Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: cosy familiarity at Pino and bargain whites

Tom finds cosy familiarity and top-notch dishes at a new launch from a West London favourite.

Soul. That intangible restaurant quality that is born not bought, an elusive elixir that transcends base function, transforming a utilitarian room into a haven of sybaritic delight. There’s no rhyme or reason, no guidebook or business plan. I’ve been to three-Michelin-starred places with all the atmosphere of a morgue, and dilapidated beach shacks that throb with bonhomie. You either have it, or you don’t.

pino
Pedro Costa

And despite opening only a few weeks back, Pino has soul coursing through its veins. Which is hardly surprising, as it comes from the family behind Kensington’s Il Portico, a local and much beloved stalwart since 1967. Just like its elder sibling a few doors down, Pino mixes top-notch ingredients from the Chiavarinis’ home state of Emilia Romagna (Parmesan, prosciutto, lardo, coppa, etc) with a sort of greatest hits of Italian regional classics.

James is the fourth generation of Chiavarini to run things, and he’s here, as he always is at Il Portico, greeting regulars, filling glasses, keeping things ticking along. He is, as you’d expect, a born restaurateur, and does it for love rather than cash. The site used to be Pizzacotto, also theirs, and the wood-burning oven still blazes away at the back. But the room, with its warm, flickering light, olive tree and framed Campari and Fernet-Branca posters, feels both new and warmly familiar, too.

We eat culatello, sweetly piggy, cut tissue-paper thin, as good as you’ll find anywhere. And melanzane parmigiana, cooked in that oven, all silken aubergine, oozing cheese, sharp tomato sauce and bubbling, blistered top. Fritto misto, hot and salty, wears a light batter, the prawns and squid scented with nostalgia for summer holidays long past, and lunch eaten with sand between your toes. Neapolitan-style pizza, all puffy cornicione, fiery n’duja and small molten puddles of mozzarella, is Zia Lucia good (my favourite London pizza group).

In fact, the only slip is squid-ink ravioli. Generously filled with monkfish and aubergine, they wallow in an intense shellfish broth. But the pasta is a little thick and dense. Not inedibly so, but certainly not up to the usual family standard.

Hey ho, it’s early days. And despite just one visit, Pino is already like an old friend. I know I’ll be back, and I know it will be good. Simple, confident regional Italian cooking, with the sweetest of service. And soul. Did I mention that soul?

About £25 a head. Pino, 267 Kensington High Street, London W8; famigliaportico.co.uk.

DRINKS: Olly’s bargain whites

Sometimes good-value white wine comes from big-hitting names such as Pinot Grigio from Italy, but you need to pick carefully: some taste as neutral as Swiss tapwater. Portuguese Vinho Verde is generally great value for a spritzy summer white, as is often overlooked French Muscadet. But this year’s best value wines with character and quality are coming from the eastern climes of Romania and Greece.

SPRI PETRA GREEK ASSYRTIKOWINE OF THE WEEK ASPRI PETRA GREEK ASSYRTIKO 2020 (13%), £6.99, Aldi. Beyond amazing – this Greek gem tastes like Chablis with superpowers. Outrageous value for money.

VALE DOS POMBOS VINHO VERDEVALE DOS POMBOS VINHO VERDE (9%), £6, Co-Op. Invigoration! Easy drinking, tropical and spritzy. This light white is a steal.

LA MARINIÈRE MUSCADETLA MARINIÈRE MUSCADET 2020 (11.5%), £6.49, Waitrose. Breezy, bright and lemony, this is a must-sip bargain with shellfish.

FINEST PINOT GRIGIOFINEST PINOT GRIGIO 2020 (12.5%), £7, Tesco. Pears and melons twinkling in a constellation of bright delight.

FOUND FETEASCA REGALAFOUND FETEASCA REGALA 2020 (11.5%), £7, Marks & Spencer. I’ll keep recommending this splendid scented Romanian white – buy it!