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Illustration by Kati Szilagyi for Resy

Raven Smith Eats OutLondon

At Trullo, Pasta and The Perfect Lunch Mise-en-Scène

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Introducing Resy’s new columnist, Raven Smith, and his new column, Raven Smith Eats Out. Smith is an author, current Vogue columnist, and widely known as the funniest person on Instagram in addition to frequenting some of London’s finest restaurants. In this and forthcoming columns, join Smith at some of his favourite restaurants as he searches for outstanding dining experiences that transcend words and cleave notions of style and taste, all shared in his own inimitable style.  

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Not to be a whinge, but bohemian city life can be draining.

So many of the things I love — alcohol, cigarettes, midtown — leave me feeling a little frazzled. I seem to be constantly keyed up by the caffeine-driven psychological whiplash of daily life, and there’s only so much 20mg of Melatonin each evening can do to stabilise me. Beware the false idols of relaxation, the ventriloquism of respite — I’m thinking here of podcasts or power naps or B12 shots, of aromatherapy or flotation tanks or an mp3 of sad lute noises. Beware anything that isn’t simply an early night.

But before that early night must come dinner. After weekdays of boxed sandwiches or chopped salads or nuked soups, pasta is my quick fix comfort. Pasta is easy access to emotional equilibrium. Triage for the soul. A strong stableness like Kevin Costner in the Bodyguard.

I can’t stop fantasising about pasta the same way I did about three teachers – all PE – when I was at school. Enchanting cysts of gnocchi. Gasms of rigatoni. A prayerbook of lasagne. My mind turns to the twists of gemelli. Loop the loops of spaghetti. Suspicious cappelletti waiting to peep show their innards. Or maybe I can do macaroni, but certainly not mac and cheese – mac and cheese is manilla blandness with great PR. I don’t believe anyone truly craves mac and cheese so much as doesn’t bother to question it.

I ask my mate — a food PR who has been asked for dinner recommendations every late afternoon for the best part of a decade — for a rec. Who among us can resist the power of a good recommendation, the little act of love that doesn’t need to shatter the earth with profundity in order to nurture? I was once told the secret to a satisfying meal at L.A.’s Horses was to get the burger with both cooked and raw onions, followed by the dark chocolate tart. You can see that a good recommendation is not a magic trick, it’s just an affectionate brag of knowledge.

My mate says go to River Café but I’m worried that £50 pasta doesn’t feel accessible to everyone, especially in the week the pound dropped to virtually zero. I want pasta because it’s an easy comfort and — not to be too glib — easy comforts might be in short supply as the cost of living crisis ripples into all of our pockets. Fifteen to twenty quid pasta isn’t cheap, but it’s not bougie either, it’s not expensive fingers of sandwich of a high tea, it’s not tiny sharing plates and duelling forks, it’s not morsels for millions. We can all sea salt a water and boil a penne and de-jar a sauce, but it’s one of life’s little luxuries to have an expert oversee it for you – you needn’t chose one or the other. I book Saturday lunch at Trullo (her other rec) and get back to my frazzled little life.


 

Saturday lunch feels a bit naughty, like you could overdo on wine and lose a whole evening. The night is too young, the sky too light, yet here you are, pursuing leisure.

Nothing pleases me more than a booked lunch. Not a ‘shall we pop in?’, not an outside queue, not a pager in the pocket in the pub next door. Just a lunch, pre-ordered, and ready when agreed. I venture to Trullo for Saturday lunch, and it feels like a game-changer. Saturday lunch feels a bit naughty, like you could overdo on wine and lose a whole evening. The night is too young, the sky too light, yet here you are, pursuing leisure.

Trullo is an institution, giving good neighbourhood Italian even though its closest neighbour is the spaghetti of Highbury Corner. Rather than cloth, the tables are laid with white paper ready to diarise the spills and condensations of a good lunch. I whet my whistle with a 1 p.m. Negroni (red drinks is another column entirely) and a salad of rocket and figs when the fruit has sunk beneath the sea of leaves, but each mouthful is pleasant. There’s a compelling Dorset crab bruschetta with tarragon, the most underrated herb, which is perfectly crabby and toasty. But we all know I’m here for the primi – these mouth-pleasers are pulled pins to the impending grenade of pasta.

We order the three menu pastas between the two of us. The pappardelle with beef shin ragu is traditional and timeless, and could be made by goodfella nonnas with ancestral confidence. Tagliarini with slow-cooked cuttlefish it equally as taupe on the plate but is more modern and sophisticated in execution, like its eaters are the kind of people who say film instead of movie. Cuttlefish pasta feels beatnik.

But it is the fettuccine with wild mushrooms that bowls (shallow plates) me over. A dish of carefully balanced brilliance — not too mushroomy, nor too creamy, nor garlicky. Raptures of mushroom in varying states of al dente, are well-dressed with translucent (verging on transcendental) emulsion. It’s hard to put a finger on why the dish is so spot on. I guess the expectations after crab and beef shin is a rung lower, veg having to work so much harder to compete with meat, but the mushrooms are king. The festive ribbons of fettuccine are not titillating or flashy, not special for the sake of being special. No gimmicks. Nothing up their sleeve. They are simply charismatic.

I think the strength of Trullo is in the simplicity — it’s un-starry to the point of blackout. Everything but the food is just so un-try-hard, so un-belled and un-whistled it doesn’t stir anything but a feeling of confidence and competence, the perfect mise-en-scène for your lunch. We’re spoilt in London for these little eateries that are minimal without being austere, just wood and white plates and knockout food — I’m thinking of the St Johns and the Rochelle Canteens and the Café Cecilias that offer us fuss-free fare.

We skip the tiramisu (the mac and cheese of puddings) and a faultlessly tart lemon tart helps us comedown from the shrooms. Two Americanos materialise to brown circle the paper tablecloth and that’s it, that’s Saturday lunch. See you at the next one.


Raven Smith is a cultural commentator, best-selling author, and a columnist at Vogue. Buy Raven Smith’s Men, his latest book, and follow him on Instagram here. Follow Resy, too.