The new name for the more upmarket of the Barbican Centre’s Restaurants, Osteria, means “typically a simple or inexpensive Italian restaurant”, but we know better, don’t we; that spot on the second floor is always the location for the posh place and while pricing is perhaps reasonable for the area – it can’t really be classified as inexpensive – at least not on the main a la carte menu. There are less costly lunch and pre-theatre menus available though – check the website for details: Osterialondon.co.uk
Even so, if you haven’t had the opportunity to dine there, yet, we have to say the revamp of what was Gin Joint was very efficient and remarkably quick.
For outsiders, the views of the lake, fountains and the church are still stunning. As we sit by the large windows, we try not to take it all for granted. Inside, the restaurant now has a relationship with the Limoncello Gallery to showcase their featured artists.
In the bar, if you are going native, then the range of Negronis and Bellinis must be the order of the day but, for the sake of the business, we helped them get through their stock of gin left over from Gin Joint. There are indeed some excellent gin cocktails available and we suspect these will continue to be served although perhaps the listing of available gin brands may diminish as the old stock is used up.
The wine list is largely, as the restaurant title might suggest, Italian in origin with the occasional New World and other European offering interspersed. There’s a fairly limited range available by the glass.
The menu is overseen by Anthony Demetre and is partly based on his Soho bistro, Arbutus, which opened in 2006 and Wild Honey in Mayfair, which opened in 2007. Across the board, Anthony aims to keep the bistro cooking accessible and affordable (reasonably). Head Chef Patrick Leano has brought his Michelin-starred Arbutus credentials to Osteria
Noting that Osteria make their own Italian cured meats, we chose a sharing platter of Affettati Misti – A selection of Italian cured meats (£11.00) from the ANTIPASTI starter menu.
I didn’t see them actually using the ancient slicer next to the amazing centrepiece table, but the meats were all flavourful and soft and partnered well with the bread. We were also given some mixed olives and a bowl of olive oil and it was difficult to leave any at all, so we didn’t!
My partner was happy with his Grilled octopus, potatoes, smoked peppers (£9.00), but we agreed that the outright winner was my starter portion of Fresh sheep’s ricotta gnudi, fresh peas, beans, pears (£8) from the PASTA menu. I’ve never gone gnudi before (at least not food wise), and really enjoyed the taste combinations without the pasta guilt.
The options for starters were:
Asparagus, soft boiled egg, salsa verde £8.50
Young cow’s milk burrata, Datterini tomatoes, broad beans £8.00
Wild garlic, potato soup £6.00
Porchetta, green apple, bitter leaves £7.50
Carpaccio of sea bream, clementine, chilli, fennel £9.00
Grilled octopus, potatoes, smoked peppers £9.00/£17.00
Affettati Misti – A selection of Italian cured meats £11.00
Or the smaller portions from the PASTA menu:
Fresh sheep’s ricotta gnudi, fresh peas, broad beans, pears £8/£13
Soft Bramata polenta, wild mushrooms £9.5/£14
Ravioli of cime di rape, parmesan. £10/£15
Veal and n’duja tagliatelle. £11/£16
As a main course, my partner chose the Saddle of rabbit ‘Saltimbocca’, asparagus, black garlic (£19.00) and I couldn’t help learning over to steal a forkful while I had him distracted looking at décor.
The interior is very professional and warm with comfy cushioned seats and plenty of space. When I powdered my nose, I was excited to find the original and pristine Barbican bathrooms are still going strong and haven’t been updated like those on the level 1 mezzanine.
The Special of the Day was a tasty lamb dish, which I hope is on the menu if you visit.
Other choices from the A LA CARTE offered:
Slow cooked beef in red wine, Bramata polenta, roast onions £17.00
Saddle of rabbit ‘Saltimbocca’, asparagus, black garlic £19.00
Grilled pork T-Bone, olives, vine tomatoes £19.00
Trippa alla Romana £12.00
Roast cod, gnocchi, warm tomato, mussels £17.00
Sea bass, violet artichokes, ‘Bagna Cauda’ £19.50
Grilled sardines, ‘Pangrattato’ £12.00
An awful lot on the menu was exotically Italian and I had sneaked a translation beforehand. Grilled sardines, ‘Pangrattato’, for example, sounds so much more interesting than Grilled sardines in breadcrumbs. It all adds to the atmosphere!
The side dishes offered perfect and healthy combinations:
Cavolo nero (£4.50)
Spiced fregola £4.50
Cavolo nero £4.50
Tender stem broccoli £4.50
Rocket, spring tomatoes, aged balsamic £5.00
Puntarella, anchovy £4.50
Soft Bramata polenta, Parmesan £4.50
Life isn’t fair and I had to restrict myself to only one pudding. I chose the Pear and almond tart, chocolate (£6.50) which was absolutely stupendous.
My partner went for the Vanilla panna cotta, Champagne rhubarb (£6.50) which was a delicately flavoured smaller dessert if you can’t manage the more-filling pastry option.
The full list of desserts offered:
Pear and almond tart, chocolate £6.50
Honey and olive oil gelato, honey comb £5.00
Sicilian blood orange semi-freddo, clementines, hazelnuts £6.50
Vanilla panna cotta, Champagne rhubarb £6.50
Fromaggi Assorti – A selection of Italian regional cheeses £11.00
In summary, I feel we must celebrate that we have the variety of cafes and restaurants within the Centre and Osteria is definitely the quality chop. Although I’m sure that some of you have the budget, I couldn’t personally afford to eat there too regularly. The prices, however, are not exorbitant and the restaurant has a very exclusive feel to it for special occasions.
I might be more of a regular at the bar. The comfy seating is very tempting as you walk by and if you can only pop in for a drink, Osteria has an Aperitivo every day between 5–7pm with a selection of delicious, complimentary snacks.
I generally judge all menus I don’t immediately understand as pretentious, but really it is down to my culinary ignorance that I needed to translate before I ate! After coffee and some truffle chocolates which must have been freshly made and nearly caused an argument, we sauntered home; it took all of 3 minutes. We can’t kid ourselves that we were walking it off, to be sure!
There were comments expressed during the restaurant’s week long soft opening that portions were a little on the small side, but we found them perfectly adequate now the restaurant is in full swing.
Anthony Demetre is referred to by Bloomberg as “one of London’s most influential restaurateurs” and has opened two restaurants over here in the City in the last 6 months. The other is the Urban Coterie, which opened in November on the 17th floor of the M by Montcalm on City Road, serving ingredient-led seasonal modern English dishes.
Anthony predicts “You are going to find a lot of restaurateurs migrating from the West End” so we can look forward to that and we’ll keep you posted!