When deciding where to eat in Soho, the choice is endless, which can be overwhelming, and like any tourist trap the potential for restaurants to make money of the back of diners (ushering them in and out with shoddy service along the way) means I’ve never had much faith in the area when it comes to eating out.
Last weekend a friend from home had made her way to the city to visit some friends scattered throughout. Queue dinner and catch-up drinks. As she had plans in Clapham for after our meal we decided on a halfway meeting spot on the Northern Line convenient for both of us.
And so Italian eatery, Rustiko, found itself to be the setting for our catch-up. Taking a seat, I thought, what’s in a name? A lot apparently. With the obligatory ‘o’ at the end the place sounds Italian and it certainly looks more rustic than you’d expect of a red, green and white pizzeria. And that’s because this isn’t a pizzeria, or a pasta house. Quelle surprise (should that be ‘che sorpresa’), this is a cool little snug on Old Compton street that isn’t living up to the Italian stereotype. Waiters are not Italian, instead they have dreadlocks, are heavily tattooed and sport relaxed surfer dude smiles.
Inside the dark mahogany seating matches exposed brickwork, and on the ground floor in this long and narrow eating house you perch parallel to the bar, while upstairs you’ll find seating for bigger parties. On a Saturday night at the modest time of 6:30pm there were the bones of a queue forming outside and a bustling atmosphere inside.
Pizzas and pastas are featured of course, cementing its Italian status, but so too are dishes like Pan Fried Salmon with Asparagus and Lamb Fillet with Aubergine Caponata.
Eating the Arancini balls is like munching popcorn at the cinema –easy to stuff your face with and disappointing when you hit the bottom of the bucket. I’m not the biggest fan of Goats Cheese but this baked variety was very sizeable and lovingly presented, with spinach and drizzles of olive oil, and my guest was satisfied as she polished it off.
Proving just why we’re friends, in many ways, we ended up ordering the same dish (same tastes, or perhaps chatting too much?), the Grilled Calamari with Wilted Leek and Chorzio and both agreed it was too chewy and tough. I had been thinking along the lines of a deep-fried crispy variety when I spotted it paired with chorizo. Nonetheless this doesn’t fault the dish per se, calamari is naturally chewy when served in this way and those squid fans won’t be disappointed with the quality, size and presentation of the dish. The adjoining garnish of diced chorizo and leek was of course a saving grace.
Wine is limited in choice and the Casa Lunardi was a decent accompaniment, if more sour than our request for a fruity wine.
Continuing on to round three, the Tiramisu is served in a small pot as my friend discovered while Canolinis were a new one on me. I’m glad we gave desert a go though as I really loved these little ricotta, chocolate chip and candied citrus-stuffed pastry tubes. Arriving as a trio the outer crunch was satisfying, crumbing to reveal a velvety smooth inner combination. Our verdict on dessert was unanimous: truly a shame there wasn’t more!
With little really on display to offer its ethnic heritage, Rustiko is a great choice if you want some laid back Italian vibes without it being shoved down your throat. I imagine Rustiko is the type of restaurant that Italians go to in Italy, in the way British fayre restaurants here aren’t all Union Jack Bunting and Royal Family memorabilia. At Rustiko you’ll find some country staples and then some, in a stylish setting for anyone who might find themselves here, unsure of whether they want a native dish of Gnocchi or Chicken with Butternut Squash. A faultless experience.
Visit: 37 Old Compton St, London W1D 5JY