Charred mackerelIt’s a sunny Saturday on our visit: we’re seated by French doors open onto the terrace, the light streaming in, leaving much of the capacious interior in semi-darkness. The flames of the wood-fired oven are just visible in the kitchen beyond, while selection of rugged hams hang beyond the counter. As we sip a pale, fruity Sicilian rosé, our first antipasti arrives: mackerel, its skin blackened crisply, flesh butter-soft, is garnished with strands of coriander, on a jumble of tomatoes, peppers and fregola – the chewy, bead-shaped pasta. As is the current vogue, the dishes appear on a selection of rustic earthenware plates, some sea-blue. Let the holiday commence.
Courgette flowerThe secret with this pretty Italian staple is that it won’t last and so you need to buy and cook it on the same day. Filled with ricotta and lightly fried, the flowers are garnished with bright green sweet peas, while a pool of garum (a stylish shade of Farrow and Ball grey) is on hand for a maximum umami hit. Not heard of garum? Its genesis goes way back to Ancient Greece, although it was most popular amongst the Romans, and made by crushing the innards of oily fish like anchovies, sprats and sardines and then fermenting them in brine. At Radici just fresh anchovies and salt are used. The result is a deep, satisfying savouriness.
Lasagne primaveraFrancesco Mazzei opened Radici off Upper Street, where he lives. But Radici translates as ‘roots’, and reflects the Calabrian and southern Italian cuisine of his heritage. His pasta choices on the short menu reflect this. A vegetarian square of fresh layered pasta with spinach, courgette and smothered with a rich salsa verde (and more peas) is spring itself – as its name suggests.
Fettuccine, lamb raguAl dente ribbons of pasta are entwined with a just-right proportion of shoulder, minced and slow-cooked for two hours, with mint, braised peas, a touch of cream, and a cubed carrot or two. There’s not a plum tomato or speck of tomato sauce in sight. The result is a moreishly shallow bowl of pasta – spot-on.
Roast king prawnsMazzei is holding court on a large table in one corner – fair enough, as the kitchen is run on a day-to-day basis by head chef Antonio Mazzone, his right-hand man for over decade. The prawns arrive, the simplest plate of food we’ve eaten out this year – and one of the best. Why? They’re the esteemed red prawn from Mazara, in Trapani, the “prince of shellfish” and most sought-after in the Med. Half a dozen of the juiciest fat, peeled little buggers lie obscured by a headdress of glistening green samphire. Briny salmoriglio, a sauce made of lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano and parsley, screams out for bread: we resist – just.
Sea breamA wood-fired pizza specialists too, Radici is a real magnet for families already, despite it only just being open. On our weekend visit, several toddlers are insistent on racing each other to the terrace in between mouthfuls of cheesy topping. In the middle of all this our final savoury plate arrives, a special of fleshy white bream fillets. Skin soft, resting on a chunky stew of yellow and green courgettes in a lemony sauce, they’re particularly good with a side of crunchy zucchini fritti. Wasted, we reckon, however, on the tyke being pursued by his harrassed dad around the chic interior.
Radici, 30 Almeida Street, N1 Open lunch & dinner, Tues-Sun. More info here