When it comes to Italian food, I’ve always thought the bigger the plate, the better. I’m insatiable, and I’ve been known to inhale large bowls of pasta while friends are still nibbling on their bruschetta. So it’s with some trepidation that I agree to try Nuovo, a mediterranean restaurant tucked away at the top of Abington Street in Northampton, specialising in “cicchetti” - a venetian term for small plates.
It’s not uncommon in Italy to enjoy a pasta primo before a “secondo” main course, so I assume this is what’s meant by Nuovo’s ‘small plates’. I quickly realise what they serve is more akin to tapas, which is unmistakably mediterranean but something I’ve never associated with Italian food. Knowing this now, I can picture sitting by the canals of Venice, basking in the sun with a glass of wine enjoying plate after plate of delicious Italian food...
Back to reality, and while Northampton isn’t quite Venice, the restaurant does offer a nice secluded outdoor seating area and attractive interior. A few tasteful nods to Italy help set the mood, while a waiter behind the bar is whistling The Godfather theme, making us both smile. This is a relaxed environment to kick back and enjoy a meal, appropriate for sharing tasty plates with friends, family or colleagues.
Once seated, we’re brought quickly up to speed on the cicchetti style and how best to order from the menu. We’re advised three dishes is usually plenty for most, and there’s always the option to order more as you go if you’re still hungry. In truth, we find it a bit of a challenge adjusting to a small plate mentality. My husband is thinking of ordering two breads. That’s madness I tell him. Thankfully our drinks arrive before it devolves into a full blown argument, a Peroni and a frizzante mocktail made with cold brew coffee and walnut bitters.
After a little bit of help from our server (he hints when we might be ordering too much and somehow understands our mangled pronunciation of the dishes), our food starts to arrive as it’s cooked. Antipasti of carpaccio di manzo - thinly sliced raw beef with parmesan, capers and rocket - is a fantastic start. The wafer thin beef melts in the mouth and a sharp salty tang from the capers compliments the dish perfectly.
From the “vegetali” side dish menu, we try aubergine frits. Aubergine can be a bit of a sponge when fried, so the lemon aioli is a welcome addition to cut through the oil. This is quickly followed by the ravioli of the day - artichoke and pecorino - which delivers everything you’d want from the pasta dish, thin ravioli, a punchy sauce and tasty filling. Arancini (risotto balls) filled with wild mushroom and gorgonzola go down well, as do the Pesce e Frutti di Mare or calamari fritti, especially when paired with the lemon aioli from our vegetable side.
A bowl of gnocchi fontina follows, served baked with a stringy cheese sauce. Undeniably tasty with its rich sauce, we’re glad we’re sharing our food as the potato dumplings and sticky cheese would be too heavy for one of us to finish on our own. Overall, we’re finding the variety of the plates fun to explore as we share, dipping in and out of each dish. I mentioned earlier my love of big bowls of pasta, but sometimes they can be too much of a good thing. Here, we get a tasting menu of our favourite highlights of Italian food and it’s a bit of an eye opener.
The bruschetta, piled high with garlic, tomato and grana padano is the last to arrive. The breads are prepared in the dining room, so I’ve been able to watch as the bruschetta was cut, grilled and topped, with undeniable care and attention. It’s a shame the bread arrives last, we’re so busy eating the mains that we fail to notice the oil seeping into the bread making it a little greasy to eat. Despite this, it’s still a great tasting bread option and one we would order again, eating it more quickly next time.
Feeling full but keen to finish on a sweet note, we order desserts and coffees. For my husband, panna cotta with summer berries and an amaretti crumb. For me, strawberry & rhubarb gin cannoli, crispy tubes of pastry with a sweet mascarpone filling. Both desserts hit the spot with tangy fruit and creamy fillings. My cannoli is so crunchy I almost have to take a run up to crack them with my spoon, but they’re delicious nonetheless.
At this point a large group of business people arrive. Some have been before and know the drill, others are being introduced for the first time. I’m still fairly new to small plates and am sometimes reluctant to share food, but see the appeal for larger groups where it can be hard to find something for everyone. I was impressed by the gluten free selection and while I found the vegetarian options a little limited (mostly due to certain cheeses), there are plenty of fish options for pescatarians plus a vegan menu too. Even though we ordered seven dishes, there was still a whole side to the menu we didn’t get to explore including meats from the grill and stove, as well as fried calzone pizzas.
The mix of modern and traditional mediterranean dishes appealed to us, as did the relaxed atmosphere. The service was good, the staff welcoming, friendly and happy to help those like me who are unfamiliar with the cicchetti style of eating. Others agree, with the restaurant boasting a Tripadvisor rating of 4.5/5 at the time of writing.
The menu was packed with tasty morsels that we look forward to trying on another visit. Our bill came to £68.35, which included seven small plates, two desserts and four drinks (one alcoholic) which was plenty of food to satisfy two hungry people.