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Deep in Tuscan cuisine with "Those Foodie Tuscans" at Shoreditch restaurant Enoteca Pomaio
London’s explosive food revolution, with its wild spectrum cuisines, experimental pop ups and established foodie meccas, it has no shortage of Italian offerings. The likes of Bella Pasta, Jamie’s Italian and Strada, to name a few have all positioned themselves as authentic mid-range joints, however the challenge all chains face remain prevalent and so called authenticity is commonly lost and diluted as these operations scale up.
Italian food has a firm and warm place in any foodie’s heart. When I say “Italian” I’m referring to fresh grilled fish, white beans, handmade pasta and locally sourced cheese. What I’m not referring to is soggy pizza, stodgy lasagna or over cooked veal with processed mozzarella slathered on top. Having already seen a sneak preview of the photos from Tealight’s first visit to Enoteca Pomaio, I was sure I was in for a sample and range of authentic Tuscan delights, a true culinary treat, phraseology seldom used the context of “Italian food in London”.
Tuscan cheeses, wines, charcuterie and even Enoteca Pomaio's grigio porc (grey pork) all carefully procured, sent to a storage facility in Essex and on your Brick Lane plate the next day.
As I hurried myself down Brick Lane trying to find this new and exciting eatery, I was, as you’d expect, harassed, pitched and offered every type of curry known to man. I knew I was destined for a whole other world of artisan produce, Tuscan wine and passion for ingredients translated onto the plate.
Enoteca Pomaio gleaned at me as I arrived, with its brand new white building, an inviting display in the window of all things Tuscan and yummy, a real contrast to the hustle and bustle of its location.
Luca Degl'Innocenti (Manager and Sommelier extraordinaire) greeted me and gave me a tour of the impressive new establishment at 224 Brick Lane before the young Chef, Simone Barsanti arrived pre-service to join Luca and I for Tealight's interview.
Post interview I sat down with my eating partner and girlfriend Rebecca to sample whatever Simone felt like cooking, accompanied with a glass of whatever Luca thought would match.
First up was their “Tagliere Pomaio”, a selection of carefully sourced artisan charcuterie and cheese from Tuscany served with a glass of Chianti (80% Sangiovese 20% merlot). Presented on the classic wooden board, what set this offering apart from others I’ve had was care for presentation and attention to detail. Tuscan honey in a bowl (not splurged over the board), superb olive oil and salt (the latter often omitted and requires asking for) helped transform the bread.
The cheeses all varied in texture and strength, the blue called Pino Capra in particular was a kin in power to a 3 month old St Marcelin with the added penicillin flavor. Again, a well thought out and executed homemade condiment (Onion & Chilli Jam) was served with it to offset the pungency. Each cured or smoked meat different enough to warrant its billing on the board. The Salami Grande sweet and soft, the slightly firmer and smokey Capocollo as well as the Guanciale riddled with fennel seeds, all perfect and not what I would normally choose.
Up next Gnocchi, not just any gnocchi, this little ditty featured “Chianina” ragu (Chianina being the indigenous cow of Tuscany). The gnocchi light as a feather and incomparable to anything I’ve ever had before.
Typically, I’m not a Gnocchi guy, often over rolled, pretty much always caked in a gorgonzola or otherwise over stated ingredient, acting only as a vessel for some sort of faux Italian sauce. However, these little pillows of delight had taste, they just melted in your mouth the second you bit into them. The ragu, another all too often poorly translated favourite, was expert in its balance of sweetness to deep intense beef flavour. As if he instinctively knew, Luca poured a glass of one of my favorites, Valpolicella Classico, a perfect harmony of deep fruits and tannin. In minutes the appropriately sized dish was gone and we were reaching for more bread and oil to mop up any surviving droplets of ragu.
Veal with Beer sauce
Much to my delight veal was next. Another rarity on the London scene, even the most enthusiastic of foodies often let their “awh it’s not right” sentimentality kick in at the mere concept of eating meat that is the same age as lamb when slaughtered. Staying on the Valpolicella as it was too good to give up, I was so pleased to see the veal loin steak served up with little fuss, pink and simple with real care and attention. On the side, classic rustic roast potatoes, a lovely bitter sweet beer sauce, grains of sea salt flecked across the plate and nothing more. Not only the epitome of the origins of Tuscan food, “Cucina Povera” but a marked respect of the meat and its prowess. All cooked well, tasted fabulous and gave me, the customer, a real insight into Simone’s mindset and skill as a chef.
Pears poached in Podere di Pomaio'swine with Custard
To finish I was served another dish I would easily glance over on a menu, but yet again I was delighted to be at the mercy of the young chef Simone. Poached pears (yes, of course, in Pomaio's wine shipped direct from Tuscany), custard and biscotti biscuits. Light almost foamy vanilla custard was bombarded with sweet and sharp pears with homemade biscotti crumb texture breaking up the goo party. Even the poaching liquor was reduced enough, preventing a bleed into the perfect custard, I fear if it had, I would have been staring at knock off Jackson Pollock. A great way to finish the Tuscan food tour and a book end to delight our pallets.
Before we ate we got down to the interview. Sat front of house with both Luca and Simone, who looked at me expectantly, eager to share how two passionate Italians from different cities; one an up and coming Chef and the other an already acclaimed Sommelier, ended up in Brick Lane the heartland of London curry.
Having cooked professionally myself I am all too aware that Cheffing is a young man’s game as is the perilous occupation of front of house. What struck me most about Simone wasn’t his tender age of 24, but more his calm and collective demeanour. Attributes that are not only welcomed but needed when heading up the kitchen of a new venture in London.
Simone Barsanti hails from one of Europe’s most prestigious gastronomic strongholds, Rome. Having started his culinary journey at 19 after being inspired by his grandmother’s cooking, watching her slave over a hot stove, he began as a Pastry Chef. His appetite and love for all things savoury took him away from the patisserie world into the heat and the heart of the kitchen. Simone has since cooked in Madrid, Murcia and now here in London.
Asking about his first food memory it was clear to me that this young steely eyed, ambitious chef had a deep appreciation for simplicity and great ingredients. “I think it's my grandma's risotto, saffron risotto, a typical dish from Milan, my Grandma is very good at cooking this kind of dish. Just Saffron and Rice". At this point Luca’s eyes lit up in agreement “fantastic”.
Beyond their preoccupation with well sourced ingredients, Simone’s focus on “non-fuss” and care were very clear. I asked him what food makes him happy or angry; “What I don't like is when, you look at a menu, then you order a dish, and it's something you're not expecting. Also about ingredients that you use, or the way you cook them, it's not the real way how they should be made. What makes me happy is when I notice that the food has been made with care, love".
This was no more apparent than in the veal and beer dish we tasted that evening.
Everything they can source and produce fresh, is fresh, whilst dried pasta is commonplace even in some top restaurants, they choose to make it all by hand. Simone recounts “One time it was August, in Rome, during the last tables for lunch, a young guy was with us for his internship, he poured all the stock on the fridge, so all the electricity system was broken, I was making pasta, and it was so hot in the kitchen. We had no AC.”
There may come a time when Simone and Luca look to add to Enoteca Pomaio’s supplier list from outside of Tuscany but for now they remain fixated with their ambitions to deliver on their vision.
Despite Enoteca Pomaio’s plight to directly translate the origins of Tuscan cuisines “Cucina Povera” to their diners, both Luca and Simone see the restaurant as a vehicle to elevate the carefully sourced ingredients.
Most if not all you will taste at Enoteca Pomaio comes from a very small area of Tuscany. Cheeses, wines, charcuterie and even their grigio porc (grey pork) all carefully procured, sent to a storage facility in Essex and on your plate the next day.
This constant dedication to sourcing authentic and fresh Tuscan produce and not affecting them too much is without doubt their central concept and driving force, clearly also their USP. Simone’s inspiration itself derives from tradition. “My inspiration, I like to cook traditional food and that is what other Chefs try to teach me. That Italian's tradition for food is very deep in our culture, I like to eat something cooked well with passion and care and that's what I want to serve to other people"
His favorite dish on the menu? Octopus? Ribolitta?
"No, I Like most of the plates that we have, but I think maybe, the tomato bruscetta is pretty interesting because when you eat it, it's like when you were home and you were doing the scarpetta, when you finish the pasta with tomato, when you have the tomato on the plate and you stick the bread on the plate and you clean it, it reminds me of that".
There is no doubt about Simone’s and Luca’s unwavering vision and mission at Enoteca Pomaio. Offer everyone and anyone an unpretentious, carefully thought out, and classic, yet modern Tuscan dining experience. Yes, there are more fanciful Italian eateries to try in London, but is there anywhere that will offer as much passion for produce, dedication to authenticity and love of simplicity? Simone’s journey from his first restaurant in Rome (Roscioli) to this new venture in the crux of hipsterville is one to keep watching and keep eating.
Pin pointed at 224 Brick Lane, Enoteca Pomaio finds itself surrounded by East London’s notorious curry strip. Open only since December 2016, this has all the hall marks of a boutique destination Cucina. Both Simone and Luca have only been in London for 3 months, both getting involved trough Pomaio’s owner. “We both arrive 1st November, from me I've worked on the project from the beginning with the owner of the natural vineyard Podere di Pomaio, Marco Rossi and Lacopo Rossi and another friend, Fabio Conelli, he created this project, he selected the produce, chose the location and now it's open".
I can’t remember the last time I went to new restaurant that had such a well thought out concept, pitching itself at the affordable yet chic end of the market that also offered a world class Sommelier. Luca Degl'Innocenti, 27, from Arezzo, operates not only as a well-equipped, unassuming GM but also brings a wealth of wine knowledge to the party.
Humble in his self-appraisal and quietly spoken, Luca offers unprecedented insight into the operations and produce of the Pomaio winery and even each food ingredient you will sample here. As with most Italians, food is in their DNA.
“I started working in a restaurant during high school in 2008, and I start to work in one of the most important places in Arezzo, it's called Ristorante Le Tagliatella. Here I met my teacher of life, my mentor and of wine, Cristiano Cini. My Passion was to start when I'm a Babino with my Grandfather to produce wine at home and after this year I decided to choose this school as Management of Hotel & Restaurant. During the summer season I work in the resort and after in La Tagliatella, then after that I study in Sommelier school.
"AIS" Associazione Italiana Sommelier, the most important sommelier school in Italy, and I take the diploma in 2009. Then I start the contest of wine, and I'm appreciating these words and I study hard and I won the Italy's best Sommelier and 3 yrs later, I stayed in the final of the championships and stayed 3rd place. In 2013, I won the Tuscan best sommelier, 2015 I'm in the finals of Italy's best Sommelier, but I won 3rd place."
The set up its self is everything that your typical mid-range fake or should I say “fugazi” Italian joint in London isn’t. Modern, tasteful and not a straw laden Chianti bottle insight. Take it from me, no dried spaghetti, hanging garlic or Dean Martin on repeat here. The ambience, service and style are but a reflecting of what you get on the plate, simplicity, eye for detail and a touch of class. Luca “This is a real experience, from Tuscany, the objective of Enoteca Pomaio is to re-create the same atmosphere, family atmosphere, inside the restaurant with the good quality of food, and craft wine, all the wines come from the really small craft winery, 80% from Tuscany, 20% from Italy. It's Exclusive for our restaurants, this is so very, very important, and the same for charcuterie and the cheese".
Enoteca Pomaio isn’t the start of an Italian food revolution, Italian restaurants revamping the “bygone era” of the UK trattoria are surfacing all the time. It’s also not making any attempt to compete with the high end options such as Murano’s on Queens St. or L’Anima. Enoteca Pomaio is carving out its own place on the growing list where honesty and charm prevail.
For those of us that yearn for a summer trip around the sweeping hills of Tuscany, stopping off at every bakers, butchers and vintners we come across, Enoteca Pomaio will serve as the most authentic pre-curser and introduction into the lifestyle, heart and passion from Italy’s most revered food destination.
Until next time!!