Back in London, I was frequenting the Trattoria Toscana which was owned and run by Walter Palermo. He was a top Italian chef and had first entered the restaurant as a chef. It was then owned and run by an ageing couple with the wife doing the cooking and the husband serving in the restaurant. Walter took over the cooking. His cooking attracted a considerable following.
Soon, the couple were finding it hard going and they offered Walter the chance to take over the Trat. He made a considerable success of it and eventually opened another trattoria just round the corner, the Trattoria Siciliana. The Toscana was near the junction of Bateman Street and Frith Street, while the Siciliana was on the corner of Bateman Street and Dean Street.
Many a lunchtime meal was had there, usually with film editor Roy Jordan, who had, at one time, been my office boy at Movietonews. In the “Trats”, we were able to sample the finest food that Soho had to offer. One of Roy’s favourites was Ossobuco, which I did not eat, not being keen on Veal. The other favourite was Cordon Bleu, rather like Chicken Kiev. Of course, we had the finest Italian wines. One was called Nugato and I have never found it anywhere else. Normally, we drank Valpolicella by Bolla Brothers and they also provided a first class Soave, one of my favourite white wines. On occasion, we would drink Corvo from Walter Palermo’s native Sicily.
Here, too, I was introduced to Zabaglione, which is an Italian dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, a sweet wine (usually Marsala), and sometimes whole eggs. It is a very light custard, which has been whipped to retain a large amount of air.
Sometimes, we were treated to an Amaretto which would arrive at the table with two coffee beans floating on the top. At the table, the waiter would set light to the spirit. I never knew what the coffee beans did for the drink, but, if you left the spirit burning too long, you could burn your lips on the edge of the glass.
Walter would come up with new recipes from time to time and get us to sample them. One day, he brought a mixture to the table. It looked something like a prawn cocktail, but when taking the first spoonful, there was a crunch of something. It was delightful. He had given us a bowl of prawns in mayonnaise with chopped walnuts mixed in.
Here’s a recipe:
Take ten walnuts, shell them and then chop them as small as you can.
Place 300 grams of prawns in a bowl and thoroughly mix in the walnuts. Spoon on the mayonnaise until it is moist enough to be attractive and succulent.