For fine Italian cusine, look no further than Gipsy Hill in southeast London.
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Once upon a time South East London was the poor culinary relation to the rest of London. There was an industrial-sized Harvester and a French brasserie in Dulwich, and a couple of decent curry houses on Lordship Lane, but that was about it.
Now you have the chattering classes fighting to get a table at the numerous fine dining emporiums that have sprung up across a whole swathe of SE postcodes in the last couple of years – even the likes of Grace Dent and Faye Maschler eulogise over foodie havens that can now be found in Peckham – yes even in Peckham.
But it doesn’t stop there. The other week we were delighted to be invited down to a brand new Italian restaurant in Gipsy Hill that, despite being open less than two months, has had the locals grasping for superlatives and flocking in their droves to sample the home-cooked Italian delights. Called Manuel’s, and owned and run by the young proprietor Manuel Goncalves, this exciting new venture is going to take Gipsy Hill by storm.
Everything is freshly cooked. The menu is mouth-watering, eclectic and in addition to a huge selection they offer a substantial selection of specials each day as well.
We all know that Italians love their food, which is why we could have had up to four courses, but in order to make room for pudding, we prudently decided to share antipasti – a bountiful and succulent plate of cured ham, topped with melon; the saltiness of the meat complementing the sweetness of the melon. We could tell we were eating a happy pig!
We followed that with a pasta course. I had Spaghetti alle Vongole Veraci (Spaghetti with Clams), which rightly tasted of the sea, yet was never too overpowering – think being lightly splashed by a wave on the beach as opposed to a tsunami, and my friend had a gloriously earthy yet virile Ravioli con Spinaci e Ricotta alo Burro e Salvia (Homemade ravioli with spinach and ricotta cheese with butter and sage).
For the main event I opted for the pan fried calves’ liver with sage, which was delicately shown the heat resulting in it being nice and pink on the inside – my friend chose the Baccala’alla Livornese (Cod with cherry tomato, black olives and capers) which was cooked to perfection. The fish was flaky to the touch and surprisingly was never overpowered by the olives – indeed these flavours proved to be a marriage made in heaven.
With barely enough room for pudding we felt that we had to try the Velvet Pudding, a Sicilian speciality which is like a more robust version of crème caramel, and the Panna Cotta. Both were sensational.
As I don’t drink it was left to my friend to try a couple of reds from the comprehensive wine list and a glass of Limoncello which they make on the premises. Give the Nero d’Avola, a full-bodied Sicilian red a try – apparently it’s out of this world.
Given the superb standard and execution of all the dishes, we were surprised to learn that this is Manuel’s first-ever venture. The kitchen has an assurance that belies its age, so if you’re looking for a gastronomic experience that’s not going to break the bank (starters are around the £8 mark, and mains £17), then make your way to Gipsy Hill before word gets out and you have to fight to get a table!