The entrance is now the gated doorway and there's a narrow corridor adjacent to the dining room. I like this as in spite of the warm and ever prompt welcome at The Commoner I did feel it was a little intrusive at times hanging around the doorway and would try and rush to take our seats. There are definite hints that The Commoner was the predecessor but at the same time Mr. Ottorino has certainly settled in. The little bar tables have disappeared and instead there's one larger bar table next to the actual bar with a view into the kitchen. That looks like a fun place to sit so I'll be making a reservation there!
The large square table that once sat in the front window that I loved and dreamed of holding a dinner party at has been moved upstairs and in its place a more streamlined, leaner table sits giving a little more room and space. The bees are still in residence in the courtyard - yay! And apparently they are well loved and doing great.
Like The Commoner, our welcome was warm and Matty provided us with congenial and personal service that was like dining with friends. His passion and enthusiasm was infectious. That magical charm of The Commoner that Jo worked so hard to offer is still there. That soul is ever present; reassuringly so. Perhaps it's in the walls of the building and rubs off an all who dine there!
- Melanzane, sugo, pangrattato, oregano
- Baccala fritta, celeriac puree, pickled shallot
- Arancini, Wagyu chuck ragu, scamorza
The melanzane or eggplant or aubergine, depending on where you're from(!) arrives first and it has this appetising brown baked colour on the top and deep crimson tomato sauce. It's so soft and tender and melts in the mouth leaving flavours of sweet tomato, creamy eggplant and toasty cheesiness. It's like a big warm smacker of a kiss from Nonna. It's so homely and so Italian; a true Mamma Mia of a dish.
The salt cod are not the croquettes I was imagining. I got confused with fritta and fritter! Fritta being fried. So these were mini goujons of baccala with a thin crispy batter. The fish flakes and the saltiness is tempered by the celeriac puree and tang of the pickled shallot. So light and clean tasting this was a great contrast to the heartiness of the melanzane.
And then two domes of arancini arrived golden and robust in size. We could have shared one really. Inside reveals some oozy scamorza and a dab of ragu. It's back to hearty comfort food with traditional Italian flavours. We enjoyed the arancini but a bit of a sauce, maybe just some sugo to sit these golden domes on would just help cut through some of the density of the arancini.
- Wood fired, rice stuffed, baby chicken, potatoes and salsa verde
- Risoni, pine mushroom, chicken skin, ricotta salata
The baby chicken is boned out except for the legs so it's easy to split and share. And glory be to those chicken juices. We couldn't help but get fingerlickin' and skip the cutlery! The potatoes took on the lemony scent and were braised to the extent that they have that delicious flouriness to them.
And the risoni - this was one of the most appetisingly delicious dishes we' ve had recently. Creamy but not overly rich with earthy savoury flavour notes from the pine mushrooms. Interestingly the mushrooms were foraged by former owner of The Commoner, Matt Donnelly and I loved that nod to the previous occupants. The texture of the risoni is silky and decadent but there's also a crunch and a meaty flavour from the chicken skin. It does indeed go perfectly with the wood fired baby chicken and together it's a tour de force that restores the soul.
In spite of the unanticipated break, after we ordered dessert, they arrived pretty quick smart it didn't drag on too much. Steve went with the fig and mascarpone tart which came with a scoop of ice cream and I had the rum baba. I did order a coffee that didn't arrive but I didn't miss it.
The rum baba was light and I was offered a top up of spiced rum if desired but I liked it as is. It just had enough booze to make it feel like a grown up's dessert. The cream helped lighten it and it quickly disappeared! Steve's tart also didn't last long. Two good desserts; not overly sweet but a great finish.
We're pleased to have Mr. Otterino in the neighbourhood - welcome Matty, Matt and team and we look forward to getting to know you better. In spite of the forgotten coffee and delay between the last course, the Matty's effervescent charm and the great food make up for it. Mr. Otterino provides the homely comfort of a grandparent but the fun, youthful vibe of a new generation and I'm a sucker for family style food and family love so that makes me a fan of Mr. Otterino.