Right now, walking into a new restaurant is a delight. All is fresh. You’re made to feel welcome. The food is good and, in the case of Brutto, the staff are happy to be there. (I checked – I asked them). Given our collective experience and, let’s cut straight to the chase, the havoc that’s been wreaked in hospitality, anywhere new is a plus.
Trial periods offer discounts to cover possible teething troubles, soup being spilled over your head, food poisoning, or worse
Well, maybe not anywhere. That urban myth made flesh, Salt Bae, has finally landed in London, bouncing salt crystals off his elbow and selling “tomahawk steaks” for £630. There’s also something called a “golden burger” for £100, and a £50 cappuccino. Plus service. The tabloids have had a field day. Apparently there are people willing to go.
But in the real world, Brutto has quietly opened too, bringing the culinary strengths of Tuscany to a little corner of Britain. Smithfield Market, to be precise.
It kicked off with a “soft opening” for a couple of days, which proper restaurant critics don’t attend. I did. Trial periods offer discounts to cover possible teething troubles, soup being spilled over your head, food poisoning, or worse. I booked for Brutto’s soft opening because Russell Norman doesn’t do mistakes, I adore Bistecca alla Fiorentina, and… no soup.
A bit of background: Russell and his friend Richard Beatty opened Polpo in 2009, when none of us even knew we wanted cicheti, the snacks of Venice, served on small plates like Spanish tapas, in a Bushwick vibe, with no reservations. Their first Soho venture spawned a chain, along with Spuntino, Mishkins, Polpetto , then books and a quite remarkable BBC TV series, The Restaurant Man, where Russell explained, with clarity, how to open a restaurant.
He’s spent a lot of time in Venice. Turns out he hangs out in Florence too, Tuscany’s stunning renaissance capital, where Michaelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo Da Vinci attract even more sightseers than the gothic splendour of Venice. It can be quite a crush. Try walking from Ponte Vecchio to Al Duomo without falling into step with a phalanx of tourists, marching behind an umbrella held aloft. I’d recommend you hide out in places like Trattoria Sostanza, I’Brindellone, La Vecchia Bettola, Trattoria Cammillo, or Trattoria Sabatino and eat until you die. Because you’ll die happy.
Turns out Russell would too, as places like these are clearly the inspiration for Brutto, right down to the paper menus which look like they’ve been typed that morning. On an actual typewriter. Have the cocchili (“cuddles” in English, and that is not a joke), acciughe (anchovy) with cold butter, or maiale (pork) tonnato with caperberries. Then Primi, one of the pastas, Rabbit Papardelle say, (apparently a fresh risotto will be produced every day at 1pm) then Secondi which includes those quite astonishing Florentine T-Bone steaks, deeply savoury, well hung meat sold by weight (currently £8.25 per 100g) that need no mustard, sauce, or any accompaniment other than roasties. Two of us shared one succulent sliced kilo. Delicious.
And to drink? There’s all manner of abbellimento. Cynar, my absolute favourite Italian bitter (straight, on the rocks) has been made into a house cocktail in conjunction with the Australian Instagram sensation that is @clerkenwellboyec1, an ironic novelty really. Most new restaurants desperately fashion social media-friendly dishes but Brutto eschews such frippery, promoting taste over looks, as evidenced by the house tiramisu, a delicious, creamy coffee concoction served in what can only be described as a climactic splodge. It’s ugly. But still beautifully tasteful. C
Brutto 35-37 Greenhill Rents, London EC1M 6BN
020-4537 0928; msha.ke/brutto