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The Week
The Week
Kieran Ahuja

Trattoria Brutto review: modest Italian food and an amazing atmosphere

You’ll be happy you visited this Florentine restaurant long before your first forkful

There are few areas in the entire of the UK that betray the type of restaurant they house more than Farringdon. Home of the historic Smithfield Meat Market, you can expect food here to share a common theme: a focus on meat and butchery, and a consequential machismo – you’re unlikely to find many veloutés, foams or edible flowers in this corner of London.

The most famous illustration of this ethos is the original St. John, perhaps London’s most famous restaurant, where Fergus Henderson revised the way British cuisine is viewed worldwide thanks to his focus on nose-to-tail cooking. (If you ever see bone marrow on a menu, Henderson is the one you should thank). More recently, this reputation has been amplified by restaurants such as Quality Chop House and the newly reopened Bouchon Racine, which sits above The Three Compasses pub.

Adding an Italian spin to this side of London is Trattoria Brutto (shortened often to simply “Brutto”), which sits neatly on a side street between Farringdon Station and Smithfield Market. On the restaurant’s Instagram account, it declares that it is “not fancy” and “don’t expect too much”, a dose of modesty akin to calling itself Brutto (“ugly”) in the first place.

Paul Winch-Furness

However, given that this is an outfit by renowned restaurateur Russell Norman, whose credits include elegant seafood restaurant Scott’s and Venetian mini-chain Polpo, expectations are high. It doesn’t help that Brutto was last year awarded a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand and featured in the 50 Best Discovery list.

It makes a very good first impression. Firstly, while bookings are only made available a couple of weeks in advance, they are at least made available, which is more than can be said for Norman’s previous endeavours; Polpo was famous for triggering a wave of no-reservations restaurants in London, a trend that was only really halted by the pandemic.

Paul Winch-Furness

Interiors and drinks 

When you arrive, the atmosphere is truly perfect: dimly lit, with candlelight dancing on white tablecloths and a loud, boisterous, but intimate atmosphere. As a table of five, we’re shown to a round table, which, though a simple pleasure, is rarer than you think in a world of tables for two pushed together.

Our spirits are lifted even higher when we clock the £5 negronis on the menu (cheaper than most pints in London), which disappear embarrassingly quickly while we peruse the food options. We also order wine for the table – bottles can get expensive, but there’s a £15 house red served in carafes. No one’s waxing lyrical about tasting notes, but we leave slightly drunk, which is always a good sign.

Paul Winch-Furness

The food 

Unusually for an Italian restaurant, the highlight of the meal is the starter: toasts piled high with chicken livers; sourdough from St. John bakery with cold, toothy butter, draped with anchovies; slices of aged pecorino and sweet, blushing Decana pear, two ingredients so good that they need only slicing and plating.

The standout, though, are the signature dough ball “cuddles”, sweet, crispy little things which are best described as something adjacent to doughnuts, accompanied with prosciutto and creamy stracchino cheese. 

The pasta, while delicious, hit a bit more of a sedate note after the chorus of starters: tortellini in brodo, a northern Italian classic that is surprisingly rare on London menus, meets expectations without exceeding them, and the same goes for a rabbit pappardelle and a pork ragu. There’s nothing to complain about per se, but they lack the vivacity of the first course.

The desserts are unfussy but brilliant – a properly boozy affogato, with the traditional coffee plus a shot of what we think is brandy, and a homely helping of tiramisu. We ask for the bill reluctantly, having had three courses, wine and cocktails, but leave pleasantly surprised having spent only around £50 per head.

Paul Winch-Furness

The verdict

Though delicious, the menu is not the reason to visit this Florentine trattoria. The reason is its convivial atmosphere, friendly staff, cheap cocktails and food that makes you happy. It’s a neighbourhood spot in the middle of the city, adhering to Farringdon’s tradition of meat-centric restaurants while ensuring it adds something new.

Trattoria Brutto, 35-37 Greenhill Rents, London EC1M 6BN; 

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