Tinello, Italian for a small dining room, is the perfect name for Federico and Max Sali’s unpretentious but attractive restaurant in Pimlico. The tinted glass frontage under a smart black awning leads to a long, dark dining room. Exposed brickwork, wooden flooring and low hanging copper pendant lights over each table create an intimate, semi rustic feel, accentuated by the shady colour scheme and well-spaced, simply dressed tables.
Diners are quickly put at their ease with relaxed formal service. The front of house staff, led by brother Max, are courteous, informative and eager to please, but not ingratiatingly so. The clientele is composed mainly of locals, many of them regulars, although Tinello’s reputation is now attracting diners from further afield. Family eating in true Italian style is also encouraged.
Simplicity and honesty, the hallmarks of classic Italian cuisine, are fully exemplified in the cooking at Tinello. Dishes from the menu range widely across the Italian peninsula, although there is a Tuscan slant to many. When asked which dish on the menu summed up the essence of his cooking, Federico named Pappardelle alle erbe, ragu di anatra in bianco (Homemade herb pasta ribbons, duck ragout.)
The use of the finest ingredients is a prerequisite, but there is no obsession about sourcing everything from Italy. Whilst, for example, aubergines, lemons, tomatoes, cheese, cured meats, oils and balsamic vinegar are imported, full respect is paid to the high quality produce from the UK, including, for instance, Cornish fish. The brothers’ experience working at Locanda Locatelli and Zafferano has also enabled them to build contacts with some excellent British suppliers.
Prices for this affluent part of London – two minutes from Sloane Square – are surprisingly reasonable and represent excellent value for money. The menu includes four antipasti; ten small eats (£1.95 to £6.50); eight pasta dishes (£10 to £18.50); seven mains (£17.50 to £26.50); 6 desserts (£3.90 to £13.50) and one cheese course.(£8.50). Shunning the culinary haughtiness of more stuffy restaurants, Chef Federico is flexible in the preparation of dishes, adapting them to the diner’s preference on the rare occasions when this is requested.
After nibbles and a refreshing glass of Prosecco, we sampled four small plates.
A chicken liver crostini, (Crostini con il “fuagra” toscano), was rich, well- seasoned and deeply flavoured. Together with the soft and crisp textures, this simple best-selling preparation proved a highly satisfying starter.
Mortadella sausage, properly fatty and spicy, was served with gnocco fritto, fried bread dough which puffed up like small pillows – visually interesting if somewhat bland tasting.
Delicious courgette ribbons had been coated in a light batter and fried until crisp. Strangely, the presentation of this popular dish resembled the Medusa’s snake infested head!
A special of the day featured well timed sprue asparagus, sauced by the yolk of a soft poached egg, and seasoned by a parmesan tuile. This was a delightful, well balanced combination, making the most of prime seasonal produce.
Next, we tried a pasta dish, Paccheri astice e fave. The robust tubular pasta was cooked al dente and served with succulent lobster and fresh broad beans in a rich but light sauce. The precise timing of both the humble and extravagant elements, together with the textural contrast, allowed their inherent qualities to shine through.
Two main courses were sampled. Filetto d`ippoglosso, rape bianche, barba di frate e salsa all`arancio saw perfectly cooked halibut fillet, matched with braised turnips and monk’s beard. The rich mineral notes and crunchy texture of the samphire like vegetable added taste and textural interest while a light blood orange sauce successfully brought the various elements together
In Petto d`anatra arrosto, topinambur e spinaci novella, the crisp skinned and medium rare duck breast – as preferred in Italian cooking – was succulent and flavoursome. Accuracy in judging cooking and resting times was clearly evident. A puree of Jerusalem artichokes added an earthy richness, wilted baby spinach gave a vibrant freshness and a light jus rounded off the dish.
The skill of the pastry section was shown in desserts which included a fine tiramisu, layered in a sundae glass, fruit sorbets and a cake like apple tart with chocolate ice cream. Classic Cantucci Biscotti dipped in Vin Santo sweet wine proved an attractive alcoholic alternative.
Espresso served with crisp choux pastry beignets stuffed with Zabaglioni completed a memorable meal.
Clearly from the lunchtime buzz, Tinello has established itself as a thriving neighbourhood restaurant serving a well-heeled clientele who appreciate its accomplished cooking, welcoming service and unstuffy atmosphere. Driving the restaurant forward are brothers Max and Federico. Unfortunately, Max was away when we visited but we were able to chat with Federico whose engaging manner and passion for his craft were abundantly evident. These qualities are reminiscent of Giorgio Locatelli, his mentor and financial backer, with whom – and this must have been said by many – he bears an uncanny resemblance. Given the brothers’ extensive experience in high end Italian establishments, Tinello can only go from strength to strength, developing into a destination restaurant. Fine Dining Guide will follow its progress with interest.