de Santis lies
just outside the City Square Mile
Old Street, near the Barbican
and the Guildhall School
of Music and just down the
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!
- Vini - Caffé
11 -13 Old Street
London EC1V 9HL
Fax: 020 7689 5627