Let’s say you’ve had a series of doomed internet dates that have gone from bad to worse. But just as you’re about to give up hope, out of the midst of this shitshow emerges someone who looks too good to be true. You arrange to meet for a drink and surprisingly, they’re warm, funny, and you get on like two recovering alcoholics in an Oddbins. But in the middle of the conversation, there’s a disconnect, like their mind’s somewhere else. Maybe they left the stove on, you think, or perhaps they’re staring at the bartender’s arse. You part ways, and you think about how you had a good time, even if it wasn’t the perfect date.
Palatino is an Italian restaurant that’s good, even if it isn’t perfect.
The restaurant specialises in Roman cuisine, which is to say that tomatoes and basil are out, and cream and cheese are very much in. The food’s mostly very enjoyable and occasionally superb - you’ll want to order another plate of the pasta cacio e pepe after inhaling the first one, and you’ll also bicker with your dining companion over who gets the last deep-fried sage leaf. The waiters are super-friendly and make you feel like you could be at the trattoria down the road from you, but without the week-old lasagna and tardy service.
Like an imperfect date though, the experience doesn’t come without a significant flaw. The realisation will slowly come over you that it isn’t anything to do with the food or the kitchen, but rather that sitting in that expensively designed dining room feels like you’re having dinner in the annex of one of the nondescript offices strewn around the neighbourhood. Because that’s literally what you’re doing. There’s a stage by the bar where presumably the previous occupants gave team talks, and a trip to the loos will highlight that they’re shared with the office next door. As you start to recognise these details, you’ll feel less at ease with the vibe here. On each of our trips here, that’s been our experience - we’ve been excited to be here at first, and slightly less so by the time we leave.
It isn’t to say that a restaurant like Palatino isn’t great for certain occasions. The pastas and those cracking little starters are excellent and worth a short trip for. And as far as functional neighbourhood restaurants go, it’s hard to think of anything more suited to an area as trendy as Clerkenwell. If this were an actual date, perhaps you wouldn’t necessarily picture a wedding a few years down the line. But you definitely would keep in touch for the occasional hang, because who says no to pasta?
If you haven’t tried these before, then rest assured that this is a good place to do it. They’re battered and deep fried until crispy, and basically taste like incredibly light, crunchy crisps.
Another good starter. Stracciatella is a creamy, light cheese a little like mozzarella that goes great on top of toast. The anchovy and slices of fresh lemon take this to the next level.
These aren’t the finest examples we’ve tried, but at four quid for a plate of decent ones, no one’s going to blame you for ordering these if you just really want them.
Totally fine, and good if you have a vegetarian on your table. Otherwise, you can give it a miss.
Basically tonarelli (a kind of Roman spaghetti) tossed with butter and pecorino cheese, dusted with cracked black pepper. Lovely and satisfying - if you’re coming here for anything, this is it.
Don’t be put off that there are nettles in the pasta itself - this dish is roughly 99% dairy, as the little pasta parcels are bathed in butter and cheese. Probably not very good for you, but they’re pretty damn tasty.
Essentially a creamy little pasta dish that reminds us a little of a carbonara. Incredibly hearty and a good shout if you forgot to eat lunch and showed up starving.
Basically, veal wrapped in pancetta and cooked with Marsala. It’s a well-made dish, if not particularly exciting.
You’ll regret not getting this if you get the honeycomb chocolate thing you’ve seen on Instagram. While it’s not much to look at, it’s simple and satisfying and will end the meal on a high note.