“It feels like I’m eating in Italy….somewhere along the riviera. Who would have thought we would be eating like this in Fulham” says my friend Tally, who came on a dinner date with me at Meridionale. Opened just under a year ago, Neapolitan owner Enzo was really passionate about sharing the type of food that he grew up with, by offering a menu specialising in Southern Italian cooking. Like other Italian foodies, including myself, he wanted to enlighten Londoners with the fact that there is more to Italian food than dishes such as spaghetti bolognese (which isn’t even an authentic Italian dish; the Americans invented that one……don’t get me started on that one!). Even the tagline for the restaurant is ‘Southern Italian culture on a plate’ – those who know me, know that this is me all…. day….long.
Meridionale, which literally means being from the South of Italy (anywhere south of Naples), includes regions such as Campania, Puglia, Calabria, Basilicata and the islands Sicily and Sardinia. Enzo created a menu that encompasses recipes and flavours from all these regions and has come up with a Southern Italian fusion that I personally haven’t seen anywhere else. Italian cuisine is one of the leading food trends over the last couple of years and so many have jumped on this bandwagon. However, it’s so refreshing to see a restaurant with a such a focused approach but more importantly see it run by someone who has so much pride behind what they stand for. You can’t deny the passion that Enzo has for his restaurant and you really get that when you talk to him and more importantly when you taste the food here.
Enzo, who was a born and bred in Naples, has been in the restaurant and hospitality business all his life. Starting out in catering school back in Naples from a very young age, he worked his way up the restaurant business during his younger years. At 23, he decided to come to London to continue his progression. However, he found that his lack of English meant he had to start from the bottom of the hospitality ladder again. Over the next 15 years he worked his way up again. Then when the time was right, he decided the day had come for him to start his own business and that’s when the idea of Meridionale was created – and the rest is history!
Inspired by his Nonna who used to work as a private chef, Enzo use to watch and learn all there was about her cooking when his parents went to work. Enzo wants his ‘guests’ (thats how he refers to his customers) to feel as welcome in his second home as well as experience the type of cooking he was privy to from his Nonna; the type of food and cooking you never forget and always long for.
We begun our meal with a selection of starters. First up was Panzerotti – a speciality from Puglia, a deep fried calzone filled with a simple but fantastic combination of tomato mozzarella and basil. Followed by a Frittura di Paranza – a mix of fried seafood served on a delightful bed of leeks, courgette and green peppers. I’ve never ordered fried seafood served with vegetables before but I loved the combination. I recommend this as a ‘must have dish’ when you visit. Final starter was Zuppeta di Cozze- a bowl of fresh mussels in a white wine sauce.
The restaurant’s main menu primarily focuses on pizza, which is traditionally Neapolitan and a selection of pasta dishes. The dishes all include pasta shapes tradtionally found in the South of Italy such as Orecchiette (little ears) and Strozzapreti (strangled priest). However, their speciality which I have to say I haven’t eaten anywhere else is ‘Scialatielli’. A Neapolitan pasta that I have fallen in love with. It’s made from a mix of flour, milk and parmesan (freshly made pasta from the south is usually made from just flour and water). It’s the best thing I have tasted in a while. The Scialatelli look like tagliatelle, a flat ribbon pasta but these are slightly thicker and have a real al dente bite to it, similar to a dumpling. They remind me of Pici (which come from Siena in Tuscany) and of course the pasta is all freshly made in house.
We had two Scialatielli pasta dishes to share as our main. First was ‘a Puveriell’ which is Neapolitan for peasant. A southern italian version of a meat less Carbonara.. garlic, olio & chilli with a fried egg. I recommend this also as a must have dish. So moorish, you literally won’t be able to put your fork down
Second dish was Scialatielli alla Siciliana with a delicious Sicilian inspired sauce with fresh tuna, capers, olives and cherry tomatoes which was served in a fried bread bowl. Crazy, you migth say but again delicious.
Finally we couldn’t leave without trying the pizza. We chose a white based pizza (no tomato) with smoked mozzarella, Italian sausage and friarelli – Neapolitan wild turnip tops. Enzo explained that his chefs use an old traditional Neapolitan method which gives the pizza base a softer texture than maybe other pizzas sold out there. The method involves a lower ratio of flour to water which makes the dough harder to work with. However, his chefs are adamant to stick to tradition no matter how hard it can be – to ensure the amazing soft pillow texture and flavour.
By the end of the meal, Tally and I felt like we were bursting out of our jeans. Saying that, we decided we could squeeze in one last treat before we headed home. Enzo recommended an Amaretto affogato – pistachio ice-cream sundae served with a large shot of Amaretto poured over the top. Super boozy but a fabulous combination – a fabulous way to round off the meal
Usually when I decide whether to return to a restaurant, the quality of the cooking and service is what usually helps me arrive to that conclusion. After my visit at Meridionale, both of those get given a big gold tick, but if I was to be really honest, I would also tell you that one of the other highlights that I appreciated on my visit was getting to know Enzo and being privy to the passion and pride that he has for his restaurant, the food and the staff that work for him. The fact that most of his staff are also all from Southern Italy adds another level of authenticity. This dedication coming from an independent business owner is so inspiring and that definitely comes through in the food and service.
If you fancy a taste of Italy, head to West London and Meridionale. I promise you that Enzo and his team will make you feel very welcome as ‘guests’ and more importantly you will leave with a very happy and full tummy awaiting your next visit before you’ve even left the door!