Freelance writer and journalist based in west London.
Published April 5th 2013
Be Charmed by this Independent Italian
'Authentic' is a word that seems to be flung around with abandon when it comes to describing restaurants and food and sometimes it can leave you sharply disappointed. But for the last eighteen years, Osteria del Portico in Ealing has been among those eateries that's been quietly making its case that you can find such an experience away from its native land if you look hard enough for it, because in this case, you'll have to.
This Italian restaurant stays hidden behind huge wooden doors when it's not open, disguising itself save for the menu in a display box on the wall. When the gates are drawn back, you're invited to walk down a little path and here the transformation begins; the noise of the road fades away, the lights dim, the outside tables appear. By the time you've arrived at the front door, which is opened for you with a friendly welcome, you do get a strange sense you're not in Kansas – or Ealing, any more.
Throughout history, the Osteria has been known for serving wine and simple food. Traditionally less formal than both the Trattoria and Ristorante, it was namely a place to hang out. There may not be such a clear distinction between them these days, but Osteria del Portico certainly stays true to the relaxed spirit of old. It's been owned by the same people for the whole of its existence, so the décor hasn't really changed either. Wooden tables and chairs are surrounded by Italian artefacts and wine bottles. It has a slight shabby air, but is clean and deserving of being described as having rustic charm.
Any day of the week, customers are able to get a great deal on food. Come for lunch and you can have two courses and a drink for £10.95. In the evening, it's £14.95 for two courses and a glass of prosecco. A full menu is also available, with antipasti, specials, pastas, pizzas, risotto, secondi and grill dishes. From the evening menu, we selected the Stuzzicherie to start, a dish to be shared between two people which offers the chef's daily selection of hot and cold savouries. This included the freshest mozzarella, deep fried calamari, marinated mushrooms, peppers, courgettes and aubergine, prawns in their shells, spicy sausage and slices of cold meat to name a few items. Such a great mix of flavours and textures in a really generous portion.
On to the next course, when a large Sbarazzina pizza - tomato, mozzarella, egg, pepperoni sausage, black olives and capers – and plentiful spirals of pasta with chicken, courgettes & mild cheese sauce were placed in front of us.
The pizza was crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle. The cheese sauce on the pasta was clearly home-made and wasn't over powering. The dish had a good amount of chicken and strips of courgette. The dessert list was offered and eventually declined, but the Sicilian style pastry snap with ricotta cheese, candid fruit & honey and orange sauce did tempt, as did the sponge with chocolate mousse and raspberry sauce.
You're never going to claim this food reaches the next dizzy heights of gastronomy but that clearly isn't the point. It tastes great, is superb value and is consumed in a warm, homely room that buzzes with the chatter of happy diners of all ages. When everything is eaten (the dishes always seem to go back to the kitchen clean), it's really pleasant to be able to just sit and sip your wine from the extensive Italian wine list without feeling that they're trying to get you out.
This is a restaurant where food and atmosphere are the most important things, not making sure people leave as soon as they've finished so the next ones can come in and add to the profits. But of course, you will make your way out eventually, having had the door held open for you again and having been waved off with a friendly 'see you soon.' Back down the transient passage and onto the reality of Ealing Broadway. But with a bit of Italy in your stomach and your heart.