A tale of two restaurants

Aldeburgh beach

Enoteca Turi has a fabulous wine list; The Lighthouse, a stone’s throw from this Aldeburgh beach, has a fabulous host. Which would you choose?

I first visited Enoteca Turi back in 2007 in its original home in Putney, south London. I enjoyed another visit in 2017 when Giuseppe and Pam Turi had successfully transplanted their restaurant to Pimlico, a five-minute walk from Sloane Square. On each occasion I was impressed with their wine cellar and the personal attention of the Turis.

Enoteca Turi exterior

We returned for an early dinner on Saturday 30 December 2023, prompted by recent changes. The Turis had retired and the restaurant had been taken over by Dominic Ford, who worked for me in the early 1980s before embarking on an international career as a restaurant consultant. A small shareholding has also been taken by David Gleave MW, now chairman of Liberty Wines, and a huge fan, supporter and importer of Italian wines (see today’s Barolofication of Browett). What a promising combination, I thought.

Little so far has changed. There are still tables outside. The dining room is long and narrow with the kitchen at the rear. To the left at the back are steep stairs leading to the lavatories which I would urge everyone to visit for two very different reasons. Firstly, because of the way they delineate which is the mens’ and which the ladies’ on their doors (see below).

uomo e donna Turi

The stairs are lined with photos of Italian life of yore, including one of two women and a man rolling spaghetti into the long blue packages that I can still recall seeing as a child.

spaghetti rolling Turi

Our table near the entrance gave us a clear view of a room that obviously has potential but even on this Saturday night was almost sepulchrally quiet, in contrast to its busy neighbours Hunan and The Grange. There was little incentive to take anything else in, however, once the wine list had been delivered. This is nothing short of a masterpiece, a paean of praise to an almost exclusively Italian wine list put together with great care, love and intelligence by Signor Turi.

The list comes in a black binder and is 80 pages long with virtually every wine described in detail with its own tasting note. There are vintages back to the 1990s with virtually the only criticism a lack of half-bottles – not the Italian way, said Jancis. There are vintages of Sassicaia from 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2001 as well as the 1999 at £795 the bottle. Then there five vintages of Masseto from 2009 back to 2005. There is a treasure trove here including the 1999, 2000 and 2001 vintages of Barolo Monfortino from Giacomo Conterno. The presence of a shareholder with excellent connections to the cellars of Italy can only augur well for the future of this wine list.

Such choice presented challenge: what on earth were we going to drink? We chose the first vintage of Nervi Gattinara under the ownership of Giacomo Conterno, the 2015 at £135, slightly worried by the tasting note which ended with the phrase ‘incredibly enjoyable … but slightly closed at this stage’. We asked the manager, who confessed to not having tasted the wine recently, to decant and swish it around in the decanter. She promptly did this – albeit out of sight – and returned with a wine that was mature, delicious and, like so many Italian wines, seemed to go well with all the different dishes we chose.

The kitchen continues under the capable hands of chef Giampiero Giuliani but is still constrained by the same menu design, graphics and overall format which all evoke the formalities of an old, established restaurant rather than a place in which to have fun. There are six antipasti (but sadly no soup although the weather outside cried out for a ribollita); four pasta dishes including linguine with oscietra caviar and cream (£55); and six main courses. We enjoyed an extremely crisp winter salad, billed as insalata cauda, of puntarelle and romanesco with a mild anchovy dressing that would have delighted any visitor from North America according to JR. Apparently her risotto, tinted with Amarone and leavened with radicchio, was a little light on the advertised Asiago cheese. My dish of chitarrine pasta came with a generous helping of lobster and I enjoyed an unctuous dish of roast turbot served with its skin on. With an almond semifreddo that we shared, my bill came to £295.59 including service.

We would happily return but it would be principally for the magnificent wine cellar. The food and its presentation will have to improve a great deal, possibly even by the introduction of a member of the kitchen, dressed as a chef, who delivers the food to the waiting customers. Certainly, more personality needs to be injected into Enoteca Turi.

Sam and Maxine at The Lighthouse, Aldeburgh

This would ideally be somebody like Sam Hayes, seen above with his wife Maxine at The Lighthouse in Aldeburgh, the popular town on the Suffolk coast, who managed personally to entertain us and every other table at his full restaurant two nights later. A friend who commutes between Aldeburgh and London confirmed by email the next day, ‘Sam makes The Lighthouse my favourite neighbourhood restaurant. I don’t go there to be surprised. But it is consistently decent and unpretentious. Locals on their special night out, posh people after a concert at Snape, early evening before the cinema. Or just us having a nice time. I feel blessed to have a place like that just down the road. Wish I had that in London.’

Sam Hayes at work

Smiling, energetic, never at a loss for words, Hayes obviously has a fantastic memory for faces and seems truly committed to ensuring that everyone in his restaurant has a good time. It must be tiring being Sam – one reason that he, his wife Maxine and the whole restaurant will close tomorrow until early February – but it is surely eminently rewarding for him and anyone who calls in.

Sam is in charge of an equally committed team and a more-than-entertaining wine list. The kitchen could probably do better. We ate well if not exactly stimulatingly. I enjoyed a spicy mulligatawny soup and a generous fillet of beer-battered haddock with thick chips (and, yes, quite a lot of Sarson’s vinegar).

Lighthouse fishnchips

The four of us shared a well-judged chocolate fondant and a pear and frangipane tart with custard as well as a delicious bottle of S C Pannell, Old McDonald Grenache 2018 McLaren Vale (£55) and I paid a bill of £195 for four that included one glass of calvados to welcome in 2024.

Sam is a welcoming restaurateur through and through. He has been in the business for 35 years, having started washing up at the age of 13 before training as a chef and then returning to The Lighthouse in 2007. He and his wife eventually took over ownership of the restaurant in 2015.

That is the challenge facing every restaurateur. In principle, the essential ingredients are simple and straightforward: an inspiring kitchen; a great wine list; both on offer in a warm and welcoming atmosphere that customers will leave only with considerable regret. The challenge is to deliver each, in the right proportions, day in and day out.

Enoteca Turi 87 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8PH; tel: +44 (0) 20 7730 3663

The Lighthouse 77 High Street, Aldeburgh IP15 5AU; tel: +44 (0)1728 453377