Featured Restaurant: Di Paolo

20th September 2019

Oak End Way • Gerrards Cross • SL9 8BR • 01753 880 300

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

We’ve reached that time of the year when I begin to feel nostalgic for the long, light evenings. It’s only 7.30pm, but it’s already dark as we head into a Gerrards Cross side road. So when the impressively wide and beautifully lit frontage of Di Paolo comes into view, I feel my spirits lift…

Inside, the warm and inviting gold and burnt orange colour scheme, along with the abundance of sunflowers that I later learn have been grown on chef patron Paolo’s allotment (along with much of the restaurant’s veg) continue to work their magic: it’s like a small piece of Italy offering refuge from the English post-summer gloom.

Comfortably ensconced at a round table by the window, in deep, winged leather chairs (practically armchairs), the husband (H) and I scan a menu full of traditional Mediterranean staples, pepped up with some intriguing flavour combinations (think tiger prawns with fresh orange and scallops with pomegranate). H chooses Grilled Calamari with timbale of crispy salad, chilli jam, home-made cotechino balsamic glazing, basil oil and fried zucchini, while I opt for pasta: Home Hand-made Tortelloni with wild mushroom, creamy spinach, beetroot paste, pecorino, cheese micro salad, and extra virgin basil olive oil.

The calamari, which previously I’ve only ever experienced as disappointingly chewy battered rings, are elegantly chargrilled and served ‘au naturel’ across a medallion of sausagemeat and surrounded by colourful salad leaves and drizzles of oil and balsamic. The batter in this dish comes from the tasty addition of crunchy zucchini. While H is impressed with the tenderness of the lemony calamari, the sausagemeat is revealed as the surprising star of the dish. Apparently, an old Veronese recipe and it’s been cooking for eight hours.

I’m more than happy with my tortelloni. It’s creamy and buttery and delicious, and includes large mushrooms and generous slices of pecorino that bring a sophisticated savoury depth. I find myself mopping my plate clean with bread in gleeful calorie-abandon.

There’s more to the dish that I can’t quite put my finger on, but all is revealed when Paolo comes over to introduce himself. The secret is sage oil, but not just any sage oil. Paolo creates and infuses his own flavoured extra virgin olive oils – chilli, sage and more – with painstaking pride. After learning how meticulously and alchemically he produces such flavour-packed condiments, I realise why I was so struck by my starter.

Next up is Wild Seabass with salad for me, and H’s Escalope of Veal in Breadcrumbs with pan fried sage, fresh lemon, spaghetti beef ragù and parmesan cheese. My fish, which is huge, and dwarfs the small plate of salad alongside it, is simply grilled, and all the better for it. In fact, I can’t remember the last time a piece of fish took centre stage so well. It tastes just as succulent as it looks, and I feel quite smug when a diner at a neighbouring table leans over to ask me what I’ve chosen. H’s veal is sweet and tender on the inside, crispy and herby on the outside, and comes with a neat side portion of posh ‘spag bol’.

A very pretty and moreish sundae of hazelnut ice-cream goes down very well with a coffee and brandy to round-off our meal.

I was suspicious that ‘fine dining Italian’ (which is how the restaurant describes itself) might mean smaller, fussier portions, instead of the generosity which Italian food is all about; but I’m pleased to say I was wrong. Paolo’s fine dining finesse is in the quality of the ingredients he selects (and grows), and his passion for making the most of them.

Delizioso, I say.

STARTERS: £6.50-£9.90 • MAINS: £9.95-£33
DESSERTS: £5.90-£8.90 • HOUSE WINE: £17.95

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