(London SE5) Fantastic Italian in Oval (No, I'm not on drugs)
Oval is a bit of a nowhere place, halfway between Brixton and Camberwell, really only notable for a Tube and the Brit Oval. I call it home, but not for the lively culinary (or any other) scene.
Happily, a fantastic new Italian joint has opened in (but divided from) the rough as guts Union Tavern, which I can heartily recommend.
The menu is very neighbourhood Italian, little meat, not extensive and very much a pizza and pasta affair, but boy is it good and cheap!
My mother (who is visiting) and I shared an entree of the dough balls with anchovy. Crispy shell yielding to a chewy and satisfying dough that tasted salty and was laced with dried thyme. Very appealing serving size for two to share and would also double as a good bar snack if you were there for a beer.
There was a fair bit of back and forth with the waiter regarding our mains order with a degree of confusion as to what was available. I was very very keen to try their cannelloni and was disappointed that it wasn't available. The explanation, however, was music to my ears. Each morning the chef prepares by hand all the pastas for the day and pizza dough, as they run out, it's no longer available. How terrific is that? Hand made pasta fresh daily for the grand total of £5-7.
I finally settled on a Pizza Americano (please be kind, it just sounded really nice) the base was delightfully thin and crisp and moist. The pepperoni was piquant and generous. The tomato paste was sweet, but not saccharine, and fragrant. On a previous occasion I have also had their spinach, olive and egg pizza which features a soft yoked egg baked into the centre, I loved it!
The star of the show was mum's dish, ricotta and spinach tortellini in sage and butter. It was wonderfully textural pasta containing a lovely fresh and zesty filling. I am usually bored to tears by ricotta and spinach, but this was really great. The chef had captured the brininess of the ricotta and the tasteful bitterness of the spinach. The sauce was as sublime as butter and sage always are.
All up? £22, which included plenty of drinks, a lovely atmosphere and some time with my visiting and much missed mother. I'm not sure if it will ever be a destination restaurant, but for other Southerners, it is certainly cause for celebration.
Fun side note, the Union Tavern was (so the story goes) in it’s past a rather lively gay bar and was the favoured haunt of a rising young star of the British theatre by the name of Ian McKellen. So, there you go, good food and Magneto drank there, what’s not to like?
I 'm almost invariably disappointed with pasta and pizza joints,perhaps because italian food is so varied that it seems a mortal sin to offer just pasta dishes and pizza.The pizza "americano" is certainly not italian,pepperoni is unknown in Italy.Hopefully,if the quality is there and the prices represent good value this will be a welcome additon to the area.
It would be interesting to know where this restaurant sources their pepperoni. It's true that pepperoni is thought of as American and was based on the sausages found in Naples and the south of Italy. It makes sense as most Americans of Italian descent are from Southern and not Northern Italy. I wonder if this place gets their pepperoni from Italy - it's closer than America. :-)
Unfortunately,one cannot get pepperoni from Italy as it doesn't exist there.The closest thing to it is the salame Napoli (the piccante variety),but it has a certain tendency to become tough during cooking.The word pepperoni,uttered to an italian that hasn't travelled will mean peppers,altough the spelling is lightly different.
The salame Napoli piccante used to be sold by Terroni in Clerkenwell,the non piccante variety is probably sold in most italian delicatessens (Camisa,Lina etc)