Tuesday, 24 September 2013
Ostuni, Queen's Park
Some of you may remember (or in fact may still be using, despite TfL's lawyers' best efforts) my restaurant tube map, which replaced the station names with my pick of the dining options within walking distance of that stop. I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn that I didn't actually visit every restaurant before making the decision to include it - I've neither the time, the money or the capacity for really desperately shit restaurants (I'm looking at you, Docklands Light Railway) to do that - but instead, where I hadn't been in person, made a sort of best-guess choice based on a mixture of Urbanspoon/SquareMeal score, blog posts and national critic reviews.
Most of the time it seems to have worked. Restaurants that I've visited since the decision to include them on the map have usually if not been brilliant then at least been serviceably good - Diwana Bhel Poori (Euston), for example is a friendly, and very cheap, option for South Indian food, and Atari-Ya (South Hampstead) does pretty decent sushi. But while it's nice not to have to swap out a particular recommendation after a visit, (good) places I've actually been to will always take precedent over (good) places I haven't. And so, with deep apologies to the Salusbury pub, who have done absolutely nothing to warrant losing their position, we have a brand new Queen's Park - Puglian restaurant Ostuni.
The meal started with a selection of cheese and charcuterie, all very good. The caciocavallo and caciotta fresca cheeses were simple in style but had a nice fresh tang, and an blob of fresh mozzarella was almost burrata-like in its creaminess.
Capocollo and salami from Martina Franca were extremely impressive as well, blushed bright pink, wonderfully moist and perfectly seasoned. I usually enjoy even pretty mediocre salami, so you can imagine how quickly I managed to polish off these beauties (very).
Fritto misto (mixed fried seafood) suffered mainly in comparison to the quite honestly faultless version served at Polpo Covent Garden, but it still wasn't too bad - the batter could have done with being a bit crispier, and it was a pretty measly portion, but it was still fresh and tasty.
The main event (the Puglian mixed grill - sorry for the useless photo, completely forgot to snap it when it was all intact) was much better. The sausage had a LOT of fennel seeds in, and I preferred the bombette classica (sort of pork and cheese balls) to the deep-fried, breadcrumbed bombette saporita, the latter of which being rather greasy, but it all had bags of flavour and some fegatino (calves liver, pancetta and parsley) were genuinely excellent - not a hint of the dryness that grilled liver sometimes has. An accompanying acquasale salad was lovely too, containing bits of baked bread like a sort of mini Tuscan panzanella (though don't let the fiercely regional Ostuni hear you calling it that).
Good, sometimes great, food, then, that doesn't cost the earth. Why only 7/10? One reason only - service. Halfway through our meal we noticed some live lobsters being brought to a table near us for inspection, and yet we didn't see anything involving lobster on the menu. It turned out these were a "special" that our waiter neglected to tell us about, quite annoying considering we would have (cost permitting) considered ordering it. And although it started sprightly enough, as the place filled up it got increasingly impossible to attract anyone's attention; we never got to see the dessert menu and the process of ordering the bill was painfully longwinded.
In a strange way, though, the service, combined with the specifically-regional food and the endearing Mediterranean holiday décor, only served to make the experience at Ostuni seem all that more authentic. While the waits were annoying at the time, my memories of the meal are largely positive, and so it's still a very easy restaurant to recommend. So apologies again, the Salusbury, but maybe I'll visit you one day and you can have your spot back. Until then, welcome to Queens Park, Ostuni. And to everyone else, watch this space for the new non-copyrighted version of the map (coming soon)...