Stepping inside Le Cucine Mandarosso is a blast from the past. Wasn’t this once La Sopeta Una? It was a rite of passage, its escargots a la Bourguignonne vividly memorable. Butter, parsley and a toothpick. Pietro Leonetti suspects it was, but his memories don’t go back that far: he moved to Barcelona as a student on the Erasmus programme in 2004. He was never a customer at the old restaurant, and never delved into those enormous shells.
With his degree in Art History, Leonetti wanted to stay in Barcelona, and it occurred to him that perhaps the best way to connect with people was via food. He’d already experienced the effect when cooking at friends’ houses: exchanging recipes was a way to get closer.
The name of the restaurant, Le Cucine (the other half is made-up and difficult to explain), refers to ‘the kitchens’, all those sites of co-operation and sharing: ‘It sums everything up. Friends’ kitchens.’ Leonetti broadened his quest for knowledge among his family, who are from Avellino in the Campania region of Italy. He asked all his relatives for one recipe that would become part of the restaurant’s memory bank, and, on opening day, to bring him recipe books that would hold up the walls of the dining room – at least ideologically. Le Cucine is a charming space that reveals another of Leonetti’s talents – interior design, although where he really lets those talents shine is in the desserts, in memory of his grandfather Crescenzo, who ran a bakery. His 'gelato di crema' has the fleeting, overwhelming flavour of childhood. He serves it at the restaurant – out of the goodness of his heart – and it will take pride of place at the pastry shop he plans to open on the corner.
The 'burrata de la Pulla', supplied by Mozzakimozza, is milk you can sink your teeth into. The olive oil, Greek, is from his father’s wife’s farm. Ah, 'la famiglia'. Ketty, his partner, looks after the dining room. Some of the ingredients essential to his philosophy, such as the pasta and the tomatoes, are also imported, sourced from the Italian companies of Benedetto Cavalieri and Casa Barone, respectively.
The lasagne recipe is from his mother, Diana, and looks towards Naples: intense, red, memorable. Make a point of ordering it. The 'casarecce' pasta with walnut sauce, less exciting, is his uncle’s. Both are on the set lunch menu, which costs €11. The cannelloni stuffed with 'baccalà mantecato' (creamed salt cod) is his own and belongs to the evening menu. On both menus you’ll find emphatic, clear, powerful flavours.
We move on to dessert and find the same exceptional approach: everyone who works there has to contribute. Jonay, the waiter, makes their cheesecake: ‘He’s very precise, it always turns out the same.’ Andrea, Leonetti’s brother, makes the carrot cake. The chocolate 'caprese', the 'cassata' and the lemon 'pasticciotto' should all be rounded up and arrested by the Vice Squad.
Collective history, shared dishes, communal recipes: this is cooking, not as the preserve of individual genius, but as an expansion of the genius that belongs to everyone.