Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cucina Rustica: no gimmicks, just simple, locally sourced Italian food

“I was a chubby little Italian kid running around my family’s six restaurants.” That’s how Giorgio Fabian Honey describes his upbringing, and it’s this childhood that explains his passion for “good, honest, local food”.

Giorgio, who is based in Kentish Town, will soon open temporary restaurant Cucina Rustica in his local pub, The Rose & Crown. After taking on various roles in London restaurant businesses, from senior management to head chef, he decided to embark on a lone venture. Fortunately, pop-ups do not present the same challenges as permanent restaurants, which are notoriously prone to failure. Giorgio happily acknowledges that starting a pop-up avoids “all the hassle” and red tape. “This is the quickest way from getting an idea that’s in my head to another person’s mouth.”

The Italian chef is passionate about his neighbourhood, which reminds him of Italy’s provinces. “Fiercely local,” he summarises. “I feel people in Kentish Town want to get behind a local scene. People want to support local businesses.” This is where his attraction to hyperlocalism, the unique selling point of Cucina Rustica, develops.

“Italians have been doing the hyperlocal thing for decades, even centuries. My nan was telling me they don’t trade with money. They farm pigs and the next door neighbour farms tomatoes, so they trade a kilo of tomatoes for a couple of pork chops.” Giorgio believes in the ethos of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, evoking the ‘shareconomy’ concept popularised during the recession.

North London produce is lovingly highlighted throughout the menu, which features sourdough bread from Muswell Hill fermented with the beer of a micro-brewer in N10, meat from a local butcher, pasta made in NW10, vegetable boxes from NW5 and Giorgio’s homegrown herbs and spices.

Traditional beef and pork meatballs in passata is his favourite item on the menu, though over half of it is suitable for vegetarians. One meat-free option is mozzarella and fresh fig bruschetta. I wonder whether the honey dressing is sourced locally, and after learning that it is not, I suggest asking the North London Beekeepers Association for leads. (Rumour has it that the honey made by Alexandra Road estate residents, which would be perfect, sells out instantly every year.)

Giorgio rejects the “gimmicky” food found on the pop-up scene, which is overflowing with meme-ified Instagram fodder. “People are trying to put comedic twists on things, naming burgers after famous actors. I thought it would be really great to concentrate on normal food.” Much like Padella, London’s hottest pasta bar, Cucina Rustica offers a respite from rainbow bagels, ramen burgers and Cronuts. Instead, simple Italian dishes are at the fore - and what’s not to like about that?

The Rose & Crown, 71-73 Torriano Ave, Kentish Town, NW5 2SG. From 2 August. www.rusticakitchen.co.uk

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