A taste of northern Italy in Fitzrovia
Italy has a bevy of regional cuisines but very few of them get any sort of exposure in London. For this reason alone In Parma deserves some credit for largely focussing on produce and dishes from the city of Parma and the surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna. This doesn’t seem that special at first glance as Parma ham and parmesan cheese are both very well known, but there are plenty of other attractions at In Parma.
The exposed brick interior of In Parma (or, to give its full and rather long-winded name, In Parma by Food Roots) can be a little chilly in winter, but the service was always warm, friendly and efficient across my multiple visits. Given my numerous meals at In Parma, this review is structured a little differently. Instead of following each separate meal as they occurred, it roughly follows the structure of the menu instead – cheeses and cured meats, starters, mains and desserts.
Cheeses and cured meats
In Parma’s big hitters were just as good as I had hoped – the thin slices of Parma ham were musky and salty while the mozzarella was soft and milky. You should definitely try the rest of the available charcuterie though. The coppa parma was fatty yet sweet with lightly grassy and earthy hints to it. The culatello di zibello deserves to be as widely venerated as parma ham – woody and dry, yet gently streaked with sweet, milky fat. The mortadella isn’t worth bothering with though. While it was a little more salty and fatty than usual, its mild and inoffensive nature just wasn’t very interesting.
Many of the meats and cheeses come paired together. Woody, nutty, salty slices of speck went wonderfully with the nutty, gently sweet muskiness of fontina cheese. Thick slices of fatty salami had a surprisingly clean aftertaste and contrasted nicely with creamy tallegio that had a slight tang to it. Not every pairing hit it off though – the thin, yet hearty bresaola had tinges of sweetness and tartness that really didn’t compliment the nutty and woody parmesan. Both were delightful in their own right though.
Herby, juicy and slightly bitter olives were fine appetisers, as were the slices of foccacia. The soft and fluffy olive oil-infused strips of bread went down even better when topped with a lightly salty tapenade.
If you’re a bit of a bore then you could play it safe by sticking with the lasagne. It’s surprisingly light and reasonably moreish but you can do far better. One of my favourites was the flat, herby pasta with a soft bite and drenched in a thin but meaty pork ragu. The pumpkin and rosemary-infused ragu was nutty and a touch too sweet, but a drizzling of tart balsamic vinegar counteracted this minor flaw and left me panting for more.
Rich, eggy ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach and dusted with fine shavings of rich and musky parmesan was especially satisfying. Sadly, the kitchen wasn’t always able to maintain this level of consistency – a very similar version had a creamy parmesan and ricotta filling, but was only light flecked with spinach. Its butter and sage sauce wasn’t anywhere as rich and deep as the version often available from Pasta e Basta, but the shavings of parmesan helped compensate for its lack of depth.
In Parma serves polenta with a small but choice selection of toppings. Polenta may be a simple dish, but many other restaurants screw it up surprisingly often. The version here was always creamy yet light, smooth and fine grained. It also clumped together for easy spooning. You could opt to have it topped with the same pork ragu available with many of the pasta mains, but a far more sensual option is speck and taleggio. The woody, salty and nutty slices of speck mesh beautifully with the rich melted cheese and the soft polenta. Even more decadently satisfying was the richly fatty and slightly chewy strips of lardo which contrasted neatly with the soft and grainy polenta. All beautiful.
If that all sounds a bit too much, there’s always thick al dente ribbons of egg pasta served with tart, umami tomatoes. The promised olives, capers and oregano was a little too muted though. Soft and fluffy gnocchi served in a thin yet creamy cheese sauce looked like mac and cheese, but were even more comforting despite the minimal presence of the promised speck. Pisarei are an occasional special that’s well worth catching if you can. These small gnocchi-like bread dumplings were soft and served with tender, buttery borlotti beans in a thin and tangy sauce. It doesn’t look like much, but it was supremely comforting and warming.
In Parma’s one true weak spot is desserts with some rather splendid puddings sitting alongside some rather mediocre ones. A thin, custard-ish zabaglione had a boozy hint that complimented the crunchy, milky and nutty almond biscotti very well. The vanilla ice cream in the affogato may have been generic, but that hardly mattered when its creaminess counterbalanced the rounded bitterness of the espresso poured all over it.
The crunchy dark chocolate nibs in the tiramisu contrasted nicely with the light and fluffy layers of sponge and cream which also had the benefit of actually tasting like coffee. I wasn’t expecting much from the creme brulee, but the crisp, sweet crust and fluffy, eggy rich custard underneath would make a Frenchman proud.
The semifreddo was surprisingly heavy despite its initial lightness and was with dotted sweet, tangy raisins, but the dusting of pine nuts and smearing of chocolate on the plate were both inconsequential. Even less successful was the strawberry tart. A sickly and cloying jam in an unremarkable pastry crust proved to a real chore to chow down – when the dabs of whipped cream are the only thing that break up the monotony, then something has truly gone wrong. At least it wasn’t as sorrowful as the oddly-named chocolate salame. Essentially a take on the Swiss chocolate roll, it somehow managed to have even less charm than that 70s throwback. The combination of crushed butter cookies and cocoa glommed together into chunky clumps of dry, brown-coloured ennui. I’ve had more fun scraping off the baked-on bits of cake from the bottom of a cake tin.
If In Parma only served up its quality selection of charcuterie and cheeses, then it would be merely good. Matched by its generally superb selection of homely mains however and it’s very good indeed, showing up many of London’s other Italian restaurants. It doesn’t reach the same heights as the more charming Osteria Tufo, but you’d hard pressed to do better for less in zone 1.
What to order: Polenta; coppa parma; culatello di zibello; tiramisu
What to skip: Semifreddo; strawberry tart
Name: In Parma
Address: 10 Charlotte Place, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1SH
Phone: 020 8127 4277
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 11.00-15.00 and 18.00-23.30; Saturday 13.00-23.30; Sunday 17.00-22.30.
Reservations: highly recommended in the evenings
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £25-30 approx.