Test Driving Trattoria Brutto - Russell Norman's ode to Florence is a winner

roomOutside Trattoria Brutto. Might be a little bit cold for those outside seats for a few months but they do have heaters... 

What can you tell us about Trattoria Brutto

The main thing to know is that it's the new restaurant from Russell Norman, the man who helped transform the London restaurant scene a decade ago with the launch of Polpo (the now-closed Farringdon Polpo remains sadly still empty just around the corner from here). After a short break from the restaurant world, he's now back with Brutto, an Italian restaurant with particularly Tuscan influences in Farringdon. 

Where is it?

It's taken over what used to be the Hix Oyster and Chop House, which closed when the Hix restaurants became one of the first victims of the pandemic restrictions. There are hints to its previous incarnation among the photos on the wall of Brutto, where the eagle-eyed will spot some snaps of Hix and friends - a nice touch.

The restaurant is about a two-minute walk from Farringdon station, nestled on a side street just before you come to Smithfield Market. 

Where should we meet for a drink?

In this area, our default answer to the question was always the bar at St John, which has been an every-reliable drinking spot in an area not blessed with them (there are a good few pubs, though).

But one aspect to Brutto is that alongside the restaurant, it's also part-bar, where you can be either perched at the bar itself or at a few tables set aside for drinks. So this should, in future, be extremely tempting as a meeting point in the area, before or after dinner here or elsewhere. There's an extensive cocktail list, with a focus on classics like a Cosmopolitan or a Sidecar. 

And yes, given that Polpo offered one of London's first great negronis, there's both a classic negroni and a Brutto negroni on the list, the latter which is Select, Martini Rosso and Tanquerey gin for only a fiver- expect that to be very popular.

roomA couple of the cocktails - a vodka martini and a sidecar (both £11) - just two of the many classic cocktails on the menu. 

How does the restaurant look?

Much of the structure of the building that was there when it was Hix appears to be in place - the bar remains where it was and the seafood station has now become a bread and toast section, at least for the moment.

However, the look of the restaurant is completely different - with the stark bright tiling of before replaced with a more subtle hue and plenty of wooden panelling. There's also a big mural from artist Neil Fox (who also provided the mural at Polpo's Shaftesbury Avenue pub - The Ape and Bird). Some of the lighting reminded us of the second incarnation of Polpetto (particularly the lights draped with linen) and overall it's a very homely (yet still keeping a sense of cool) affair. 

roomA look inside Brutto. Not our best work photo-wise, granted - but gives you a rough idea of the layout. So you have the bar on the left, with those marble tables alongside as an extension of the bar. Tables for eating are to the right (we think this is the best area) and there are also two dining areas at the back of the room, left and right. 

And what about the food? 

We'd see the food as the next stage of Russell Norman's food evolution after Polpo. So while there are small plates, the menu does take on the characteristics of a more traditional Italian four-course menu with starters, pasta, mains and dessert. There are touches of Tuscan cuisine throughout, not least in the Florence-inspired bistecca. Here's a taste of what's on offer. 

roomAnchovies with cold butter and sourdough to kick things off (£7) 

roomChicken liver toasts (£8.50) - a rustic pate, and you can see how some of these starters would work very well as bar snacks. 

roomStar dish: Deep-fried dough-ball "cuddles" with prosciutto and stracchino cheese (£11) 

roomThe preferred cuddle-eating option - tear them open and fill them with cheese and prosciutto before sandwiching and scarfing them. Perfect snack food. 

roomPork tonnato with caperberries (£12.50) - readers of Hot Dinners may already know we're very partial to a tonnato when done well - which this most-assuredly is. The caperberries add some welcome piquancy too. 

roomThe Florentine Bistecca - aka a huge T-Bone steak. At £8.25 per 100g, this 1kg behemoth came in at £82. Huge T-Bones are a big thing in Florence (called bistecca) and this ably matches them, from our experience there. The steaks available per night are on the blackboard behind the bar, so watch that and order early, particularly if you see them being starting to get crossed off. 

roomMake sure to order these roast potatoes (£4.50) on the side. 

roomDesserts include an apple tart and affogato, but this excellent, very creamy tiramisu is highly recommended (£7.50)

Anything else?

There are nice things being said about the rabbit pappardelle (£14) and the tomato and vodka penne (£10.25). Mains also include a Tuscan beef shin stew and if you're looking for something vegetarian, there's the roasted seasonal veg with borlotti beans and salsa verde (£12)

What about drinks?

We've mentioned the cocktails and can highly recommend starting or ending there. There's also a good selection of non-alcoholic cocktails, including a "No-groni" with 0% gin and an elderflower fizz. Wines are Italian or French, with a good selection (around 20) available by the glass (a glass of Prosecco is only £6.50). The house wine is good value at £15 for a 500ml carafe with bottles of wine starting at £28 (including a Veneto rosé). If you are splashing out, there's a 1999 Chateau Lynch-Bages for £340. 

Overall thoughts 

Ten years after Polpo, Russell Norman has come up with what we think will be another big hit. The room is very inviting in the evening with extremely flattering low-lighting (if you need reading glasses in low light, definitely bring them) and they've created a pleasant, cossetting environment, a world away from the pack-em-in nature of Polpo. Mix that in with a menu that hits the heights and a bar we're likely to be back to again and this is an extremely welcome addition to the area. 

Hot Dinner ate as guests of Trattoria Brutto during its preview period. Prices are correct at the time of writing 


More about Trattoria Brutto

Where is it? 36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross St, London EC1M 6BN

Find out moreVisit their website follow them on Instagram @bru.tto.


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