Morso in St John’s Wood: Small bites packed with the fresh flavours of Italy
Chef Paolo Vernetti and Vanessa Vaz are the masterminds behind Morso, deliverer of small bites and fresh pasta and promoter of the grappa revolution. Set in a pictoresque St John’s Wood street, it’s the neighbourhood restaurant you want around the corner. The concept also features a bar with a good variety of cocktails and Italian wine, carefully selected for the demanding lovers of the Bel Paese’s produce.
The menu is straightforward and simple in the best of ways: the mains break down into two sections, encompassing small seasonal plates and a nice range of homemade pasta. The idea behind the venture is to share these dishes, following them up with desserts and a good shot (or two) of grappa to wash it all down.
One hundred per cent vegetarian, the restaurant’s homemade ricotta curd makes its way to our table to warm up our taste buds, served with a side of freshly toasted bread. The crispiness of the loaf with the softness of the cheese – runnier than you might be used to – enhances its full flavour, which is complemented also by the scent of the Italian olive oil drizzle. Arriving just in time for us to keep enjoying the bread, the Panzanella Salad offers a distinctly summery combination: celery, tomatoes and sweet red onions topped up with salty anchovies that bind the flavours together.
As we work our way through the starters, the most unique ones prove to be the arancini with peas and pecorino dip and the mouth-wateringly tender Chicken Arrosticini. When Morso started off as a pop-up these little fried rice balls were already some of our favourites for taste and texture – and they still are. The pea is an excellent addition to the pecorino dip, mildly sweet but still strong, packing the mozzarella and rice filling with a nice punch. The arrosticini, on the other hand, are a surprise; marinated for 48 hours in garlic and rosemary, the chicken is pure heaven: irresistibly tender, covered in a thin coat of caramel and laid down atop a crunchy bed of raw sliced cabbage. Simply superb.
Next on the list is the British Beef Carpaccio. The lover of rare meat will know the magic lies in the product itself – although this can be spoilt by bad preparation. In this case, despite the beef being expertly handled and nicely seasoned with sea salt and Amalfi lemon mustard dressing, the cut – though great in flavour – lacks the slightly buttery texture one might be looking for. But this is soon forgotten when the star of the menu arrives at our table. The Morso Egg Yolk Raviolo is a perfectly curated creation, visually stunning and with a very pleasurable effect in the mouth. Imagine a sage-scented poached egg explosion wrapped in fresh pasta.
We also have the chance to try two more dishes before moving to the desserts: Tagliatelle Cacio e Pepe and Squid Ink Tagliolini, both of which boast a strong personality. Those familiar with the language will know that the former refers to cheese and pepper, in this case pecorino with black pepper mixed in a little too buttery sauce.
By the time the highly anticipated puddings arrive, we are thrilled to try the Morso Potted Tiramisu (and perhaps feel a bit guilty for finishing all the previous offerings), which is not only very pretty but also intensely creamy and fulfilling. Though we can’t sample the Vanilla and Black Pepper Panna Cotta, the chocolate almond tart with vanilla mascarpone is a great substitute: moist, nutty and a great finish to the menu.
To conclude the meal, Vaz is generous enough to bring us a selection of grappas – fragolino, chardonnay and moscato – as well as almond and gin liquors from the same producer. Morso is launching the #grapparevolution by popularising this classic Italian brandy, which is made out of leftover wine grapes (pomace). Strong in taste and a pretty effective digestive cure following a large meal, grappa comes in a variety of scents and ages.
Grab a friend, get to Morso and enjoy food the Italian way.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at Morso, 130 Boundary Road London NW8 0RH, call 020 7624 7412 or visit their website here.