Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Trullo, Highbury

Notwithstanding the three-figure pocket money, sumptuous homes, elite private education, Porsche for your seventeenth birthday and winters in Zermatt, it can't be easy being the child of a famous parent.  Follow mum or dad into the trade in which they made their very bankable name (Rufus Wainwright say, or Michael Douglas) and you will forever be compared to them, and find your family labelled a 'dynasty' as if your achievements derive only from your DNA and not any actual effort. 

Plough a different furrow - viz, Stella McCartney - and unkind souls will say that you only got where you are because of your famous name, which is deeply insulting not just to you but also to your fans or, in Stella's case, customers, as it implies that ladies only buy your exquisitely cut jump-suits because your dad co-wrote 'Eleanor Rigby'. 

It must then be doubly hard when both parents are very famous indeed; from expensive cradle to cosseted adolescence the burden of society's expectation weighs upon your honey-hued, Ralph Lauren-clad shoulders as the gossip mags wait to see whether you'll take after mum (step forward Georgia May Jagger) or dad (take a bow, Sean Lennon). Jordan Frieda, son of pop legend/gay icon Lulu and hairdresser extraordinaire/global haircare deity John Frieda, has done neither and, after a creditable stab at acting during which he most notably played Prince William - a man who also knows a thing or two about having famous folks - has opened Trullo, a perfectly nice little neighbourhood Italian in Highbury.

There's not a great deal of information on Trullo's website but from what I can gather someone who's involved in the project (possibly Frieda himself) has worked at River Cafe in the past and Trullo seeks to emulate, if not actually replicate, Ruth Rogers' and the late Rose Gray's simple cooking of excellent produce to authentically Italian methods. They're certainly not replicating the River Cafe's notoriously nosebleed-inducing prices; everything on the succinct, daily-changing menu is very reasonable and most wonderfully of all, no bottle on the all-Italian wine list is marked up by more than a tenner, a pricing model which must have other, greedier restaurateurs quaking in their boots.

If you're wondering what I was doing so far from home, in the noisy environs of Highbury Corner, the answer is that I'd arranged to dine once again with the delectable James Ramsden and we wanted to try somewhere new to both of us, which isn't easy when you eat out as much as we do. Trullo had blipped quietly on the outer circles of both our radars and with the added selling point that it's basically at the end of James's road, we booked ourselves in. 

Good job we did too, because even on a Tuesday night the place was packed, with hopeful walk-ins prepared to queue. This must be down to some seriously good PR or wildfire word-of-mouth, because from the outside Trullo's not an immediate draw; its midnight blue exterior and discreet half curtains are rather foreboding.

Inside, it's groovy and modern but extremely noisy and with a slight air of the unfinished; display shelves run around the walls but display next to nothing, and the smell lingers of the battleship-gray paint on the vertiginous stairs down to the lavs. The menu borders on the combative - it takes a certain amount of proprietorial chutzpah to have veal, lamb sweetbreads and two fish dishes as the only main courses - and staff appear to have been briefed to expect customer confusion given that we were asked, twice, if we had any questions (to which I responded mischievously by asking, 'What sort of questions do you expect?').

Starters were fine. Grilled ox heart with horseradish creme fraiche was an unfussy plateful of thin, nicely chewy slices of smoky bovine ticker, while James's Heritage tomato and mussel soup was a satisfying bowlful of good-if-not-great mussels atop robust chunks of toms of every colour - more a stew than a soup. We shared a pasta dish of stracci with green beans, pesto and black olives which was unremarkable, the only real interest coming from the fun, irregularly-shaped pieces 'scratched' from a sheet of pasta. I had to ask James if the pesto, which didn't taste super-fresh, might have come from a jar; he thought not but we agreed that it tasted like it might have come from a good deli. This is not praise.

Mains were a lot better and my lamb sweetbreads with broad beans, summer carrots, pancetta and borlotti beans was particularly belting (though, memo to the menu writer, having borlotti beans as one of only two side dishes on offer when they already feature on a main course is not a good sales ploy). James's veal saltimbocca with baked radicchio was also molto bene and jumped appropriately in the mouth; thicker slices of veal might have been nice but there was plenty of it, and the crisp baked leaves were a tasty touch. 

The only real let-downs were the desserts; cherry ripple ice cream was bland and a grilled white peach with mascarpone and Amaretto was pleasant enough but carried no trace of the almond flavour one would expect from its extended bath in the liqueur. They rounded off the meal well enough but added nothing to it.

From that altruistically priced wine list we chose a Nero d'Avola at a bargainous £16; it was a great bottle for the money, bursting with black fruit and mellow sweetness. Adding three courses each, the shared pasta dish, aperitifs and digestifs (yes I know it was a schoolnight but I still made it to school today, so there) we still only managed to rack up a bill of £84; even with a tenner added on for service - entirely voluntarily, no discretionary 12.5% nonsense here - we felt like we'd had very good value indeed if not the most amazing meal of our lives. Service was fast, friendly and mostly relaxed, delivered by delightful staff wearing smiles suggesting that no-one involved in the business can quite believe their luck.

Jordan Frieda - and his less-recognisably-nomenclatured partners - are certainly onto a winner here; once the initial buzz has died down I can see Trullo fulfilling its aspiration of being a good, perhaps the best, restaurant in an affluent, eats-out-a-lot neighbourhood. Personally, I liked it well enough but didn't make me wanna shout.

Trullo, 300 - 302 St Paul’s Road, London N1 2LH tel: 020 7226 2733

Trullo on Urbanspoon

Square Meal


  1. Oh, interesting! I've been hearing a lot about Trullo. It has been getting a lot of hype. Will check it out.

  2. Lamb sweetbreads and ox hearts?

    I quite like the sound of Trullo :)

  3. OH Hugh, you write the best restaurant reviews! I'm being taken here tonight but I almost feel like there's no point blogging about it after this masterpiece... And it's good to know you won't judge me if I purchase the tops from looks 18, 20 and 25 of Stella's resort collection:


    1. Bless you Duck - a lovely comment and beautiful tops (by a designer who has got where she is purely on her own merits)! Very Mary Katrantzou, no?



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