Along bustling Columbia Road there are plenty of cafés – each set at varying levels of twee-ness – whose sole aim is to satisfy the crowds that flock here for the flora on Sundays. Every so often, a place will open that appears to be conjured from a food lover’s dreams.
Campania Gastronomia, opened by Benito Montorio and Emma Lantosca, who hail from southern Italy, is one of the best-looking places in an area already overrun by rustic charm. Legs of ham hang from the ceilings, while a table heaves with all manner of delicious antipasti – marinated aubergine, anchovies, pickled mushrooms and sacks of freshly-baked ciabatta– as well as ownmade tarts and biscuits. A communal table and benches takes up half of the shop, while a smattering of tiny tables are hidden at the back. All very stylish.
Surprisingly, for such a small place, it was impossible to get served. Having missed brunch (glorious plates piled with prosciutto, Neapolitan sausages or pancetta, with two poached eggs and ciabatta ; only served until 12.30pm, which they don’t tell you anywhere), we decided on two large antipasti boards, then waited for our orders to be taken. Despite catching the eye of someone who looked to be the manager, we still waited in excess of 15 minutes, trying in vain to get someone – anyone – to give us the time of day. Service is sloppy – it took one biscuit three quarters of an hour to travel from the food counter behind our neighbours' heads to a plate in front of them.
Of our three cappuccinos, one arrived stone cold; all were poorly made by Italian standards with spotty, dissipating foam. There was nothing to complain about the two excellent antipasti boards, however, with generous servings of top-notch mortadella, prosciutto Tosacano, Neapolitan salami, capocollo and speck and delicious bread to mop up the garlic olive oil – but the promised olives were nowhere to be seen. After a further ten minutes of trying to catch our waitress’s attention, and a further ten after, they were finally brought with an apology.
We are in no doubt that the food is a decent enough draw. The Campanian chef whips up a good repertoire of hearty pastas (bold and meaty) that would be perfect with a glass of southern Italian red, of which there are many to choose from on the wine list. Just be prepared to come with plenty of patience.