The Italian Job
I’m sitting in a tiny cafe on the corner of King Street and Ravenscourt Road, drinking my habitual late morning Americano while I’m waiting for my car to be fixed at Autostrada, right next to Ravenscourt Park Tube Station. This is an outstanding car mechanics run by brothers Paolo and Joe. For decades they’ve been looking after my old jalopies, which are a million miles away from the smart glossy vehicles and classic cars that are their usual business. My current car, a much loved convertible little Peugeot 206, is reasonably presentable but yes, I’ve got to admit to previous embarrassments. Not once did the Autostrada boys bat an eyelid when I came in with the infamous ‘Bogeymobile’, an ancient estate car of a rather dull greenish colour which chugged more than it drove, and which hooted uncontrollably every time I turned a corner. So ugly and cringeworthy was it, that my son insisted I drop him off around the corner from wherever he wanted to be taken, for fear that it would undermine his credibility as a cool dude. Years on, he still looks upon this particular car as one of the great traumas of his adolescence. Hey ho, I’m just not a car person but I’m happy to report that since then, my cars, my son and I have gone up in the world and have substantially improved our coolness factor. Even so, he’s not keen to drive with me because, so he claims, I’m a lunatic driver. Well, I get from A to B in one piece and that’s what counts, right?
Despite his point blank refusal to get into my car, the boy and I are close. Married, matured and mortgaged and, these days, with a rather sleek car of his own, we take every opportunity to get together, so on a recent rare gloriously sunny London weekend, he and his beautiful wife treated us to Sunday lunch at Ristorante Portobello, the perfect venue for just such a meal, almost next door to us in our new, temporary neighbourhood of Notting Hill.
This is a small Italian restaurant with all the staples you’d expect, pizza, pasta, antipasti, salads and some fish and meat dishes, all homemade. It’s greatest asset however, is its super pretty little garden out at the front, hidden from the street by a screen of greenery. Suffused by a genuinely Italian ambience, sitting here on a warm summer’s day with a glass of sparkly Prosecco, and surrounded by the local noblesse, certainly lifts the spirits. Service is friendly and just so, well yes, Italian. You are immediately transported to the Apennine Peninsula. Clearly, this is a hugely popular spot. On a previous occasion, we had naively swanned in on a weekday evening to grab a quick bite, only to be told that all the tables were booked and could we come back at 10pm, so booking is absolutely essential.
The Lovely Husband and I started off with a shared Carpaccio di Tonno, finely sliced slivers of tuna with rocket. I missed a dribble of Balsamico to give it some added flavour but this was soon rectified. My son and his wife shared a Prosciutto Crudo di Parma e Melone, tasty and refreshing. Ah, and then on to our main courses. Choosing those had been quite a feat, there were so many delicious sounding options!! We finally tucked into a Paccheri alla Messinese, large pasta tubes with fresh swordfish, aubergines, pine nuts, garlic chilli and cherry tomatoes, Spaghetti alle Vongole, perfectly cooked with tiny clams and cherry tomatoes, a Pizza Diavolo with mozzarella, tomato sauce and Spianata Calabrian spicy salam , fiery and with a great crust, and Salmone Alla Vesuviana, stone baked salmon steak, with a side order of Verdure Miste alla Braca, a salad of grilled aubergines, sweet peppers and courgettes marinated in olive oil, garlic and mint. All dishes were appetizing and very tasty and a feast for the eyes as much as the palate for being prettily presented on colourful rustic plates.
Our grand finale was a dessert of a quite stupendously good slice of baked cheesecake and a yummy Affogato al Caffe, vanilla icecream with a shot of coffee.
Was it the best Italian meal I’ve ever had? Well, not quite but it certainly was enjoyable and the ambience takes some beating. What better way to spend a relaxed Sunday afternoon en famille than in a miniature sun baked Italian country garden with good conversation, delicious Mediterranean food and perfectly chilled bubbles right in the middle of town?
The bill for the four of us came to around £160, including drinks and service.
Ristorante Portobello, 7 Ladbroke Rd, London W11 3PA
Tel:020 7221 1373 www.portobellolondon.co.uk