In spite of its bracingly central location, Fitzrovia has always been one for the heads. Soho too brassy for your evening out? Then trample past the soulless 1960s office blocks and seek solace in one of Fitzrovia’s perfect boozers. Be like Dylan Thomas – or even occultist Aleister Crowley, depending on your predilection for ceremonial satanic magic – and snuggle up in The Fitzroy Tavern; settle in for a proper session by the jukebox at Bradley’s; or be like George Orwell and wrap yourself up in the Newman Arms while considering the plight of the workers.
Restaurants too, are built into the very bones of this central London location, though there’s a fickleness to Fitzrovia’s food scene, which seems more susceptible than most to constant comings and goings. Even big names such as Bao seem to struggle here, with their Fitzrovia branch closing at the end of 2022.
The focaccia was as thick and buoyant as a 15 tog duvet
However, the sturdy Norma has made itself something of a culinary destination since opening in 2019. Arriving a couple of months after the nearby Circolo Popolare, both offer big ticket Italian dishes, matched by equally ostentatious interiors. Norma, mercifully, is more restrained than its neighbour (though both seem immune to the charms of a bumper burrata). Situated in a skinny Charlotte Street townhouse, it’s Marrakesh by way of Palermo, with blue tiles and plush velvet booths reflecting the Moorish-slash-Sicillian menu.
The first dish to arrive was, without question, the finest we ate all night. Spaghettini fritters with parmesan sauce were crunchy angels, consisting of soft twists of deep-fried spaghetti, topped with a halo of grated cheese. We have long searched London to find a worthy rival to the astounding Isle of Mull cheese puffs at Elliot’s in Borough Market, and these might just be they.
A perky crab linguine, served in the shell, trilled with zingy lemon butter, while the focaccia was as thick and buoyant as a 15 tog duvet, and a side of fried potatoes a carby, crispy delight. But alas, nothing else quite matched the heady heights of the fritters.
A £45 octopus and nduja stew with chickpeas, parsley, tomato and garlic was plagued by an overly chewy mollusk – could this finally be my octopus teacher’s revenge for being hoisted from the ocean and plonked on a plate? The chickpeas were a touch mealy too, and Norma’s unnerving commitment to al dente was present in the house Pasta alla Norma, where pillowy puffs of aubergine were overshadowed by resolutely chewy pasta.
That’s not to say that Norma doesn’t deserve its place amongst the hallowed residents of Fitzrovia, but that some fine-tuning might just be in order.
The vibe Understated glamour and Italianate dishes in a central London townhouse.
The food Scillian dishes that embrace the Moorish influence on the picturesque Italian island.
The drink Wine and spritzes keep the crowds happy, as well as four different kinds of Negroni and a Sicilian beer menu.
Time Out tip The spaghettini fritters with parmesan sauce might change your life.