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8 Formosa Street
Since launching in 1994, this cosy, informal neighbourhood eatery has become something of a local institution in Little Venice with its offer of high-quality hand-crafted pizzas cooked in a special wood-fired oven imported from Italy. Regulars advise sitting upstairs for the best buzz, although the place is always humming with happy customers enjoying the spoils from a 12-strong line-up that might run from margherita, napoli and calzone classics to a well-liked version with sausage, spinach and chilli on a light, crispy base. The menu also promises a fistful of pastas such as linguine with clams, alongside mains ranging from grilled lamb cutlets with sautéed potatoes to Skrei cod casserole with oregano and tomato sauce. Tiramisu hits the spot for dessert, and the food is matched by some gluggable Italian wines at relatively painless prices. Takeaways available.
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8 Formosa Street
Warwick Avenue Tube Station 215m
Maida Vale Tube Station 515m
Canal Cafe Theatre 400m
Trinity Arts Centre 788m
Mon-Thurs 6-10.30pm Fri-Sun 12N-11pm (Sun – 10pm)
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 4
L P Hartley’s famous line seems an appropriate way in which to describe The Red Pepper. Time does funny things to one’s memory and, of course, we all grow up, but put simply, a recent visit to this restaurant showed demonstrably that in the past, “they do [did] things differently.” A 24-year history undoubtedly puts The Red Pepper into the category of successful neighbourhood locals, but over the 20 years I have been visiting the venue (albeit with less regularity in recent times), it is definitely fair to say that quality has ebbed and flowed. We left feeling underwhelmed and distinctly disappointed by the utterly indifferent/ bordering on rude attitude of our server. Since our previous visit, the venue has had a lick of paint and some of the tables have been removed. However, what The Red Pepper gains in terms of more space, it has probably lost in terms of atmosphere. There was a lack of buzz and surprisingly a number of empty tables on the Saturday when we visited. Historically, one would always struggle to find a seat, particularly at weekends. Onto the food and diners get to choose from around a dozen pizzas and a handful of meat/fish options. I chose a Stagioni pizza (four seasons) and my comrade the Parmagiana (with aubergine and herbs). Both did the job, but little more than that. Mine had a reasonably generous selection of toppings but my comrade noted that hers was somewhat greasy. Our enjoyment was not enhanced by the fact that the pizzas were almost plonked in front of us with the barest of eye contact from our server. Furthermore, our original choice of wine was unavailable and the alternative suggested was in no way similar. The meal was at least somewhat redeemed by the tiramisu dessert. In my experience and opinion, the Red Pepper serves one of the best renderings of this dish in London, beautifully presented in a brandy-snap basket, full of cream, luxury and indulgence. It was though delivered to us with similarly graceless cheer. There was no need to linger at the meal’s end, quite a strong temptation to deduct the ‘optional’ service from the bill (laziness prevented me from so doing) and a distinct feeling that we would not be returning any specific time soon.
A Little Venice institution, the Red Pepper has been delivering consistently good food in the fifteen years I have been visiting the restaurant. While there have been several changes in both management (the current team, led by the charismatic Lara, is a definite success) and décor, the basic formula has remained unaltered. Put simply, the Red Pepper is all about delivering high-quality pizzas in an intimate setting. Booking in advance would be advised and for claustrophobic diners, this is not a place to go, since the tables (always full) are closely packed together. This undoubtedly helps create a superb atmosphere and the waiters do a superb job in deftly navigating around the tables. Do sit upstairs though, since downstairs lacks the buzz of upstairs. Onto the food, while there are a handful of pasta and meat/fish-based mains, the principal event here is pizza. Don’t think stodgy English-style pizza bases, but light and hand-crafted Italian ones instead. There is a range of around a dozen pizzas to choose from, fairly priced between £8 and £13. I opted for one with Italian sausage, spinach and chilli, while my comrade selected one with wild mushrooms. Both met with large thumbs up, even if the sausage on mine was slightly too salty, which became somewhat wearing towards the end. Our dishes were accompanied by a superb bottle of Morellino di Scansano wine from Tuscany, a regular staple on the Red Pepper’s high quality list, and again fairly priced, at £32. It is also undoubtedly a good idea to save room for dessert. Arguably the restaurant’s piece-de-resistance is their tiramisu – among the very best I have ever sampled – served inventively in a brandy-snap basket, light yet creamy to taste and amply imbued with alcohol. The pizzas and tiramisu too are available in take-away format, providing an additional reason to enjoy the Red Pepper’s fare. Were it not for the waistline, we would be eating from here even more regularly than is already the case.
It must have been nearly 10 years since I last tried booking unsuccessfully for dinner at Red Pepper; and why it was that I have left it for so long I could not then or now recall or justify, but just that it is what it is. And so when my neighbourly pal suggested that we meet after work for an “early”, be it for drinks or a bite, I was readily led on the suggestion that it was early enough to try dropping by into Red Pepper, which he hinted was still as exquisite as I might remember.
Indeed whether by serendipity or other, there was a table for two available at least until 8pm and so we settled into a comfortable corner in what is a small dining room with typical Italianate bistro environs. The service is congenial and friendly, and which I felt was not only because my friend was well known to them.
We ordered from the a la carte menu, sharing a starter of roasted mozzarella and basil salad and each had the home made open ravioli of tomato, zucchini, prawns and mushrooms for our mains. The salad was fresh and enlightening whilst the ravioli was a perfect blend of flavours, warming one's heart on this winter's day. We finished with their tiramisu which is typical and sweet but mellow.
I don't think I will leave it for so long or need any prompting before revisiting this hidden gem of Maida Vale again.
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