Turi – too much of a good thing?


A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. 

The reopening of Enoteca Turi, the long-established Italian restaurant that for over 25 years had its home in Putney, south east London, in its new, more central home in Pimlico, where it has taken the place of the former Tinello restaurant, is to be welcomed on many fronts. 

First of all for the pleasure it will give, principally but not solely, to those who love Italian wine. Giuseppe Turi’s wine list is copious, the notes on each wine extensive, and many of the prices are on the low side. We enjoyed a lovely bottle of Sandrone’s Dolcetto d’Alba 2015 for £39.

Then there is the bonus of watching Turi in action, ably assisted by his charming, and probably long-suffering, wife Pamela, and by a team of younger, but equally well-dressed, waiters and waitresses. Finally, there is the added pleasure of being in an Italian ristorante, an increasingly rare phenomenon in London, albeit one that is not yet perfect.

Italians have been practising the art of hospitality for centuries, ever since the first pilgrims headed to Rome, and have created in effect their own Appellation Contrôlée system for places to eat and drink in: an enoteca concentrates on wine; a trattoria on fairly simple food; while a ristorante promises much more in terms of food, wine and service. The biggest obvious difference is perhaps that a ristorante will have crisp white linen tablecloths.

These have always been the rules in Italy but in the London of 1990 when Signor Turi first opened his doors, these distinctions were not as clear-cut, hence his decision to open using the comforting name of Enoteca Turi. And the prevailing restaurant culture in London in those days was far more formal. Only a restaurant style of service would appeal, and that was the training that Giuseppe brought with him from his native Puglia, a training enhanced by several years working at the Connaught and Athenaeum hotels before striking out on his own.

The Turis fit into their new neighbourhood extremely well. Many of the surrounding buildings are expensive furniture shops and there is a large, extremely plush residential redevelopment close by. Because their new site was formerly a restaurant, the transition appears to have been flawless. There is a striking motif of different aspects of the map of Italy along the mirrored glass that runs along one wall while the opposite wall, of painted brick, sports several useful pegs for hanging customers’ coats and jackets (the sign of a long-established and considerate restaurateur).

The bottom of the menu proudly displays the names of the chef, Francesco Sodano, and the restaurant’s general manager, Cesare Papagna. Sodano, born in Naples, worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy before moving to London, where he cooked at Annabel’s. He joined Enoteca Turi a year ago.

So the question that I have asked myself several times since we had dinner at Enoteca Turi is why, given the proprietor is usually in the room, and why, when the wine list could not be more interesting, the prices on the menu and the wine list prices are quite reasonable, and the location is now so much more convenient, why, despite all of these advantages, do I feel that my review can be only mildly enthusiastic?

The explanation lies in another prerequisite for a successful restaurant: there must be some form of editing of the menu, something other than a wide geographical spread of dishes, that gives the menu, and the restaurant, its direction and its character.

The à la carte menu offers 15 different savoury courses, plus another half a dozen side dishes and three salads. That on the basis of what I have eaten here is too many for the kitchen to produce to a high enough standard. And why does it need to offer that many? The restaurant’s location is such that it will be full most evenings and a short lunch menu is perfectly acceptable today. Why lose focus?

I ate both a lunch and a dinner there. My lunch was a modern interpretation of parmigiano di melanzane, at £13.50 pretty but slightly on the small side, and then a pasta dish, linguine with anchovies, cuttlefish ragout and tomato water, for which I was charged £19 (the main course price although I was not asked whether this was the portion size I wanted). With a glass of refreshing Etna Bianco 2015, my bill came to £49.78, more than I expected.

At dinner, Jancis began with a plate of verdure arrosto, a salad of roasted summer vegetables with a broad bean puree and continued with a pasta dish tossed in a fish and shellfish ragout. I chose button ravioli filled with ricotta and then a special of the evening, an alluring combination of veal tongue and langoustine that seemed robustly priced at £28. We shared a plate of ice cream that was good but definitely not as good as I have eaten in Naples.

My advice to the Turis is this. Reduce your lunch and dinner menu offerings substantially. Nobody needs such a broad choice at each course. Three of four antipasti; three pasta dishes including one risotto; and three or four main courses would be quite enough, if sufficiently varied.

And, I believe, this policy would also be fully appreciated by your obviously loyal staff and customers. Your current menu is too unwieldy and a shorter one would allow all your customers far more time to converse; to enjoy your excellent wine list; and of course to spend more time enjoying one other.

Enoteca Turi 87 Pimlico Road, Belgravia, London SW1W 8PH; tel +44 (0)20 7730 3663 (these images were taken from the restaurant's website)