Everyone I spoke to before my review of Gotto Trattoria said the same thing - 'amazing Italian food, cute little space, but not the easiest to get to'. Given that I had to take 3 different forms of transport and was led down two dead-ends by google maps on my route, it's fair to say the latter assessment is justified. But once I sat down at the table, the amazing smell and cosy atmosphere reassured me that the pilgrimage commute was going to be worth it. Thankfully, my gut feeling was right.
The Venue & Atmosphere
Once you've walked across 4 different bridges and crossed the road about fifty times, the canalside stretch that Gotto Trattoria is based on is actually quite idyllic and definitely stands out in an area like Hackney. With a number of lively bars for neighbours, all with outdoor terrace areas, it's obvious that this location was built with those lazy summer weekends in mind.
The venue itself is cute as a button and really reminded me of one of those quaint little Italian restaurants that you see in old, black and white movies. The huge, open kitchen fills the entire venue with warm heat and that great herby smell that naturally gets your stomach rumbling. Perfectly embodying the chilled out vibes of the restaurant, one of its walls is covered in graffiti art, depicting one of their waiters taking on order from their roof terrace on a balmy day. The wooden tabletops and dark mahogany tones are broken up by splashes of colour, thanks to the shelves bursting with homely ingredients and the mosaic tiles lining the kitchen counters. It's charming, to say the least.
The chefs at this little East London gem have curated a menu of traditional dishes that, in tandem with the drinks list, are meant to make you feel as if you're in one of those cosy village restaurants in Europe that every yoghurt advert seems to be filmed in. To get the ball rolling, we ordered a bottle of Nero d'Avola 2014 (£23), a medium-bodied red that went down easily and, we were told, would support the herb and tomato-heavy menu well.
With our stomachs making an embarrassing amount of noise, we were over the moon when our Stracchino pizzetta (£7) and gnocchi fritti (£6) starters appeared. As you'd expect from such a fresh Italian restaurant, the pizzetta was delightful. The melted cheese was topped fresh basil and concealed a rich, almost sweet cherry tomato sauce that made each bite stand out. Despite the heavy toppings, the base held its own, offering a nice crunch and mercifully managing to stay clear of the infamous soggy bottom. Likewise, the gnocchi fritti offered similar fresh flavours. Expecting to find a sort of pasta dish, we were pleasantly surprised when the waiter placed deep-fried, hollow balls of pastry in front of us, served with thin slices of cured ham. Refreshing and delicate, the real success of the dish was its texture and the subtle hints of salt that came through at the end. It was exactly the sort of moreish treat that you want to eat alongside a rich, cheese-heavy pizzetta dish.
The starters perfectly whet our appetites and set us up nicely for our main course to the point where both of us were excitedly shaking our legs like eager kids. In an attempt to really test out the restaurant's mantra of simple Italian recipes made with fresh ingredients, we dove head first into the tagliatelle with prawns (£12) and the beef tagliata (£14). You could tell the tagliatelle pasta was made by hand earlier that day. The dish had plenty of bite, with the pan-fried prawns falling nicely off the shell and balancing well with the fresh basil and tomato sauce. Better still, the diced spring onions spread throughout the bowl delivered delightful kicks of flavour between each forkful and helped to add a bit of edge to an otherwise lukewarm recipe. But it was the beef that really stole the show. The thinly sliced cuts of delicately cooked steaks were placed on a bed of rocket and topped with a salty grana padano cheese. With both the seasoned meat and the cheese making my taste buds tingle with their punchy flavours, the rocket was on hand to bring the entire dish back to earth. Huge smiles all round.
For dessert, the tiramisu and espresso affogato (£5.50 each) were the obvious choices. Both were light and proved to be the perfect dishes to round off a hearty meal. The affogato was smooth, with the vanilla and coffee mix giving the dish an almost smokey flavour. By contrast, the tiramisu stood out thanks to its light, airy texture and hints of coffee that lingered at the back of your mouth. The meal, as with the venue, was refreshingly unimposing and amazed us by highlighting how a dish could have such a great character despite being made-up of only a handful of ingredients.
My homeward journey seemed to be a lot less painful. And that was, of course, down to the fact that Gotto Trattoria's charm and amazing dishes had completely consumed me. Its dedication to simplicity is something that's hard to find these days in a city that's constantly searching for the next big quirky experience. Better still, it's the combination of a menu of flavoursome, fresh dishes and a serene, weightless atmosphere that makes it ideal for whatever mood you might turn up in. Expect to leave with a bit of a crush on this Italian lothario.