I have a strong affection for Queen’s Park with its glorious green park and attractive tree lined streets – it is also home to London’s first restaurant dedicated to the food and wines of the Puglia region of Italy.
Situated in an attractive cobbled mews street just off the busy Salusbury Road, in an area of Queen’s Park that has a distinctively village feel about it, I had previously spotted Ostuni’s inviting presence, with lots of greenery slightly hiding a terrace area with a mish-mash of metal furnishings.
So when I found myself in this corner of north-west London and seeking some lunch, I suddenly found Ostuni, named after a small Pugliese town, on my radar and decided to finally give it a try.
A rather chilling late spring breeze meant that sitting outside on the terrace was not a good idea and once I stepped inside the spacious restaurant I felt a warm glow as the authentic design quickly left me thinking that I was probably going to like this place.
The setting is relaxed and congenial, typical of what you might expect from any serious Italian restaurant, with the design a clever mixture of rustic and industrial materials.
Pugliese limestone adorns the end walls while authentic stone tiles from Locorotondo are particularly attractive as floor and wall coverings.
There is a successful mix of traditional and contemporary features throughout, with grain sieves as shades for lighting a really clever and eye-catching theme.
In fact, there is really nothing not to like about the light and airy eating area with its open kitchen at one end and large smartly tiled bar at the other and the traditional materials used sit together harmoniously and are a good reflection of the food and wine served.
The menu clearly aims to showcase the simplicity and flavours of Italian food from the region with pastas, fresh fish and grilled and roast meats all taking their place on a reasonable extensive menu.
I started with well-cooked slightly pink roast calves liver (£7.50), enriched by pancetta bocconcini and pickled courgettes, which made for a nice contrast to a hearty starter.
My lunch companion Fiona enjoyed her plate of calamari and zucchini (£8), which was fresh with crunch to the light batter and plenty of taste.
We both went for pasta dishes for main, and here is my problem with my visit to Ostuni. Both were served rather tepid in temperature and in one case on a stone cold plate, a schoolboy error as the kitchen was hardly pushed on this particular lunch time service. Perhaps it was just complacency.
My seafood calamarata (£15.50) delivered pretty much on taste and came with a healthy amount of seafood.
The pasta (calamarata is a large thick hollow shaped pasta seldom seen outside of Italy) was well cooked and a decent tomato sauce did not overpower the flavours of the fish, but the dish did leave me slightly underwhelmed.
Fiona’s orecchiette carbonara with capocollo and asparagus (£8 for a starter portion), apart from its temperature, was well cooked, packed plenty of authentic flavours and was close to being a top notch plate of pasta.
We enjoyed a carafe of Fiano minutolo Mezzogiorno, a 2012 white wine from Puglia, served from a terracotta jug with our food and in typical Italian style the service was fairly friendly and relaxed.
Unfortunately, a pressing engagement with a train meant there was not time to test out a tempting dessert menu with delights like lemon sorbet with prosecco and a stoly (£7) and Amariene cherry pie with lemon cream (£6) having to wait for another day.
My overall impression of Ostuni was that its authenticity and appearance is much to be admired, but I did not fall in love with its food on this first visit, although it is certainly worth a second date and I will return when my travels take me to this attractive part of north-west London again.