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de Santis, Old Street E1

Michael Pelham found Panini, Vini and Caffé in the City of London

de Santis is another example of the opportunities to be found in the gastronomically regenerated City of London and its immediate surrounds.  It is not really a restaurant in the conventional sense (although one can eat well and informally), nor a café in the English or French sense (although one can drink outstandingly good coffee and cappuccino.  It is very Italian, very Milanese. And inexpensive.

de Santis lies just outside the City Square Mile at 11-13 Old Street, near the Barbican and the Guildhall School of Music and just down the road from St Luke's (which always used to be known as "Lousy Luke's"), which is now the home of the London Symphony Orchestra.  

There are a few tables on the pavement at the front and some more in a small yard/through- way at the back.  Inside, one immediately gets a great welcome from any or all of the staff. including Enzo, the owner, if he is not in the kitchen or downstairs.  It is so agreeably friendly that I thought that I must have met them all before somewhere - but I hadn't!

The furnishing is chic and modern - and Italian.  Attractive, rather high rosewood tables with inlaid stainless steel strips and surprisingly comfortable stools.  The tables are not too close together - there is no sense of crowding - but one can chat with a neighbouring table and that seems to be what happens quite often.  The friendliness of the staff seems to rub off on the customers. There is an attractive bar at one side where a few people can sit, again on stools, and select something to drink from a wide selection of predominantly Italian aperitif or wines.  There are rather good snacks placed on the bar from time to time for free consumption.

In the middle of the room is an smart stainless steel island serving bar in the middle of which a chef prepares the panini which are the speciality of de Santis, and other dishes.  The panini are outstanding.  They bake their own baguettes and other breads and all the ingredients are fresh and of excellent quality.  Some regional specialities, such as porcini, are flown in from various regions in Italy.  The fillings are piled high and include "Soffice" (thinly sliced cooked ham, fontina cheese and fresh sun-ripened tomatoes with oregano); "Crudo" (masses of thinly sliced Parma ham and nothing else); "Dodo" (Bresaola beef with peppery flavoured rocket salad); "Bologna" (sliced Mortadella sausage with sun ripened tomatoes); "Milano" (distinctive smoked Speck ham with Gorgonzola cheese).  These panini, each a meal in itself, are priced from £2.50 to £2.85 for the small ones (and they are a good size) or from £3.50 to £3.85 for the large.

de Santis also serve hand made pizza, pizzette and focaccine with a great variety of fillings.  In addition there are excellent home made pasta with authentic regional sauces,  filling Italian soups and good cold platters with Italian hams, salamis, dry cured meats, delicious Italian cheeses and fresh salads and vegetables - all very reasonably priced.  As one would expect, there are delicious ice creams, superb tiramisu (in nice big glasses), fresh fruit and every sort of coffee and other hot and cold drink, served with home made biscotti.

Enzo goes to enormous trouble to keep all the dishes he serves truly authentic in his own well loved Italian tradition - and the result is a fine eating experience in a typical Milanese caffé style.

Downstairs there is another quite large room, again modern and smart, with sofas and comfortable chairs round low tables, as well as some upright chairs and tables, with a bar at the side and a big television screen on the wall.  This normally provides a back-ground of chic fashion scenes but if one of the Milan football teams is playing, the evening may be devoted to watching the game, whilst  drinking and snacking and cheering them on.  Football abstainers may stay upstairs or, in warm weather, sit outside.  The back-drop outside is a little like West Side Story, with a fire escape in the back-ground and tarmac pavement, but it is still very welcome on a hot London evening and there is even a portable heater if wanted.

On certain evenings (Wednesdays particularly) de Santis has an attractive set menu at a very reasonable price - it is worth telephoning to find out.  A "secco" at the bar, followed by, for instance, green and white fettucine with generous additions of porcini and then pork ribs on sautéed aubergines with an outstanding sauce, might cost about £22.

There is a good selection of Italian wines available by the glass (from £2.00) or bottle (from £10.95).  And Peroni or Moretti beer of course, and Pellegrino. Hot tip: If you live or work near Old Street, de Santis now has a very good and varied "Take Away" service.

de Santis is open Monday to Friday from 8.00 am to 11.00 pm.  It is a great place to drop into for coffee or a snack or a meal at any hour, in smart pleasant surroundings with a great Italian atmosphere - all at very reasonable cost.  I got the impression that it could become rather like a club, with regular and faithful members.  The phrase "Café Society" comes to mind!

De Santis  Panini - Vini - Caffé
11 -13 Old Street
London EC1V 9HL

Tel: 0207689
Fax: 020 7689 5627

Michael Pelham   June 2003

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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