This invitation from Panino Giusti, was sold to me entirely on the irresistible slab of mortadella porn on on the press release. I mean, just look at that guy (pic below) trying to wrestle the beast! I’m convinced, looking back at my shocking recent mortadella consumption, that I must be making up for many years worth of avoiding food high in calories and therefore high in fat (though not specifically so, the two do tend to slip and slide together hand in hand), things like avocado, butter and yes mortadella were certainly on a list, never to come within inhaling distance of my face. You may have noticed I have no such qualms these days, to my weight and my heart’s detriment, having come to my senses to realise that high fat generally equals high deliciousness. With many years of sweet ignorance to catch up on, bring on the crispy bacon, gloriously thick layers of salty butter, elegant slivers of ivory lardo, crumpets glistening and dripping, asparagus slicked with glossy sauce, real gravy, deep fried, well, a lot…
Just having a moment there. Sorry about that.
We approach the Royal Exchange on a sticky, humid evening straight from work, made worse by a particularly sweaty commute including far too long spent underground following engineering shenanigans, and we loop da loop the building with no luck. It turns out Panino Giusto is not in the main Royal Exchange but in subtly different Royal Exchange Buildings situated directly behind. The latest in a chain of cafes mainly based in Milan, this is the first in London, has only been open a handful of months and is quiet on this early midweek evening. The style is typically Milanese, I know this only because I visited the city a few months ago, old school Italian in feel, an espresso machine sitting dormant at the back, marble and wood as far as the eye can see, serving staff in waistcoats and a very impressive counter rammed with various hams and meats.
When we visit the atmosphere is a bit staid, there’s a couple of girls catching up over a glass of wine and a snack, but other than that it’s pretty subdued. I expect the restaurant really comes into it’s own at lunch time when the nearby office workers are after a quick fix – and it can certainly provide this. Our starter platters are brought over with alarming swiftness, if I hadn’t witnesed the slicing myself, on machines rather than by hand, I’d have assumed the meat had come straight from a packet.
Everything we consume is tasty, of that there’s no denying, as a menu full of meat and cheese tends to be. But let there be no mistake, that despite a number of main dishes, this is a sandwich, specifically a panini, bar. Most of the menu is either charcuterie or cheese or arrives delivered between two pieces of bread as a fairly modest sized panini roll. I have absolutely no problem with this, in fact I’m a great lover of the humble sandwich, just don’t come expecting anything grander.
I have my eye on two of the panini’s on the menu, so I do as I usually do in this situation and order both, instructing the boy to share, this appears to be a popular request as our paninis are helpfully split and dished out for us. Our waitress has convinced us to try the the roast beef, so we do as we’re told. The beef panini is described as ‘Fassona beef from Piedmont, roasted with rosemary and sage, seasonal tomato, rocket, lemon and extra virgin olive oil’. Wafer thin beef is nicely blush all the way through with a lovely flavour (I try it alone) that is sadly neutralised by a thick layer of bland tomato slices. The bread is fairly dull, but I can’t complain really as it’s understandable in this instance as the correct equipment for the job.
But, oh boy, it’s worth visiting for the next panini alone and I wish I hadn’t shared. The Emiliano contains thick slices, far, far thicker than I’d like to be honest, of mortadella studded with pistachios folded onto bread and then smeared with a thick layer of Bronte pistachio cream, a healthy drizzle of rich Modena balsamic vinegar and then finished with shards of parmesan. THAT pistachio cream, like a sweet and rich pesto, is heavenly and it’s such a divine combination that I’ll certainly be attempting to recreate it back at home.
The fried potato slices are a weird and wonderful anomaly – they’re curly! At first we think they’re reformed, the curl seems so unnatural, but it appears not. Somehow, we’re told, they curl up in on themselves in the fryer… Not sure if that’s quite right, if someone can shed any light, I’d be quite interested! A side order of aubergine is sad; spongy, dry rounds are served cold and drizzled in olive oil and get mainly ignored.
Desserts are ok. A pooffy tiramisu is not much to right home about, and my exciting sounding violet ice cream dipped in chocolate turns out to be an ice cream on a stick, but massacred in what seems to be a bizarre attempt to distract from it’s mundaneness. I actually adore the flavour, like a violet fondant, but can’t get over the odd presentation or the strangely sliced single strawberry and kiwi.
Quibbles aside, its still a great spot for lunch or an early evening bite to eat and a glass of wine.
DO NOT miss that Emiliano panini – worth a visit for alone!