Osteria Dell’ Arte
126 Clapham High Street
It’s not often on a drizzly evening in Clapham that a beautiful Italian woman throws her arms around me wishing me ‘buona sera!’ and lets me sit in her house for almost three hours. But I knew it wasn’t going to be a typical evening as soon as I spied the inviting orange glow of Osteria dell’Arte from across the road.
Lucky flatmate Jack and I barely had time to take off our scarves before managers Daniela and Mercedes whisked a plate of olives and homemade bread to our table. Even with the help of manager no. 3, Francesco, I have no idea how they had time to look after their flat above the restaurant, serve customers, chat, whirl around the room with beauty and grace and recommend two Italian wines to us, but somehow we ended up with a glass of Verdicchio and one of Frascati.
As someone unfamiliar with Italian wines, the extensive list of more than 40 different types was slightly daunting, but Daniela was quick to help out. Apparently the flavours vary a great deal throughout the country, and a wine from the south is noticeably different from a northern wine. The Osteria team are even planning wine tasting sessions in the new year, with geographically themed menus and carefully crafted descriptions to help others share their passion for wine.
I should have guessed that the love and attention lavished on the wine list would be mirrored in the menu, created with the help of Sardinian chef Francesco Cadeddu. He’s worked with Gordon Ramsey, but not even that could have prepared me for my fantastic starter. I had the Capesante alla diavola – that’s scallops, a bed of mash, crispy pancetta and a “devil’s sauce” of shallots and lemon – and Jack had beef carpaccio. The scallops were, quite honestly, the best scallops I’ve ever tasted, and I definitely pinched more than a mouthful of Jack’s melt-in-the-mouth beef.
As if the work of art on my plate wasn’t enough, the attention to detail in the restaurant’s decoration was incredible. Every menu is printed on a different design by Daniela herself. She comes from a pretty arty family – both she and her father have art degrees, and it’s plain to see when you look at the walls in their restaurant. They even host exhibitions from local artists which rotate every two months. At the moment it’s Jemma Attwater, whose wide-ranging pieces complemented the relaxed vibe just perfectly. Sometimes the pieces are available to buy, but the staff at Osteria keep one piece from every artist they show, and display it in the back room. You can even hire the area for functions and parties of around 20 guests.
“I wanted the restaurant to be about more than work,” said Daniela. “I wanted to give people something to look at – something to make them keep coming back!”
She shouldn’t be worried. The main course was a yet another masterpiece, and even before I could finish my sea breem and mussels I’d made a mental list of all the family members I could convince to accompany me on a return visit. Jack’s choice of Petto di pollo arrosto – roast chicken on a bed of saffron mash with mushrooms – was similarly incredible.
Don’t get me wrong: my student days weren’t all that long ago, and extensive wine lists, art exhibitions, and beds of saffron mash could easily fill me with a sense of unworthiness and social unease, but Osteria dell’Arte felt different. Apparently the concept is translated from the Italian idea of an ‘Osteria’, which is a chilled out eatery with wooden tables. It’s not the same as a ‘Ristorante’, which, from what I can gather, is a bit more stuffy and highbrow. I think Osteria dell’Arte has struck the perfect balance. Rarely have I had such exquisite food. And it’s even rarer when said food is brought to me by a laughing waiter dressed in a superman t-shirt.
As if the flavours, colours, vibrancy and friendly staff weren’t enough, they have also teamed up with ‘Languages Alive’ to offer cookery classes in Italian for anyone who fancies learning about sweet treats. I’d certainly recommend the lessons, if the tiramisu I had for dessert was anything to go by. Again, it’s not daunting: Raffaella Palumbo names a few ingredients and cooking verbs, you repeat them, pick up a bit of the lingo, and end up with the power to make a top ten tiramisu. (I can only apologise for the increase in dinner guests you may receive as a response to your new talent.) Classes are around £45 for three hours, and can happen in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
After an espresso that even the most snobby of coffee snobs could not have faulted, and a cheeky post-dinner amaretto, the lovely Daniela offered me a summary of the restaurant: “It’s about family, it’s about art, and it’s about eating fresh food,” she said. That’s a pretty modest summary if you ask me, so I’d like to offer another: whether you’re taking advantage of the free wifi over breakfast with your mates, treating someone to a top-of-the-range romantic evening, or sampling the enormous menu with your family, there really is something for everyone of all tastes and backgrounds at this little Osteria. And if you’re lucky, you might even get a hug from a beautiful Italian woman thrown in for good measure.
Home made bread and marinated olives £2.50
Schiacciata al Rosmarino (salted rosemary bread) £3.80
1 x glass of Verdicchio £4.50
1 x glass of Frascati £4.50
Carpaccio di Manzo £7.50
(beef carpaccio with parmesan shavings & lemon dressing)
Capesante alla diavola £9.50
(Scallops on a bed of mash, served with pancetta and rocket)
Petto di pollo arrosto £11.50
(roast chicken with saffron mash)
Orata in Cartoccio £12.80
(parcel baked sea bream)
2 x espresso £1.80
The damage: £76.70