Brutto: The Convivial Tuscan Trattoria
Tucked away on a side street, away from the busy Cowcross Street, is Brutto - quaint, Florentine, and with an atmosphere that is reminiscent of a trattoria in 80s New York. Dimly-lit and lively in a relaxed manner, Brutto treads the fine line of casual precision.
One thing I have noticed about Brutto is that it is always fully booked. To get a table, you would need a week's advanced booking. Though, having been before, I completely understand why this is the case.
The convivial atmosphere is contagious in the most welcomed manner. Perfect for drinks or dinner, you are promised a relaxed evening. The dim yet warm lighting and the rack of wines by the door invite every diner into the space.
The unhurried and positively lively manner of the servers sets the mood for this Florentine trattoria.
Established by Russell Norman, the mastermind behind the celebrated Venetian restaurant POLPO, the menu is fully Tuscan and also unintelligible if you do not speak Italian. Not to worry, there is an English menu on the flip-side, just like you would expect if you were a tourist in Florence.
Interestingly, the name of the restaurant means 'ugly' in Italian. Norman pays homage to renowned Tuscan dishes that are known to be rooted in the concept of frugality. Instead, it celebrates simple, inexpensive ingredients such as bread, pasta, pulses, seasonal vegetables and offal. Whilst flavourful, the dishes can come across as unaesthetic - hence the name of the restaurant. Yet at Brutto, these traditional Tuscan dishes glisten, glitter, and gleam through the dark lighting. They are truly the stars of the show.
Open Tuesday to Saturday from noon till 11pm, Brutto is a great spot for just drinks, food or both. To enjoy the dim ambience properly, it's best to come after sun-down.
First item on the menu and typically Florentine is the 'coccini, prosciutto e stracchino / deep-fried dough ball cuddles with prosciutto & stracchino'. The airy and soft dough paired with the salty ham and spoonable cheese is the perfect little snack to whet your appetite, or even to have on the side if you're just at Brutto for a drink - aka its famous £5 negronis. Another great drink pairing is the 'crostini fegatini di pollo / chicken liver toasts'. So definitive it is of Tuscany that it is called crostini Toscano in Italy. The slightly bitter, nutty and salty pâté (pardon the French) on a warm slice of hearty bread is perfect with a nice sweet glass of Prosecco. Get all these snacks and drinks with friends at 5/6pm, and that's what we call an aperitivo.
If you've got more space for a proper meal, Brutto has a nice succinct list of pasta one can choose from. A favourite would be 'penne con vodka / penne with vodka & tomato'. It's one of those dishes that are so simple yet beautiful. It's usually in simplicity that there is no place for flaws to hide. And in this penne dish, none can be found. The al dente penne allows you to slowly savour, with every bite, the creamy and silky tomato sauce that carries a dash of umami (possibly from some parmesan). It's a dish you'll have to order.
Some other notable mentions include the 'tagliatelle al ragu / tagliatelle with meat sauce' and the 'pappardelle con coniglo / rabbit pappardelle'. Both sing praise to the meat-leaning tradition of Florentine cooking. The former, a robust, punchy pasta with melt-in-the-mouth ragu, and the latter a much lighter and mildly earthy creation.
Secondi? To dolci it is...
Whilst I would like to have tried some delectable sounding meaty mains Brutto has to offer - especially the 'bistecca alla Florentina / Florentine T-bone steak' that is said to sell out - I only managed to make it down the menu to primi on my first visit, and succeeded in squeezing in a tiramisu to finish the meal on my second.
What I can say is that the tiramisu is well executed. It is soft and smooth, and properly balanced by the coffee and dusting of cocoa. This classic Italian dessert is telling that Brutto knows what it's doing.
Veni, Vidi, Vici
Or that is what I would like to say the next time I drop by Brutto. An order of t-bone steak with sides of cannellini beans, fennel gratinato, and roasted potatoes, and a glass of Tuscan red. By my third try, I would like to have conquered Brutto's menu.
That is the beauty of Brutto. It's enticing atmosphere and menu lingers at the back of your mind after a visit. It gives you the urge to gather friends for a drink and a bite. Or better yet, if you've got a dog, waltz in with man's best friend and grab a steak together in this dim-lit, dog-friendly corner of Farringdon.