REVIEW: Franco's Osteria, Brighton & Hove

by - September 25, 2019

Ah, Franco's...that intimate and romantic little Italian you've been meaning to try for ages, but it's that bit of Hove that escapes your mind post 7pm. And I'm the same. I can't recall how many times I've banked that memo in my mind, probably from the days they still used to put the Italian Disney red and white checked tablecloths out. But when I speak to resident Hovites in the area, they are fierce in their protection of their 'hood restaurant. A good sign.

And it's a lovely place to come. Stripped back, simple, rustic, yet utterly laden in charm. The kitchen in full view from your table. Salami hang in the windows. I'm glad I'm finally here.

Format follows tradition here. Antipasti, Primi, Secondi and dessert. I felt very at home and could have been in any similar restaurant in Italy, the authenticity is refreshing. The owner is also very (like very - I was DMd about its importance) keen to let people know this is not a restaurant, but an "Osteria". So what the hell is that?

There’s a pecking order with eateries in Italy (we Italians love rules, man. That Catholic guilt runs deep). Restaurants are at the top; formal, larger menus, professional service and linens. Trattorias are small, often family-run and offer simple, home cooked food. An osteria is even more casual than a trattoria, they used to be more of a wine bar with a dish or two, but have evolved to be more in line with trattorias. And there’s more; tavola calda, rosticceria, taverna…get it? Frankly, I don’t really think people here care about that at all. A restaurant is a restaurant is a restaurant to most people's eyes, but for the nerds out there, you're welcome. 

You have the option of a la carte or the well priced sharing menu at £30.50 per person which I think reflected good value, even with its recent increase.

Antipasto lent on the gratuitous side as Italians like it. This part is a bit of a show off really, with the dishes arriving in stages. The cured meats were of great quality and surrounded with olives, cheeses, wonderful aged balsamic, cubes of home-made focaccia and fine little slices of tomato topped bruschetta. Then came buratta with pomegranate and beetroot, polpette (balls) of fennel sausage and aubergine in a fine deep-fried crumb with basil pesto and baked prawns with lemon and garlic. A feast to start a feast.

Primi, your pasta courses, come as a smaller portion as they should in this format. Tronchetti with a rich, deep ragu that had a hint of sweetness, maybe from a little nutmeg were delicious. The ravioli however were exceptional. Literally to-the-second perfection cooking on the pasta with an ideal thickness and texture. They were simply filled with vegetables and with a classic lemon, sage butter sauce. Had I a piece of bread I would have fa la scarpetta without hesitation.

The mixed roast meats for the secondo, were very typical and nice touch that the meat was sourced from the mighty Westdene Butchers. Between us there was a lamb chop, piece of steak and fennel-rich, course Italian sausage. All just simply grilled. The fish option was a large single fish I didn't make out, filleted at the table and looked equally as good.

For the sides, fried potatoes over fries would have been preferable to me, but grilled aubergine slices with pomegranate (nodding to a Sicilian influence in the kitchen I feel) made an ideal and interesting side.

Food-wise it can't be faulted. I love that the OSTERIA hasn't caved in to adapting the food, you certainly, and thankfully, would never find a spaghetti bolognese on the menu and dishes have not been tarted up or tweaked in any way.  No foams, smears, streaks or dots adorn the plates to confuse - just plain, old fashioned good cooking. 

Service was well-paced but could sharpen up. It was a bit young, bit absent minded in places yet friendly. The owner was away when I visited, thankfully it seems, as some messages I received alluded to a gruff and unwelcoming vibe on occasion. I looked up Trip Advisor and there seems to be a theme about this, the management replies on there only strengthening the claim. However it seems children are very welcome here, my kids would adore the food and I'd bring them in for lunch without hesitation. Family dining options that don't limit you to the chains get a big tick from me. 

Brighton is no longer a barren wasteland for Italian food. We were once left to fend for ourselves (well yourselves, I had my mamma's cooking) in the trenches of pizza pasta menus. Now there's a small celebration of good Italian food from some of our city's pizzarias, gelaterias, restaurants and of course, our only osteria.

Franco's Osteria
4 Victoria Terrace
Hove BN3 2WE

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