Last year I was lucky enough to visit Rome where there are a multitude of ‘osterie’; cosy and simple restaurants serving cheap, traditional dishes to locals. So, I was intrigued when I learned that this Osteria had more avant-garde origins. Not only is it the brainchild of renowned restaurateur Anthony Demetre (the man behind Michelin-starred restaurants Arbutus and Wild Honey), but also it is located within London’s brutalist cultural institution, The Barbican, a far cry from the Formica counters of the Eternal City.
I quite like the architecture of the Barbican, although invariably its layout inspires panic and I get lost whether I’m there to see an exhibition, watch a film, or in this case eat in a restaurant. After asking several people directions and struggling to locate the lifts we found Osteria tucked away on the second floor. Unlike its Italian namesakes Osteria’s dining room is bright and modern and has fantastic views overlooking the Barbican lake and terrace, where I had been wandering just minutes before.
Although there were set menus (for very reasonable prices) we were given the a la carte menu to choose from. While making our decisions our waiter brought out a dish of juicy olives, some olive oil and an impressive basket of freshly baked bread to dip into the oil while we deliberated.
Our first starter was a cool cow’s milk burrata, which if you’ve never had it before is a mozzarella casing with an oozing creamy inside. The soft delicate cheese was punctuated by the flavours of sweet pink slow-baked onions, peppery wilted greens and intense drizzles of balsamic glaze.
The grilled octopus was similarly photogenic and packed a punch. The mauve tentacle was firm and lightly spiced. Octopus flesh being sturdier than squid meant it could take on the more robust flavours of smoked red peppers, golden roast potatoes, salty-sour capers and generous drizzles of melted butter.
The favourite dish of the night was the ‘Brasato al Barolo’, translated that’s braised beef in Barolo wine, a favourite Piemontese dish. Here the rich, tender meat and deep, velvety sauce was served on top of freshly made pappardelle pasta and finished with aged Pecorino cheese. Melt in the mouth doesn’t quite cover this fantastic north western Italian classic.
Our next main was the young roast chicken plated dramatically with the shard-like purple leaves of grilled trevise lettuce. The juicy chicken, which had been cooked with lemon and thyme, was spotted with deep green blobs of grassy and acidic salsa verde and sat on a lovely creamy pool of celeriac purée.
To accompany our main courses, we had sweet and earthy roasted Jerusalem artichokes and hot, crisp courgette fritters that went well with the young roast chicken and made for good snacks between mouthfuls of the Brasato al Barolo.
We finished the evening with two crowd-pleasing desserts. The first was a comfortingly warm pear and almond tart. Paired with spiced gelato, the soft and springy sponge gave way to a juicy fragment of pear.
To finish we had a dish of wobbly panna cotta. The sweet richness of the vanilla cream was nicely balanced with the sharpness of the rhubarb & the dry, bubbly hint of champagne.
Osteria, with its bright dining room, smart menu and brutalist setting, may not look like your usual Roman ‘tavern’. However, like its Italian counterparts each dish we sampled packed an incredible amount of flavour into the 3 or 4 ingredients that comprised most plates.
Level 2, Barbican Centre, Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS