The downside of this restaurant writing lark is that, by its very nature, we typically lurch from new place to new place. That means we’re right up there on new trends and the coolest of new chefs but, unless they’ve had a complete revamp or teamed up with someone cool, generally miss some of the capital’s/country’s classic places. Places such as Il Portico, for example, which has – apparently – been serving up the food of Emilia Romagna since 1967 or “six decades and four generations” as their website has it. And no, I still haven’t been to Il Portico. But I have been (twice) to their new outlet, PINO – named after original founder Pino Chiavarini – and, frankly, it’s a cracker. It’s not cutting edge, it’s not especially cool but it is a cracker.
These days PINO runs the family farm in Kent, providing much of the produce – and wild game – that features on the menu. Other items, James tells me, come direct from sources in Italy and, given that these are relationships going back to 1967, you can probably guess the quality. That longevity is also why PINO is the first restaurant in the UK to be permitted to age balsamic Modena balsamic vinegar, the barrels for which form the centrepiece of the (comfortable and airy) restaurant.
There is some reflection of modern trends, in the ability to graze several small plates of Italian/Italian-influenced food rather than go the more traditional hale and hearty route. This section of the menu is called “tapas” which some purists will hate but, get past that, and you’ll find many good things to eat. A fritto misto of calamari, zucchini and prawns with citrus mayo kick started both my visits, ditto the elevated take on, basically, bread and ham with 36 month Culatello with wood-fired focaccia. Incidentally, the burrata, served at the time of writing with chargrilled summer vegetables and friarielli, is one of the finest I’ve eaten outside of Italy.
Pizza forms a large chunk of the menu because, well, if you have a wood-fired oven, why not? Thus far I’ve resisted but, frankly, there’s definitely a Crema Parmigiano – parmigiana cream base, pancetta, rucola, 25-year old balsamic – sometime in my future. Instead I’ve either kept wandering through those small plates, or dived into the pastas because, well, pappardelle with wild boar ragu? Gnocchi with clams and wild porcini? Squid ink ravioli, with aubergine, monkfish, shellfish bisque basil and pine nuts? You need more willpower than I have to turn one of those down.
The wine list is strong and, yes, Italian focused but that’s hardly a complaint, and there are some seven whites and 10 reds available by the glass. Prices start at £5 too which is exceptional value for a pub these days, let alone a restaurant on High Street Kensington.
In short, PINO’s “hook” is to take a selection of excellent ingredients, treat them with respect, and make excellent, straightforward food. My notes from visit one – and, actually, I was relatively sober at the time – refer to it as “Noble Rot for Italian” and, actually, that’s not far off the case. It’s a cracker. Service is lovely and smiley (even if you’ve turned up grumpy after the “planned engineering works” tube journey from Hell), the atmosphere is chilled, and the menu, while relatively compact, is glorious list of things you’ll really want to eat, executed to a standard where you’ll really want to finish them too.
The intention is to age some of the balsamic on site for 25 years. It’s a bold gesture in a tricky climate for hospitality but, on the evidence so far, I’d bet on PINO most certainly being around until, and beyond, that point.
267 Kensington High Street