Talk about London and it’s likely a conversation about financial hubs (yes, even now after Brexit), the bustle of Oxford Street, the draw of Theatreland and the Tower of London will ensue. But London is actually made up of villages which remain far more charming and welcoming than the thronging thoroughfares more familiar to tourists and indeed most locals. Here we find Stuzzico.
Stuzzico is located on Kendal Street in the heart of Connaught Village, which is just around the corner from the busy Bayswater Road as well as Marble Arch and Hyde Park. This small neighbourhood is both a commercial and residential area, and is part of the Hyde Park Estate, owned by the Church Commissioners of England. It boasts fine houses, numerous designer shops and some rather good restaurants.
I love Italian food but in London at least, those restaurants do vary in quality. There are plenty of pizza parlours, but far fewer are those restaurants that actually offer fine Italian food in an adult environment without even the hint of an offer of ‘All you can eat for £2.50’. Stuzzico presents a broad menu of quality dishes to tempt the discerning diner without a shocking bill at the end of the meal.
This is a contemporary restaurant with a view to the historic and attractive village. It isn’t a themed Italian restaurant but more one which offers European style in decor but very specifically Italian food. It’s small but well-staffed. There is no danger that your waiter looking after table number 26 will ignore the desperate waving from table 41. Stuzzico is intimate and friendly.
My guest ordered a very Italian starter: Burrata di bufala – Buffalo Burrata garnished with rocket leaves and cherry tomatoes with black garlic dressing. Burrata is an iconic Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. This is a world away from the waxy mozzarella found in every supermarket, the sort that makes your teeth squeak and tastes like it has had all flavour freshly removed. This cheese is rich and moreish. The outer shell is of regular mozzarella but the inside is stuffed with a mixture of mozzarella and cream. It has a soft texture with that cream bathing the solid elements.
Shores of the Med
Insalata tiepida di polpo, cipolla rossa e borlotti – warm octopus salad garnished with red onions and served on a bed of borlotti beans – was my first course. Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans and are popular in southern European cuisines. They have an almost nutty flavour and a comforting texture when properly cooked, and these were. But the octopus was the star of the dish. The slender tentacles took on a delicious char which added so much to the flavour balance of the beautifully presented dish. This is a plate that transports one to the shores of the Med on a warm evening.
Rana pescatrice alla mediterranea – Monkfish with black olives, cherry tomatoes and capers – must surely be a signature dish here. This is a heap of meaty fish with great interest from the vegetables – or are they fruits? People are confused about the difference between capers and caperberries. The two are not interchangeable although they both come from the same Mediterranean plant. They both have a distinctive flavour but caperberries are larger than the more common caper buds. They are much milder in flavour and are used when a less strident garnish is called for. This monkfish was a delight and substantial, as are all dishes as Stuzzico.
A cookie on the side
Cantucci e Vin Santo – glass of sweet Vin Santo wine and almond biscotti – must surely be the most charming of ends to any Italian meal. The name means Holy Wine and there are several theories as to how it arose. In the Middle Ages, a Franciscan friar is said to have used altar wine to save people from the Black Death. I am not sure that can be true as if it had worked the plague would not even have reached the English Channel, but it’s a nice story. This sweet dessert wine is usually made from Trebbiano and Malvasia varieties of grape, and indeed Trebbiano is the most widely cultivated grape in Italy. Nectar – with a cookie on the side.
Stuzzico deserves more than just one visit. It has attracted locals who bring friends for celebrations, and they pop in for just a simple bowl of pasta. Plenty of visitors from overseas here on business also appreciate the menu, which offers something for every taste and appetite. It has a great location, being just a short walk from Paddington station and bus routes. But it’s the food that will assure return visits, and many of them. I’ll be back to try a small bowl of spaghetti, a steak and perhaps some pistachio mousse.
OPENING HOURS: Closed on Bank Holidays
Monday to Friday
8:00 – 16:00
18:30 – 22:30
9:00 – 16:00
18:30 – 22:30
9:00 – 16:00
24 Kendal Street
London W2 2AW
Phone: 020 7262 9122
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018