london 1720


Clapham, SW4

The very concept of ‘going out for an Italian’ can divide the crowd. Some people have said to me they will refuse to go to an Italian restaurant in London, not necessarily because the food is bad, but because many Italian dishes are ‘simple’ and this defeats the purpose of going out – why spend money when you can rustle up a bowl of pasta yourself? This, of course, is predicated on several assumptions: that Italian food (a hideous generalisation in itself) is just pasta and is always ‘simple’, and that everyone can cook or even wants to cook. And of course it all depends on what you’re looking for when eating out – if it’s something ground-breaking and daring then, I agree, ‘Italian food’ rarely reaches the dizzy heights of experimental gastronomy unless you make the trip to Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana. But what if you want something that’s just comforting, somewhere in that sweet-spot middle-ground, where you’re not charged £12.50 for a Cacio e Pepe but can have a jolly good time with some decent wine and tasty food?

I still love Trullo and Theo Randall at The Intercontinental. But now there’s a new player on the scene. I submit for your consideration Sorella in Clapham. Opened just a couple of months ago by the same team as The Dairy, and housed where The Manor used to be, it already impresses.

why shouldn’t pasta be served in a caveman’s bowl? I’ve got plates at home

Before we get over-excited, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the location or the venue. It’s a stripped-back, understated affair that could be anywhere. All the usual hallmarks are present: exposed light bulbs, sleeve-tattooed chefs, walls the hue of an overly-washed white shirt, wooden uncushioned chairs, and, of course, dishes served on things that aren’t plates. None of this is a criticism by the way, merely observation. Because you come here for the food and at Sorella this is the star of the show.

On my visit, the simple, uncluttered menu included light bites (“cicchetti”) such as truffle arancini, and enticing fish dishes from crab linguine to Lady Hamilton cod with squid ink, each evoking a sense of the Amalfi coast. But I was in a meaty mood, so the tagliatelle with pork and nduja ragu it was to be – served in a caveman’s bowl. (And why shouldn’t pasta be served in a caveman’s bowl? I’ve got plates at home). The tagliatelle itself was spot on, al dente and eggy, with the nduja adding a little hint of spice, though the pork was a little clumpy for my liking. Overall, I could tell it was more complicated than it looked, which is the secret to a good pasta dish.

Next up, the venison with cavolo nero. This was off the charts: delicately seasoned, the venison beautifully tender, it danced in my mouth. Yes, it’s slightly expensive at £26 but then deer can be dear (sorry). What really impressed me though was the little side bowl of venison ragu made from the offal and shoulder meat, all gelatinous and wonderful with shallots, mushrooms and celeriac all slow-cooked for hours and garnished with parsnip crisps. It was pure wintry comfort food and very possibly the best thing I’ve eaten this year so far. Just beautiful. I told the waitress as much and she gave me the recipe (it may be a new party piece). She also gave me a free loaf of bread to take home – now that’s hospitality!

the venison was pure wintry comfort food and very possibly the best thing I’ve eaten this year so far

It may have been the middle of winter but the affogato jumped out of the page at me for dessert: made with malt barley and vodka milk, it was incredible. My only issue was that the ice cream had half-melted and part of the pleasure of an affogato is to do the melting yourself, pouring the espresso over it to your own specifications, but at least there was no brain freeze with this one. Finally, some delightful Amalfi lemon polenta cakes were presented with the bill – a bill that was very reasonable.

Is it 100%?  Of course not, and I would be suspicious of anywhere that gets straight As in its first month of opening. There’s an obsession with putting fennel in everything, the knives can’t cut butter, and whilst it’s creditable that they make their own vermouth, their house Negroni is merely passable, made with too much ice. But these things aren’t fatal and can be refined in time.

At least there is a decent wine list, the service is friendly, and very importantly, the music isn’t too loud. It’s comfortably audible enough to hear it that it alternates between soft rock and funk soul without having to shout over it.

In a word, Sorella is awesome and I would happily cross London for that venison again.  I can’t wait to see how their menu will change with the seasons as I will certainly return.

Food & Drink56
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148 Clapham Manor Street


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