I don’t know why, but all of a sudden there seem to be loads of Italian Delis in London. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention before, but at the weekend we counted over ten. Granted, we’d walked a pretty long way, but even so that does seem like a lot…
Maybe my senses were heightened by an incident on Saturday afternoon, when desperation for a speedy cake-hit made me susceptible to anywhere that could possibly help me out.
We were on our way back from Spitalfields Market (where offers of sugary treats were surprisingly few and far between), and the sight of the Terroni Delicatessen in Clerkenwell was too much for me to pass by.
I’d hoped for some delicious-looking goodies – and I wasn’t disappointed. After walking into a fine-smelling room infused with the scent of mozzarella and herbs, a cabinet of temptations caught my eye.
A couple of heaps of sugared pastries made an instant and large impression. I asked one of the servers what they were.
That, he said, pointing to a greenish twist, was nougat. The other, he said, his finger above a swirl of brown and icing sugar, was almond and pistachio. But he called it nougat as well.
Confused as to the difference, I asked if the brown one contained any chocolate. He swiftly got confused as well and asked somebody else. After a long conversation in Italian, he turned back to tell us that one was nut, the other was nougat. But he wasn’t sure which was which.
Moments later, when the Man tried asking again he was told something else – so we bought one of each (at £2.40 apiece) and decided to work out the contents ourselves.
Whatever they were, they certainly looked amazing: both were covered in drifts of icing sugar, and both were apparently freshly-made. We had high hopes – according to the façade of the building, the Deli had been established in 1878. Plenty of time to perfect a pastry twist.
We got as far as the nearest bus stop before my urge to eat them overtook me.
I plumped for the green while the Man took the brown.
But several bites in I was still none the wiser. Whatever the greenish paste was, I had no idea. The flavour was drowned in icing sugar.
The Man’s was a little bit easier to pin down – I’d say it was filled with Nutella, or something like it. But again it was sadly overwhelmed by the bulk of pastry and sugar around it.
In fact, contrary to their tantalising appearance, our pastries were fairly underwhelming overall. The pastry was soft – not crisp, like I had hoped. A bit more filling and it might not have mattered, but my palate was seriously bored. And dry.
It’s weird, really. When it comes to savouries, my all-time favourite cuisine has to be Italian. Pizza, pasta, copious amounts of cheese and tomato – what’s not to like?
But as far as Italian puddings go, this isn’t the first time I’ve been disappointed. Don’t get me wrong – Italian ice cream is probably the best in the world (Gelupo in Soho, Giggi’s in Bournemouth, The Foundry in Camden – all champions for the cause).
But the number of boring tiramisus, dusty pastries, and stale cannoli I’ve eaten seems almost suspiciously high.
Do the Italians use up all their efforts on splendid main courses? Are my tastes just too different to theirs when it comes to dessert? Or am I just in the wrong places?
Actually, you can probably ignore the last of those questions. Of course I’m in the wrong place: I’m in London when I should be in Venice.
Still, geographical revelations aside, is it really that difficult for good Italian puddings to exist on English soil?
It’s time someone put the Deli back into delicious Italian desserts…
Or should that be the other way around?