H, my step mum has firmly instilled in me that Sunday is the time to eat whatever you want and relax. In our case this used to mean watching a week’s worth of Come Dine With Me, wine and eating Dad’s legendary mac n cheese. These memories make me cherish being back home, snuggled up on the sofa in multiple blankets, not because it’s cosy but because the fire hasn’t kicked in yet and we are trying to keep warm. Artusi, an Italian restaurant in Peckham understand the importance of a happy Sunday which is why, ever since opening in March 2014, they have put on a set menu.
This menu, three courses for a shockingly good 20 pounds, has all the criteria to ensure you have the best Sunday possible. With two choices per course, it is great for the indecisive who may also be battling with the remains of a hangover and just want to be fed. Then there is the price, which makes you feel that there is someone out there, who understands that whilst the thought of looking at your bank account makes you physically ill, in-spite of this you are human, it is a Sunday and you really want to treat yourself. Finally the food is an honest, well executed Italian affair that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Situated near Peckham Rye, on Bellenden road, a street breaming with food haunts and quirky haberdashery shops, sits Artusi. Unimposing yet sleek, a charcoal exterior is broken up by big windows that give light to the galley style restaurant inside. Artusi is painted in white, a small, yet nonetheless striking contrast to the dark grey. The orange cover cuts up the minimalist look, attracting your attention as you walk past.
Inside, the restaurant is on two levels. Most of the seating is at street level, whilst out back sits the small open kitchen. With a reduced menu on a Sunday space is utilised to its full potential, less prep allowing for more seating. Throughout the week the room can be booked for larger parties, with sharing style, family meals served for groups of 8 or more and the option of pre-ordering a suckling pig for the table.
The glass and tableware are elegant and simple. Decoration is minimal, leaving the food and drink to speak for itself. There is a neighbourhood feel, a warm atmosphere created by the staff and customers, many of whom I suspect to be regulars.
Artusi understand the importance of good suppliers, their drinks menu is host to a range of interesting Italian wines thanks to TuttoWines and FortyFive10Wines. I chose a killer negroni, smooth and well balanced. This was followed by a glass of crisp, dry rose, very sophisticated and far removed as possible from the sweet fluorescent pink stuff you drank out the bottle as a teenager.
The food is driven by the seasons, changes happen on a weekly basis accordingly. Eating in the restaurant in early February we had the Celeriac Remoulade & Giardiniera on toast as our starter. Texturally it was a pleasure to eat, creamy remoulade, crunchy piquant vegetables and crisp toast. The seasoning was spot on – the remoulade had a decent amount of mustard in it and the sharpness of the pickled vegetables had been tempered with the perfect amount of sweetness. Presentation was unfussy, the chunks of vegetables large. Good, honest cooking.
Next we shared the Trotolle, Chard, Confit Garlic & Anchovies and the Lamb Belly, Daikon, Olives & Tomatoes. Both in their different ways were what you want Sunday food to be. The trotolle was, as all pasta is, immensely comforting. Covered in a generous smattering of parmesan, the flavour from the confit garlic was incredible, lively enough to awaken even the most abused of taste buds from the night before. More anchovies would have been welcome but overall a very satisfying bowl of food, the kind you want to curl up with and watch crap TV on a Sunday evening. Equally the lamb belly had all the credentials of a good old fashioned roast, in a fresher more Italian way. The belly was deliciously tender and flavoursome, the fat literally melting in your mouth. The daikon was a clever accompaniment; its mild peppery flavour assisted the tomato in cutting through the richness of the lamb which in turn ensured it was the star of the show.
The desserts, Chocolate Ice-cream and Poached Rhubarb, Sweet Ricotta & Walnuts were pleasant, but were outshone by the two savoury courses. The combination of the ricotta and poached rhubarb would have been excellent had the rhubarb been sweeter. I loathe overly sweet desserts, however in this case a spoonful of sugar would have been appreciated. I admired Artusi for serving their ice cream without any accoutrements, however when you do that it needs to be fantastic. It was good but needed to be more intensely chocolatey.
The next time you are at a loose end on a Sunday and crave the comfort of home, pop into Artusi and I can guarantee you will leave feeling warm, satisfied and well looked after.
Artusi, 161 Bellenden Road, Peckham, London SE15 4DH £ 8/10