After living in southern Italy for eight months, I learnt several things, mainly that Italians love their food, second only to their mothers. Mealtimes were sacrosanct and eating was a quasi-religious experience. Putting pineapple on your pizza - a sin that should be up there with greed and lust; dinner is to be savoured and celebrated for hours. Rotorino is part of the second generation of Italian restaurants that aim to emulate this devout way of eating. Put down the spaghetti bolognese, this is cooking just like mama's.
Venue and Atmosphere
Rotorino is on the Kingsland Road, one of the oldest roads in London and a stretch of tarmac that is slowly regenerating. Between the chicken shops and offies, recent openings from cocktail bigwigs - including postage-stamp-size Three Sheets and Tony Conigliaro’s Untitled - have helped draw crowds away from heaving Shoreditch while avoiding full-out gentrification.
Capturing its East London location with considered shabbiness, the restaurant is housed in a former bank and is so easy to miss that a chalk board in the middle of the pavement points towards heavy oak doors. Once inside, pull back the thick velvet curtains to reveal a dimly-lit, 70s time capsule of a restaurant. In the first half of the room a yellow-tiled bar is decorated with hanging wine glasses and the Italian staple of a whacking silver coffee machine.
The restaurant is intimate and dark, with patches of wall stripped all the way back to the plaster, while other sections are covered in a mesmerising geometric print. Despite it being a Tuesday after a bank holiday, the space is still busy with groups and couples occupying the brown leather booths or businessmen perched at the bar.
Food and Drink
Rotorino is renowned chef Stevie Parle’s baby, the second restaurant he added to his collection after Dock Kitchen. While his bow now has five strings, Rotorino is miles away from what followed, space-age Craft, both in terms of cooking and decor. The Dalston spot goes for authentic Italian, as bread soaked in oil is brought out to the table upon arrival, and bottles of water are topped up continuously. Set out in a traditional Italian style, the menu is split into three, with the idea being that you work your way through all savoury courses.
The ‘Primi’ part of the menu is split between cured, raw and wood-smoked starters. Two thick wedges of buffalo mozzarella came with smashed broad beans and pecorino (£8), while the ruby red bresaola (£7.50) was sliced in front of us at the bar and seasoned with the Italian holy trinity - lemon, black pepper and olive oil. Small plates of pasta made up our second course; I opted for a homemade ravioli (£8.50) which was stuffed with salted cod, olives and soaked in a simple tomato sauce. A meat dish finalised our complete feeding; Hanger Steak (£14) was rubbed in Calabrian chilli and perfect with a bowl of rosemary roasted new potatoes. I would be willing to swap my grandmother for a plate of the Sasso Chicken (£16) which was a rich buttery dish of chicken stuffed with thick ricotta and wild garlic and which crunched against a chunk of toasted bread.
Drinks are similarly tasty with around half the wine menu coming from various regions in Italy. A large glass of the Puglian Primitivo, Mocavero (£12) was delivered in a carafe and had an earthy rich flavour. The cocktail list is also European-centric and full of drinks muddled with Camparis, Vermouths and Aperols. Grab a stool at the bar and order a Negoroni Toscana (£8) for a taste of la dolce vita.
At one dinner in Italy, we spent five hours devouring an inordinate number of courses, and the food at Rotorino makes me want to fritter away a similar amount of time. With bold interiors, simple and unfussy dishes, and a slick list of cocktails, this Dalston spot will help you understand Italians' love affair with food.