Sunday, August 06, 2006
They say Pellegrini's has had one paint job in over fifty years, and it left the place looking exactly the same. I wandered in there one cold Monday night, walking the length of its 1950s bar to the cosy kitchen at the back. The red leather barstools are comfortable enough for a weekday lunchtime or an afternoon macchiato and slice of apple strudel, but the dark evenings make the big communal kitchen table beckon.
There is no menu as such; an old wood veneer menu hangs from the ceiling above the bar. It lists a handful of dishes but there are no prices. Over time you get to know the daily specials - spinach and ricotta cannelloni makes a guest appearance on Tuesdays and gnocchi cameos on Fridays. The waiters charge you whatever they like, but it is always great value.
I sat with a man and his young son to one side of me, and the owner himself on the other, trademark silk kerchief at his neck, apparently being interviewed for an article. The young boy chatted comfortably to the woman at the cooker about his recently deceased pet rabbit, while she cooked him his “usual” and taught him a few more words of Italian.
The cooker was simmering with pots of bolognese and napoli sauces whilst the oven opened briefly to display an enormous lasagne. The cook lady turned out plates of pasta ordered in shouted Italian from the bar beyond, whilst seeming to talk away to herself in between times (in Italian too, so I couldn’t eavesdrop).
My plate of steaming ravioli bolognese came with two freshly buttered doorsteps of bread and a cold glass of water. No alcohol here in Pellegrini’s, but the food is good enough to entice me to eat even without a glass of red in my hand. When asked, the lady happily heaped lots more parmesan onto my already loaded plate from her bowl by the cooker.
I ate slowly, taking in the surroundings. An ancient poster of the Chianti region and an old advertisement for Besana pannetonni adorned the walls, darkened by years of grease and heat. Beyond a hatch in the wall the bar was half-full of diners but it felt sleepier than daylight hours. The oak table was about eight inches thick, and the stools about an inch too low for it. The forks were bent and the white crockery dull and chipped in places, but my supper was sublime.
Later, as I sipped my long macchiato, the cook lady silently left her position at the cooker and came back with a saucer of home-made biscuits for me. I dunked them in my sweet coffee, feeling even more at home. They didn’t charge me for them.