Saturday, 1 August 2009

500 Cinquecento

I’d heard some good things about this local Italian restaurant, just down from Archway. The owners, chef Mario Magli and manager Giorgio Pili, met while working Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street Restaurant and went on to work at Passione in Charlotte Street. Magli also had a spell at Jamie Oliver’s 15.

At 8pm on a Tuesday the restaurant was almost full and buzzy. It is a simply decorated room that does get fairly noisy (bare tables, no curtains etc to absorb the clatter and chat). The service is efficient and helpful and an assortment of superb home-made bread quickly arrived at the table. The menu spoils you for choice as there is a tempting selection of anti-pasti/appetisers, followed by pasta dishes in starter and main course sizes, delicious looking main courses and some ‘specials’. We selected the Tagliere 500 from the specials, a mixed platter of cured meats, cheese, pâté, assorted vegetables, a tiny dish of leek and potato soup and something lovely with crab. We also couldn’t resist the sound of the deep fried ravioli filled with provola cheese and mint (Raviolo ripieno di provola e menta) so we ordered what we expected to be one each and ended up with four per portion!

We were already feeling quite full when the main courses arrived. My friend’s ravioli filled with duck served with a butter and cinnamon sauce (Ravioli ripieni di anatra con salsa di burro e canella) was a beautiful dish: silky pasta encasing tender duck seasoned with a touch of orange and the sauce was rich yet balanced. My gnocchi with braised leeks (Gnocchi di patate con porri) had a featherlight texture and the leeks had complex caramelized overtones. Very very good! Some of the portions are very generous – I couldn’t finish my gnocchi and they kindly let me have a doggy bag!

Somehow we found space for puddings and concluded our meal with Panna cotta with pistachios served with a strawberry sauce and Semifreddo al torrone (nougat ice cream) which was topped with crushed hazelnut and served with a chocolate sauce. The dessert menu also suggests a sweet wine to accompany each dish – also difficult to resist as the recommendations read so well.

A couple of points about the wines: there is an excellent selection by the glass starting at just over £2 and the main wine list offers a broad range of Italian wines with a quite a few bottles under £20.

We were thoroughly impressed. The cooking is of a very high standard and 500 offers great value for money. Including wine and tip (service is not included), our meal came to just over £70 and could have been considerably less. A quick supper of some pasta and a spot of wine needn’t come to any more than £15, but do try to spoil yourselves a bit more if it’s your first visit – local restaurants don’t come much better than this. Booking is essential.
(Visited January 2009)

782 Holloway Road, London N19 3JH; tel 020 7272 3406
(Apparently, the name is inspired by the iconic tiny car by Fiat.)

Square Meal

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