Entering new restaurants can be disconcerting. There’s often all kinds of awkward hovering and OTT enunciation with ‘thank yous’ and ‘after yous’ flying around left right and centre. The whole thing can feel as relaxed as an underdeveloped teen queuing to buy booze in Tesco. This potential formality and judgement, hiding under every napkin and request for mayonnaise, is why some people don’t get on with restaurants. It’s also why Trattoria Brutto is such a good one. None of that exists here: it’s a natural-born restaurant.
We knew this within minutes of our first visit to Brutto and you probably will too. For us, it was the fact that our decision to side sit on a banquette was noticed immediately. Within seconds Russell Norman, the suited and booted restaurateur who’s made this Tuscan trattoria feel so effortless, was over to move the cutlery and whatnot across the table. No fuss, no nothing. For you it might be something else. Maybe the £5 house negronis or £15 house wine will make you think, ‘yes these people get it’. Or the heaped bowl of grated parmesan that arrives wordlessly with your tagliatelle al ragu. Perhaps it will be the gargantuan hunk of lusciously sweet and bitter tiramisu that comes later. The point is, there are any number of things that can make you feel completely comfortable here.
Much of what makes this Farringdon-via-Florence trattoria so enjoyable seems almost too simple when broken down. The restaurant is slipped in on a side street in EC1 as if it’s always lived there, full of red gingham-clothed tables, soft napkin-lampshade lighting, and a dangerously inviting all-day bar (with those dangerously-priced negronis). The bar is also where you’ll find their blackboard of bistecca alla Fiorentina, perfectly pink and smokily charred t-bone steaks priced by weight. One of these and a piquantly dressed green salad is an impeccable meal. Of course, we could never have this kind of elegant, nicotine-aided European ordering restraint - so would also recommend getting the dough balls with prosciutto, a bowl of impecabble pasta, and some potatoes on your table as well.
You may notice one or all of these little touches and delicious bits over a lazy dinner or a quick in-and-out lunch: Brutto suits both perfectly. Equally, you may gloss over many of these things - this kind of Partridge-like obsession with the details is what we’re here for, after all - but one thing you should know is that Trattoria Brutto doesn’t do mindblowing new taste sensations or something for online crowd to go wild for. What it does, instead, is something far harder. It makes you never want to leave. So much so that a lingering cigarette with your last drink as the staff sit down for their dinner is very much welcome. That’s just one of many signs that Trattoria Brutto is more than comfortable in its own shoes. Or, more accurately, that it feels like it’s been walking the walk its entire life.
This is assembly, rather than cookery, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t thoughtful and perfect and something we’d like to eat every day. The anchovies glisten in the light before melting away in your mouth and combined with cold (and rightly unsalted) twirls of butter and perfect sourdough, well, it makes for a perfect trio of ingredients.
A dish with the word ‘cuddles’ in it is quite cute, we guess. A dish with the word ‘cuddles’ in it that’s preceded by ‘doughball’ and ‘prosciutto’? Well, that’s a must-order. Deep-fried dough, ham and cheese? It’s a no brainer.
Some of the best foods are the most familiar done even better, as this supreme bowl of meat in red sauce pasta proves. The tagliatelle is impeccably cooked with bite and slurpiness while the ragu is everything your home cooked likely isn’t.
The Italian-American favourite is starting to pop up on a few menus in London and this is the best that we’ve tried this side of the pond. It’s creamy (from the cream) with just a hint of background heat from chilli and, presumably, a glug or two of cold hard liquor.
This is probably the pick of the pastas. It’s an unassuming-looking bowl of pasta but it packs lots of understated and earthy flavour. Juicy rabbit meat mixes with a delicate vegetable and lemon broth to turn a bowl of pappardelle into something light and delightful.
Imagine it’s bleak and wintry. The wind is blowing and, for all you know, your nose may well have fallen off. This is what you want. This stew is perfect. It’s rich and comforting, pink and slightly fiery with peppercorn. It comes with a slice of bread and you’ll want several more, along with butter.
There is something illogically dull about ordering steak in a restaurant. It feels unimaginative and uninteresting. But then you eat a steak as perfectly cooked and wonderfully charred as this one and you remember that, actually, it’s an extremely good idea at the right time and place.
This one’s a looker, no doubt. Pink beef, a thin pool of gravy and perfectly crispy roasted potatoes. Unfortunately it doesn’t fully deliver on flavour though it would, we suspect, do well between two slices.
It’s a very good tiramisu and it’s a very generous one as well. You don’t need to know anything else.