There has been an article from The Poke making its way around my group of school friends on Facebook. It’s a picture of a newspaper hoarding in Sevenoaks reading: ‘Town Not Ready for Sushi’. OK then. Sevenoaks is the town I grew up in, and apart from a Chinese restaurant which gave me my first taste of sweet and sour chicken (which I now recognise was just sweet, not sour, and possibly not even chicken) was home to just one type of restaurant: Italian. And things have clearly not changed very much. When I went back for my school reunion, I saw that station to school had become one long line of mediocre Italian chains. So it’s no surprise that my first few years of living in London were spent in perpetual disgust at the thought of Italian food. It took a couple of trips to Italy, discovering outstanding places such as Zucca, Polpo and Bocca di Lupo, and tiny little pastificios like as Burro e Salvia and La Tua, for me to rediscover my love of the food of Italy.
Mele e Pere was opened a couple of years ago on Brewer Street in Soho by Peter Hughes and Andrea Mantovani, both previously of Arbutus and Wild Honey. You enter under the neon sign into a small vermouth bar, with a glass cabinet full of brightly coloured glass fruit along the back wall. It’s a casual, cosy space, and you have to go down the mele e pele (apples and pears… get it?) to get to the cavernous dinning room beneath. Fitted with a gorgeous copper bar, one wall plastered with vintage Italian posters and another hung with black and white prints, and tables sat in individual pools of light from the gorgeous extending lamps, it’s a beautiful place to eat. There is no natural light though, so on a sunny day it might feel like a bit of a shame to eat down there.
While I waited for Sean to arrive, I got started on a plate of bread (£3). The toasted foccacia was particularly good, delightfully salty on the tongue and soaking up the grassy olive oil like a sponge. When Sean arrived we (naturally) ordered cocktails. Under Ed Scothern, the head Sommelier, Mele e Pere makes its own vermouth: a dry citrus-based white, a slightly bitter red, and a sweet after dinner version (they run regular vermouth masterclasses at just £15 a head). As such it seemed mandatory to order cocktails including the fortified white wine, so I went for The Precursory – Revisited! A blend of red vermouth, port, cassis and fresh lemon with a sweet sticky cherry in its middle (£5.50). It was delicious, perhaps too delicious, as it didn’t take long for me to finish and order another one!
We ordered three starters to share between us. The aubergine parmigiana (£6) was made with a good, pungent pesto and plenty of hot stringy cheese. The deep fried squid with smoked alioi (£6) was a tad flaccid, and could have done with an extra 30 seconds of cooking to crisp it up, but the seafood inside was beautifully soft and tender. The mayonnaise was spiked with smokey paprika and was the perfect fiery accompaniment. The hand chopped beef tartare with Italian leaves and quails eggs (£7.50) was decorated with fresh flowers, dotted with mayonnaise and Marie Rose sauce (or at least I think it was, the waiter wasn’t too firm in his answer). It was made with excellent quality beef, and the yolk added a flash of richness.
After the starter plates were wiped clean, we shared a plate of potato gnocchi with Umbrian black truffle (£11). It is a dish I had been told in no uncertain terms to order (by, among others, Leyla from The Cutlery Chronicles, her review is here). The little pillows of soft, saffron infused potato were wrapped in a blanket of buttery sauce, and then topped with a generous helping of black truffle shavings. It was very very rich and very very delicious. It was like a kiss from dashingly handsome man named Paolo. On top a cliff. Looking out over an azure sea. At sunset. Or so I imagine. I haven’t actually kissed anyone named Paolo (although it is on my bucket list). Our final savoury dish was veal chop alla brace with borettane onions cooked in balsamic vinegar. The blushing pink meat was the perfect base for the sticky sweet sauce, and a side of rocket added some much needed freshness to the meal.
Finally I had a lemon tart with fresh marshmallows, blackberries and lychee ice cream (£6). I don’t know what Sean ordered as I didn’t care. Something rum-y I think. I was far too busy filling my mouth with the the peaks of sweet marshmallow, which were the perfect foil to the sharp lemon tart and clean tasting ice cream. It was heavenly.
My only real criticism of Mele e Pele were the waiters, who I felt lacked charm and weren’t very helpful in answering questions; even when I asked if they could check with the chef, they didn’t. I hate criticising staff, as a former waitress myself I know how difficult a job it is, but I do like knowing exactly what I am eating, and it doesn’t take much to ask the kitchen. That said, Sean and I had a lovely evening at Mele e Pele, which, while it might not quite touch the giddy heights of Zucca, is definitely home to some excellent Italian dishes that I can’t wait to eat again. And until a man called Paolo enters my life, the gnocchi with Umbrian black truffle will do nicely.
I was invited to review Mele e Pere by Sarah Anne Lewis Trading PR . Many thanks to the restaurant for their generosity. Opinions, as ever, are my own.