I am a sucker for a romantic restaurant. Wooden beams, exposed brick work and candlelight appeal to my imagination. Add to the equation a window table, snugly fitted into its own nook and my enthusiasm for the restaurant becomes somewhat exhausting, especially when I have remarked how lovely everything is (for the thousand time) before having even tried the food. This has not always served me well. I vividly remember being in Poland trying to politely eat a bowl of what we believe was gristly tripe, having made the faux pax of choosing the most romantic looking restaurant for breakfast. Luckily, my first impressions of Gastrovino and its charming window table were not ill-founded. The food and wine lived up to the romantic ambience of the restaurant.
Situated on the Kings Road, Gastrovino is the type of restaurant that you cannot help but peek into. Set on two floors, it has a higgledy-piggledy charm about it, that is warm and inviting. It is the kind of place that if you were in a village in Tuscany you would have to go into because you want to immerse yourself in what looks to be a favourite local haunt.
Upstairs at street level is Gastrovino, a food and wine bar that exploits its rustic aesthetic. The walls have been painted using the sand effect, the menu is written on card attached to clipboards and there are wooden barrels artistically strewn around the place. Downstairs, at Bar 8 the decor is more opulent and moody, befitting of the intimate vermouth and amaro bar.
This new venture marks a collaboration between Italian spirits expert Giusseppe Gallo, whom is internationally recognised within the industry and the Made in Italy group. Gallo has partnered up with mixologist Daniele Gentili, formally of the basement cocktail bar Demon, Wise & Partners to create 8 cocktails at £8.88 a go that are all based around vermouth or amaro. It is easy to see how they came up with the bar name..
Despite the unoriginal names, Gallo and the Made in Italy group have executed a wine bar of extremly high standards. The wine menu includes 20 different wines by the glass, one for each region of Italy as well as a concise and well selected list of Italian bottles. We drank an exceptional 2014 Lazo Viogner that was smooth and well balanced. At the end of the evening we also tried a sour cherry liquor which was equally as delicious.
The food at Gastrovino is cicchetti, a selection of small Italian sharing plates, as well as having the option of boards of charcuterie, vegetables, breads and cheeses. The burrata, ricotta and mozarella are all homemade, around the corner from the restaurant at Battersea bridge.
The decision to go with this style of dining marks a desire for the Made in Italy group to show Italian cuisine in a new light. Gastrovino marks a break in Italian a la carte tradition and the creativity of the dishes exemplifies the new found freedom of the chefs.
Of course, never one to not try the meats and cheese, we start with a sharing board that includes an exquisite truffled pecorino, pickled veg, tomato and mozarella brushcetta, baked ricotta and a mixture of charcuterie – all high quality produce. The pickled veg were particularly fantastic, subtle enough not to overpower the other components and extremely crisp, a great textural counterpart. The baked ricotta was a nice idea but wasn’t warm when it arrived, meaning we didn’t enjoy it to its full potential.
The next dishes arrived in the order that they were ready, adding to the relaxed atmosphere and ensuring that the evening was leisurely and enjoyable. There is nothing worse than going on a romantic date and it being cut short because the tables need to be changed around.
Smoked sausage arancini with spicy tomato dipping sauce were a winning combination. The rice was cooked to perfection and the sauce initially made your lips tingle but then the heat tapered off leaving you wanting more.
Octopus with salsa verde was a beautiful looking dish that was elegant in its simplicity and well cooked. Poussin with roasted padron peppers was delicious – meat incredibly tender, smothered in a sticky spicy marmalade.A salad of shaved artichoke and pecorino and blood orange was lacking because the vegetable had been cut too thick, ridding the salad of its delicacy and making it quite difficult to eat. The dish lacked the finesse of everything else we had eaten and looked like someone had taken their anger out using thee grater. To finish, along with our sour cherry liquor we had some incredible saffron biscotti, off sweet, they were a thing of beauty.
Gastrovino & Bar 8 in its warmth and romance is a rare gem for the Kings Road. I will be returning for many a glass of wine, nibble and the occasional daydream.
Gastrovino & Bar 8, 257 Kings Road, Chelsea and Knightsbridge, London, SW3 5EL ££ 7/10