This enoteca – Italian for regional wine bar – sits on the edge of Smithfield Market, with St Bart’s just behind. It’s a fine location for a London restaurant, with several of the city’s best as neighbours: St John, Le Café du Marché, the Club and Comptoir Gascon. Rabezzana is a vineyard in the Monferrato area of Italy that has been producing wine since 1911. While the restaurant has been open just a few years, the owners bring more than a century of wine history with them. And it’s certainly the wine that’s the main appeal at Enoteca Rabezzana. There are more than 100 different bottles in the restaurant’s collection, with a good selection available by the glass that the staff are keen to match to each course.
The atmosphere is very Italian – relaxed, easy and just the place you’d want to spend an evening over good wine and hearty food. It’s a warm and simply designed space that’s sure to bring in most of its customers from passing by its big glass front. The scrubbed tables, low light and wine covering the walls (and tables) make it an inviting refuge from the November evening. The food is rich, warming, real Italian comfort food, though you will only see a few (English favourite) classics on the menu, and these have even been topped off: The cacio e pepe has fresh black truffle, the lasagne is made with oxtail ragu. Charcuterie boards, small plates, pasta and fish and meat make up the menu. I’d be surprised, though, if anyone could make it through all courses with such generous portions.
To start off, we ordered white wine by the glass. I had the house – a Piedmont grape, Arneis, from the hills of Roero where the restaurant originates. My date had a much fruitier white from Valle d’Aosta grown at 1000m of altitude which packed incredible flavour, almost like a dessert wine. We were served homemade focaccia to accompany whilst perusing the menu. Here’s where it started interesting; One of the breads was black in colour and moist in texture, flavoured with squid ink… Cod cheeks were recommended from the ‘small’ plates and were the highlight of the meal. This dish is a speciality of the restaurant. Zabaione is traditionally an Italian dessert rather like a whipped custard, made from eggs, sugar and sweet wine. Here the very soft cod is served over a bright yellow, salted zabaione, with spinach on the side adding a good earthy texture to the plate. Grilled octopus over a smoky, spiced stew of borlotti beans with nduja and red onion was our other starter. This is a very rustic dish, rich and hearty, that could perhaps be had as a main.
Time to switch to red. My favourite feature of the restaurant is a map of Italy with all its wine regions drawn onto a huge blackboard. Enoteca Rabezzana sources a large portion of its wine directly from small producers and, so the map shows, from all corners of the country. And so we ordered a Chianti classico from Tuscany and a Primitivo from Puglia. The dishes come from all areas of Italy too, with a pistachio and fish combo pasta – presumably from Sicily – rabbit in a black olive crumble – I’ve had before in the mountains – and a Tuscan wild boar ragu over paccheri pasta. We chose a carbonara (from Rome), with a very yellow sauce and guanciale cured pork, and braised ox cheeks with fried polenta cakes. The ox was very slow cooked and came in another rich gravy. It’s a serious winter menu here.
“Ma sopra tutto nel buon vino ho fede, e credo che sia salvo chi gli crede.” – Luigi Pulci
But above all I have faith in good wine, and believe he shall be saved who believes in it.
With this quote in sight, we had a dessert wine to finish instead of pudding. Why not indulge in the restaurant’s main fare? The staff were passionate about the food and drink, and really happy to advise. The ambience was great and the clientele mixed, from couples on dates to friends sharing charcuterie boards and wine after work, and next to me some doctors from the hospital clocking off.
62-63 Long Lane