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Paradise comes to Wapping!

Paradiso 1 Wapping High street, London 

There is something of a welcome revival of the local restaurant concept in London.. Destination eateries are all very well, but the problem of getting a table and then affording the bill if you can,  means that more of us are enjoying the little luxury of  just popping down the road to eat out. Establishments which offer good, value for money, modern food in a homely or stylish environment , serving a comparatively restricted catchment area, are on the increase.

One such is the recently opened Paradiso in Wapping, the latest addition to a well established chain of six Italian restaurants, spread  across the city. Here, the locals consist of  a mixture of  residents from  the numerous lofts and apartment blocks in the area, together with the added bonus of the occupants of the nearby banks and newspaper offices. 

As the Giovanni Salamone, the charming managing director of the Paradiso Olivelli Group acknowledges, they do not get tourists or passing trade in their near-to-riverside location, so it is essential to create an environment and a menu which will generate regular local trade. The night we visited , it was good to see that, by 8.45pm, most tables were occupied by young  professionals in casual mode, creating that essential vibrancy which draws them back again.  

Paradiso's stylish airy, minimalist design certainly draws you into the fresh crisp interior rendered in neutrals, accented with a soft lilac. The dazzling white table cloths and napkins - no bare, utilitarian, charmless tables here – proclaim that  Paradiso is serious about  what it does. And what it does is  to build on a basic Italian pizza and pasta formula with a well considered selection of other traditional recipes sourced from the north of Italy and from Giovanni Salamone's native Sicily. 

Paradiso boasts what is claimed to be one of only a handful of  traditional wood fired ovens in London, ensuring really authentic pizzas, and all the pasta is fresh and homemade. However, feeling we have got the measure of pizzas and pasta – and they both looked sumptuous and generous en passant  to other tables -  we opted to see what chefs Giovanni Randazzo and Gianni Bruno could do elsewhere in the kitchen.  

It seemed right to go Sicilian in honour of Paradiso's  origins, and  we chose Calamari alla Griglia  and Bruschetta alla Verdure to start, from a range of seven Antipasti options priced between £4.30 and £6.65. This was a delight, the succulent squid was grilled to perfection with sparklingly crisp  rocket,  while the fresh chilli dressing, olive oil and lemon juice packed a spicy but controlled punch,  and came served with hot focaccia with heady, fragrant rosemary,  .Our second choice of Bruschetta  consisted of a rich textured mix of  chargrilled courgette, red  peppers, aubergine and tomatoes marinated in olive oil and garlic, and topped in parmesan slivers  No surprises there, but still lovingly prepared and presented. 

We asked for advice on the wine from Signor Salamone.  He suggested a dry but full white Varnaccia di S. Gimignano at £15.95 ( or £4.05 by the glass) which proved to be sound but unexciting, perhaps a little overwhelmed by the chilli dressing!                                 

The Sicilian connection really came to the fore in our main courses – Polpette di Vitello della Mamma ( £9.95) and Taglia di Manzo.(£15.95). The first is a traditional Sicilian meat ball recipe, cooked in tomato sauce and served with plain spaghetti, the second is slices of sirloin steak in a creamy dolcelatte, rocket and balsamic vinegar sauce, and served with french beans, carrots and new potatoes. We added a simple rocket, parmesan and tomato salad for good measure, but most of the more elaborate ‘insalate’ would make a meal in themselves – from Insalata di pollo to Belalina (buffalo mozzarella and roasted peppers) and  Insalata D’Anatra ( duck breast, mushrooms and goats cheese) – all at £8.50 or less.  

You might think ‘rustic’, but both dishes had a succulent, light, almost delicate urbane touch and depended on being crafted from excellent raw materials, especially the meat;  Paradiso has a London based Italian meat supplier, and it shows. The verdict has to be ‘pleasantly surprising and sophisticated’, especially in the local restaurant context, and if the subtlety of these two dishes pervades some of the other items on offer – and the menu has just been extended to include more meat and fish dishes - then diners will be well rewarded. 

To partner our main course, Giovanni  Salamone's wine recommendation was spot on; a  rich velvety 2002 Sicilian Principi di Butera Merlot, well worth the £22.95 price tag. Both red and white lists start at £11.50 -  with a crisp, dry Sicilia Bianco and a deep ruby red  Sangiovese, and move through a broad band of choices in the region of £15 -£17  and finish with a bright golden Le Fagge Chardonnay Toscana at £27.70 and  Sicilian Deliella Nero d’avola – ‘the best ever red from Sicily – at a serious £60.95!.

Pudding? Ice cream looms large on the menu – it  IS and an Italian restaurant after all – including, of course, Cassata Siciliana. We chose  two more complex offerings – Semifreddo Tropicale and Semifreddo Gasparini. The Tropicale has an Italian meringue base layered with passion fruit, ice creams, bathed in passion fruit sauce with extra meringue pieces. Rich, but  the edgy zing of the passion fruit refreshed the palette perfectly.  The  Gasparini sounded good – toffee ice cream, also on a meringue base with vanilla ice cream, praline pieces and toffee sauce –  but was, perhaps predictably, a little cloying; refreshing was not the word; but indulgent was! Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, plus a unique ice cream cheesecake – Cheesecake Alla Fragola -  and a Torte di Mele ( Italian apple pie) ensue a good variety  to choose from at around £4.95 each.

Paradiso certainly takes the pizza and pasta concept a step or two beyond; it has edged itself cleverly into becoming a ‘proper local Italian’ restaurant – authentic without being pretentious in the kitchen, and offering something a little different without pricing itself  into the special occasion category. The service is well paced, and overseen by the delightful meeter and greeter Carlo. Literally a ‘theatrical’ Italian  - he used to run his own stage company - he adds the final warm atmospheric touch. A real find.   

Stephen Higginson, November 2005

Paradiso is at 1 Wapping High Street, and is open from noon until midnight, seven days a week.  
Telephone 020 7481 3223
The Paradiso Olivelli website is www.ristoranteparadiso.co.uk

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