London restaurant impresario Russell Norman recently opened Brutto, what appears on the outside to be a self-conscious trattoria tribute act, following from the more metropolitan, era-defining template for casual-but-cool, Polpo that eventually spiralled into decline.
But it would be a mistake to classify this restaurant, on Farringdon’s Greenhill Rents, as a Tuscan nostalgia trip. Yes, bistecca alla Fiorentina is charred on the grill bars, flames licking up, before being served unadorned. Yes, chicken liver crostini; pasta e fagioli; red-and-white gingham tablecloths and Parmesan spooned from metal bowls. Yes, billowing tiramisu. Yes, plentiful Negronis; a stand-up bar where the coffee is cheaper than sitting down; prints and portraits on softly lit walls.
But for every tribute to Florence, there’s a touch that prevents it from going full-on shrine. A mural from artist Neil Fox puts all these traditional interiors in a more cacophonous context, while a dish of anchovies, cold butter, and sourdough from St. John Restaurant ties it closer to its surroundings (Fergus Henderson’s seminal institution is just down the road). The atmosphere is less transportive than transient — welcomingly so — with a dining room that quickly feels abuzz and more like it’s been around forever than stuck in an endless past that doesn’t quite exist.
Take a look around.