Assaggi. Taste. Not all of it good.

The art is like this. Not quite as interesting though.

The art is like this. Not quite as interesting though.

Assaggi. Apparently it means taste, or sampling.

The “taste” bit is right, if you exclude the décor.  The “sampling”bit?  Only if you count my straying fork.

This isn’t sharing food and it isn’t a sampling menu, in the conventional sense. I’d describe the food as classical Italian cooking. The menu changes a bit, but it has always a few regulars: fritto misto, sea bass and veal cutlet seem to be fixtures.

I had the calves liver. It was as it should be. Lovely and soft, slightly pink and melting in the middle, fried in butter and topped with crispy sage.

Unlike the decor, the food here is not at all challenging or cutting edge and clearly that isn’t what the locals seem to want, judging by how hard it is to get in. This place is always full.And it is very Italian. As far as I can work out, the owner and all the staff are Italian and there’s plenty of shouting between them. In Italian of course. Which I quit like. Unless I have a headache. Which is quite a lot. Especially after eating here.

The owner practically performs the menu. Loudly. We were sitting on the next table and needed no explanation when it came to ordering, having already heard the full menu performance three times. Frankly, we could have been sitting at the end of the street.

And the menu? If I were you, I’d have the pecorino and ham dish. A full size plate, covered with a soft layer of paper thin, warm bread. Underneath, melted cheese and warm ham and underneath that, more of the bread. Some rocket. I can’t do it justice. It’s a very posh, grown-up wrap. Try it.

If, like me, faced with a menu you suddenly forget the meaning of carbs, have the tortellini with pumpkin. With butter and crispy sage. It’s the ultimate in comfort food. Other than gnocchi of course. Which they sometimes have.

And they always have a soup and a couple of pasta options, but they don’t major on pasta in the way that, say, Locanda Locatelli does. It’s all about the protein.There is always veal, in one form of another. There is always a grilled fish, usually sea bass. This is a great place for no carbs if you’re so inclined. Assuming always that you can bring yourself to ask them to take away the bread. Which I can’t.

20121215-141817.jpgAnd they seem to like topping everything with these thin, squiggly potato-y things. I think they are actually meant to function as decorative garnish. Obviously I eat them all. If it’s on the plate, it’s food, no? I ate C’s as well, as he believes in leaving things on his plate when he is full. Bonus.

And there is usually a choice of about half a dozen mains. It’s not great for vegetarians, but they are accommodating and will make a bigger portion of pasta. Or something. But I wouldn’t bother really. This, vegetarian person (and here I mean real veggies, not fish eaters), is not the place for you.

And the desserts are entirely as you’d expect for this type of place. Tiramisu, affogato, ice-cream etc, all the usual suspects. All well done.

And the prices? Expect to pay up to £15 for a starter and up to £29 for the veal cutlet. Sides are extra at around £3.50 each. Not cheap then. Wines are not astronomical and there’s an interesting list.

And at those prices, I’d expect a little luxury. You won’t get that here. The decor is somewhat challenging. A use of colour which I find odd. Primary colours on the walls offset by large canvases in single, bold colours. It’s not Farrow and Ball.

This is a well proportioned Victorian first floor, above a pub. High ceilings, sash windows, wooden floors, zero taste. The food is subtle and fairly unadventurous. I wish the same could be said of the decor.

And it’s really noisy, there being no softness in the room to absorb the sound, never mind the Bruno Tonioli wannabe at front of house. But it’s tiny and deservedly popular and you need to book. Personally, I prefer lunchtimes. It’s less noisy and less frenetic. Unfortunately it isn’t also less expensive

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