Growing up in Hong Kong, the most impressive aspect of Asian food is the stark combination of flavours, and “wok hey” (fire under the wok) when fire is involved. This is partly what makes a simple saucy bowl of noodles so memorable in New York, a Laksa soup base so tasty at a Hawker Centre in Singapore or the cheapest pad thai in Bangkok the best.
But for me, when it comes to Western food, especially Italian, one word kind of sums it up: Ingredients.
Seemingly simple, but sophisticated Italian restaurant
Trullo is an Italian restaurant just a couple minutes walk from Highbury & Islington underground station in London, recommended to us by a friend. Nick said, “you need to go to Trullo. Like NEED.” I quickly whipped out Google Maps to bookmark it. Google’s description of it being confidently unfussy Italian cooking got me even more excited.
We immediately loved the dimly lit (but not too dim) cozy ambience of the restaurant. It was casual, but appropriately romantic for us too. I liked it so much that I was reminded that “lighting architects” exists to help restaurants create the right kind of mood – and I wondered whether they used one.
“The menu is short. That’s a good sign,” says Dario, as we quickly had high expectations for the food here. Despite the brief menu, we still felt indecisive. “I’m appealed by the first, third or fourth antipasti dishes. You choose.”
Aberdeen Angus Beef Carpaccio with Horseradish – GBP11
He (unhelpfully) then suggested to go for the second option, the Aberdeen Angus beef carpaccio with grated horseradish. I was initially hesitant, because beef carpaccios are usually so thinly sliced that they quickly lose their flavour as they just disappear in your mouth. But these were significantly thicker than usual, in a pleasant way. The beef tasted great, and we liked the horseradish toppings.
Bruschetta of lardo di Colonnata and Wild Scottish mushrooms – GBP11
Despite being meat lovers, we actually preferred this bruschetta even more. When the waiter described it to us as pork back fat rubbed into a bruschetta, and topped with mushrooms, it was pretty hard to resist. The aromas of the pork fat was evident, and worked perfectly with the mushrooms.
Fettuccine with black pepper, parmesan and Amalfi lemon – GBP7.5
But where the charm of simplicity really stood out, was with the fettuccine. Reading that line in the menu just made me feel comfortably refreshed, and indeed, we were so impressed by great combination of simple flavours. I guess the pasta could have been a bit more al dente – but the taste of the dish was enough to distract us from this point.
After two antipasti dishes and one primi pasta dish, we were feeling good. As in, we weren’t still hungry, nor were we too full to have our main course. The portion size of each of those dishes were ideal to share between two people (three would work too).
Brill tranche with white polenta, mussels, chili and garlic – GBP22
The main course was probably the highlight for me – but I can imagine it wouldn’t be for all. The brill tranche (a white fish) had a well seasoned exterior and still juicy meaty interior. It was topped with chopped up mussels, which helped make a unique savoury sauce. The polenta was creamy and worked well as a side kick too.
The presence of a lot of fish bones however, would be annoying for most. I grew up eating Chinese steamed fish for dinner at home every night – with my father training me to not talk incase I choke on the bones – so the bone-part was business-as-usual for me, but I’m usually the most bone-tolerant one on the table.
Amalfi lemon tart – GBP7.5
After the impressive mains, I had to “test out” their desserts – or at least that was my excuse.
One of my very early articles on this website was a list of the best lemon tarts in Hong Kong. I had a phase when I was obsessed with lemon tarts. The Amalfi lemon tart probably beats almost all of the ones in that list. But hey, Trullo had Amalfi lemons, so I’d say that’s an apples to oranges comparison anyway.
Great ambience, food and price
Overall, Trullo was the perfect place for a low key date night. We couldn’t really pick out anything to fault about the ambience, food or the service. On top of that, our meal was extremely reasonably priced, coming up to about GBP40 per person, including wine. It’s definitely a place I’ll be taking visitors to London with me soon.
300-302 St Paul’s Rd
Spend per person: GBP40