REVIEW: Pronto in Tavola, pizzeria and restaurant, Brighton & Hove

by - June 22, 2013

I don't often do jokes around here so here goes. When is a pizza takeaway not a pizza takeaway? When it's probably the closest thing you are going to get to proper Italian cooking in Brighton. Not funny? Well the real joke is probably the PizzaPastaPizzaPasta Italian "influenced" food, depressingly found in the restaurants that take up a large chunk of Brighton's dining scene.

Pronto in Tavola has been well received as a takeaway pizzeria for a while now, but they have added a few tables as of January and Nino, chef and owner, has branched out into offering authentic, home style Italian dishes.

Nino is great. He's one of these passionate foodies that practically levitates when he talks but his ingredients, cooking, family and Calabrian roots. Apart from pizza, you'll now get some regional Italian delights that even I haven't come across like the deep-fried Crocchette di Patate in the bread basket. I would love to see Nino really focusing even more on Calabrian cuisine, because the food in that neck of the woods is truly something to celebrate.

The real shame with PIT is that more of the story of the values, the passion in sourcing the ingredients and the origins of the recipes is not detailed on the website or restaurant and home delivery menus. Not even half the dishes potentially available are listed! It doesn't even say the lasagna is home-made or fresh tagliatelle are on offer. Diners these days are interested in the ingredients and the story behind the food and PIT run the risk of being seen as just another takeaway if the ethos of the place doesn't get out there. Once you're in Nino will pop out from behind the pizza oven and counter to tell you all about it, but this won't fill the restaurant tables so something that needs to be addressed.

We started with a classic antipasto washed down with a decent bottle of Prosecco. Roast peppers with oil and parsley, Boccocini mozzarella, grilled sheep cheese, pickled octopus, olives and cured meats. All served with a basket of bread cooked fresh in the pizza oven and the aforementioned potato croquettes that deserve a whole review to themselves. I could have eaten a bucket of them.

We had to try some fresh pasta which was served with a cooked to order sauce, made with green peppers. Again, simple but tasty, and the sort of pasta we'd have at home for big Sunday family dinners. The goat's cheese on to was maybe a flavour too far and a couple of shavings of Gran Padano or Pecorino would have done it for me. Still, the green pepper sauce idea I will be nicking for home.

Also, Nino is happy to cook whatever you want with notice, if you have a favourite risotto - whatever. In fact he had a couple of sea bass and rustled up Acqua Pazza ("crazy water") for us, a dish I have always wanted to try. Essentially the fish is stuffed with herbs, tomato and garlic then seasoned and partially covered in water to cook on the hob or in the oven. So it poaches in all that seasoned goodness. My sort of dish, simply executed with the ingredients hero. Nino even brought the fish to the table whole and de-boned it for us. This was served with roast potatoes with rosemary and peas cooked in herbs and wine, so Italian and so delicious. A real stellar dish this so ask him if he has any fish in if you go or phone ahead so he can get some in for you.

For desserts, which are made by Nino's wife, are very typically Italian. The cream filled zeppole (choux pastry puffs) covered with chocolate looked good but we opted for a slice of Torta di Nonna (Grandmother's cake) which is essentially a pie, consisting of pasta frolla (shortcrust), lemon custard cream and pine nuts. This made me smile as it's just like something I'd get visiting an auntie back home (who are all incredible at cakes and pastry). Great consistency, not too sweet and nothing like you have tried before, with lots of that vanilla sugar dust you see on Italian pastry. The coffee here is brilliant so if nothing else, swing by in the evening for something sweet and an espresso to polish off the night.

We didn't eat any of the pizza at this meal but definitely come down to eat it fresh out of the oven. It really shouldn't be shoved in a cardboard box and driven half way across town in a Nissan Micra. Pizza needs to be eaten, risking lip scolding, as soon as possible after it is ready.

So, down to business. This is not refined restaurant food. This is good, honest, home-style Italian food at a really reasonable price, served up with a huge heap of love.

My only concern is that I'm not sure if local people will get this place. It doesn't project the image as a tourist trattoria with the checked tablecloths and the candle in the straw covered bottle of Chianti on the table that people may be accustomed to. This is more akin to the everyday spots you actually get in Italy, the DIY plank benches fixed to the wall, tight space, tinny Italian radio dipping in and out of reception in the background, pictures of the kids on the wall, the phone going for takeaway orders and a drinks fridge full of San Pelligrino. It's the spit of my cousin's bar back in Italy.

There is so much more to this little place that meets the eye. Give it a try, see what specials are on and you'll get a dining experience like no other in the city and you'll still have change out of that £20.

Pronto in Tavola
43 Waterloo Street

I was invited to review Pronto in Tavola.

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