Thursday, 19 February 2009
Bottega Prelibato, Shoreditch
Another month, and another exclusive for Cheese and Biscuits. Stella Dore is a brand-new (barely two weeks old) Italian deli-cum-Trattoria just off Charlotte Street in trendy Shoreditch, and by the looks of a quick Google, chances are you read about it here first. I'm painfully aware I'm breaking one of my own rules about not visiting restaurants until they've had time to "bed-in" properly, but I'm going to bring this place to your attention because I think it has the potential to be rather good.
Despite the scary-looking metal grille over one of the windows (nothing to do with them apparently), the vibe inside Stella Dore is "Naples meets Shoreditch", with attractive bread and salami displays along one wall coupled with a loungey chillout zone downstairs and Bob Dylan on the stereo. They don't have a licence - yet - but it's BYO and you're about ten steps away from the best wine shop in town (the peerless City Beverage Company) so there's no excuse for not picking up a nice bottle of Sangiovese on your way there.
In true Trattoria style, we weren't shown a menu. Instead, the owner reeled off from memory a selection of antipasti and cold meats, and a selection of one or two pasta dishes. The cold meats arrived first alongside some salty Pecorino and some other smoked cheeses containing pieces of fruit (something I normally hate) and chilli. Most of the cheeses were fine - the chilli perked up what would otherwise have been a rather unremarkable product, and the Pecorino was tasty if a little on the cold side. The meats were excellent however - the Parma ham in particular was aged very well with lovely slightly crusty bits at the edges, and the salamis were as gooey and flavoursome as you could hope for. I still could have done without the fruity cheese though, and the house breads - bought-in, presumably - were slightly stale and nothing special.
A second cold antipasti of miniature stuffed red peppers and artichoke hearts was delicious. Again, how much input Stella Dore had into this dish was debatable, but even so, there is a certain skill in sourcing good prepared pickles (God knows how many kebab shops get it wrong) so some marks for this.
The real mark of an Italian kitchen is in the pasta, and I was delighted to learn that Stella Dore make all their pasta in-house. Two dishes of Fettucini, one with homemade pesto and one with tomato and Italian sausage, were very good - perhaps if not quite up to the standard of those we had in Italy or the Donna Margherita then at least better than anything you would expect to have anywhere else in London. The pesto had nice big flecks of fresh basil and was silky and rich rather than oily (as it should be), and the tomato pasta was creamy and had a good colour to it from the imported Italian tomatoes.
Desserts were so-so. A carrot cake had been left around too long and gone slightly stale, although the flavour otherwise wasn't bad. An apple tart was a bit flaccid and stodgy but was served with a nice cinnamon jam which the front of house were very keen to get us to try. In fact the service from the manager/owner was genial and attentive, but was rather mixed from other members of staff. Still, at two weeks old it's probably a bit too early to be picking holes - they're probably still learning where the glasses are kept.
As a footnote, and a credit to the manager, our lunch ended with a surprise complimentary dish of roasted lamb with a kind of homemade chips. We had arrived too early to have this as a main course option but he'd brought it out at the end just so we could try it - and very good it was too, the lamb being moist and juicy and seasoned well with rosemary. The chips were I think roasted or baked rather than fried, but depending on how these were sold to me (don't call them chips, basically) then I wouldn't be too disappointed.
All in all, Stella Dore is a solid, reasonably authentic Italian eatery which is gamely trying to serve proper food in a hardly favourable economic climate, and in competition with a thousand mediocre high-street "Mamma Mia"s the city over. We had a great deal of food for a little under £15 a head (not even counting the complimentary lamb) and where it mattered it was very tasty. It is a honest, affordable little place and deserves to do very well. Whether it will or not, these days, is impossible to know.
EDIT: Following some very welcome correspondence from both the Stella Dore gallery and the (completely unrelated) new Trattoria next door, I have updated the name of the venue. Apologies to Bottega Prelibato, and thanks for the correction!