Thursday, 26 April 2012

A tale of two delis

Back on 3 August 2007, L Terroni & Sons, a large Italian deli on Clerkenwell Road, ceased trading.

It was a bolt out of the blue, to customers and staff alike, and to an Italian community that has been in the area for more than a century and a half.

In the middle of the 19th century, around 2,000 Italian immigrants had settled in that area of London – a particularly poor one – where they worked in a variety of jobs, from street musicians to makes of scientific instruments.

At around that time, a Roman Catholic priest, St Vincent Pallotti, thought of building a church for the Italians.

Designed by Irish architect, Sir John Miller-Bryson, St Peter the Italian Church was modeled on the church of the Basilica of San Crisogono in Rome, although by the time it was consecrated in 1863, it was rather smaller than the initially ambitious plans of holding a congregation of nearly 3,500.

Terroni & Sons opened its own doors a decade and a half later.

No explanation was ever given for its closure in 2007, but foodies lamented its passing, dreading that the site would be turned into yet another 'express' supermarket or a fast food joint.

But the green shutters stayed in place and the only thing that moved in was dust and rust.

Perhaps that was the result of the financial crisis, but what is certain is that Terroni & Sons is now open for business once more.

In the days when I'd actually been working in that part of town, I hadn't had enough interest or experience to bother visiting.

Indeed, I'd only just bought my second cookery book - Jamie Oliver's The Return of the Naked Chef and hadn't progressed from supermarket shopping.

By the time it closed, I was working elsewhere.

So it was with a burst of pleasure that I realised only a few weeks ago, as I made a rare journey down Clerkenwell Road, that it was open once more.

The following week, I walked over after work to explore this revived Aladdin's cave. And it was well worth the effort.

It's not as large as the original and the range of foods is perhaps not quite as large as at Lina Stores in Soho (perhaps that will develop), but it is still a very welcome addition - or re-addition - to the London food map.

There's a large selection of Italian wines (left) and a brilliant range of dried pasta - the picture below shows just a very small sample.

The cheese and meat selections are decent - indeed, the fennel sausages looked so voluptuously, moistly lovely that I liberated half a dozen and changed my plans for that evening's meal.

A nice piece of Pecorino also found it's way into my basket, together with coffee and biscuits, a slab of lardo and a jar of plumptious capers.

In a massive coincidence - or perhaps not really that much of one - I was just a couple of days into my attempt to learn Italian.

The charming young lady who served me was not 100% fluent in English, so by the time I left, I'd already used a word or two of my very embryonic new language skills.

And it proved to be just the first visit.

This afternoon, after work, I wended my way in that direction again.

This time, I stopped off first at Veneticus, another Italian deli, café and gelateria, just a few doors away on the other side of the road.

It's very spacious and light inside, but while there are some good things on offer - I did pick up a jar of chopped chili - it doesn't have the selection that Terroni has.

Oddly, perhaps, you don't hear the same number of Italian voices either. Which may say something.

I pottered away and went to look in the Italian Church - finding a little piece of Italy right in London.

And then it was on to Terroni again, where I enjoyed an espresso (real wake-up juice) outside in the unexpected sunshine.

It came served with a piece of panettone: light and rich at the same time, and shot through with the sweetest imaginable fruit.

More biscuits, pasta from the huge selection, Italian espresso coffee, more Pecorino and some Parmigiano Reggiano, plus some mini chili salamis to take to work for lunch one day.

And then six luscious sausages: a pair each of the fennel, mild Italian and spicy Italian, which were subsequently grilled and served with some tiny Jersey Royals and some sautéed, mixed baby Italian mushrooms.

It's impossible to imagine that this will not become a regular port of call. And in the meantime, the joys of social media mean that I can even follow news from the shop at @_terroni.

Which element of modernity would not, I suspect, have happened in the old days.

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