with that outstanding steak.
Tiramisù with espresso ice cream was the finale. The Tiramisù was traditional and as good as one finds anywhere but the ice cream was the star. Mele e Pere make their own and its flavour is striking. This isn’t coffee ice cream but most definitely espresso, and with an adult flavour.
I was not surprised that the quality of food, and steak in particular, was so high. It’s not my first visit, after all. But that first excellent meal might have been a gastronomic fluke, an epicurean lucky shot. But no. Mele e Pere is solid, confident and predictably good.
Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street
Phone: 020 7096 2096
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018