Perhaps the biggest achievement of the London 2012 Olympics is that the Olympic Park is still alive and kicking. Falling into dilapidation and largely reclaimed by nature, Beijing’s Olympic Village makes for a stark comparison.
However, London’s Stratford remains a go-to destination for sporty people and for unsporty people such as me, there is also a broad range of shops and, more importantly, restaurants. Located in the park, Here East is a canalside development with a modern, European feel to it. It’s here that you will find Gotto Trattoria.
A uniquely Italian distinction, a trattoria is a cut above a cafe but more relaxed than a formal restaurant. There is less focus on lunch and dinner services and the sense that one should dine whenever one pleases was typified by their casual attitude towards timekeeping (specifically mine).
Inside, an open kitchen is surrounded by a raised bar, grey and terracotta tiles blending comfortably with the unpretentious, wood-heavy interior. Via a playful font on a paper menu, we discovered just what Gotto had to offer.
The menu features tempting options such as focaccia Pugliese, burrata, finocchiona salame and tagliatelle with beef ragu. The starters are all £6 ($8) while the mains are all around £12 ($15).
To start, we opted for lamb meatballs and deep fried squid. Lightly battered, the squid itself is allowed to do the talking. Meanwhile, the meatballs offer a slight variation on the usual. Beautifully browned then tenderised in the tomato sauce in which they are served, they were succulent and flavoursome.
For the mains, we chose pasta dishes of maccheroncini and paccheri all’Amatriciana, with a half portion of gnocchi alla Sorrentina acting as a side dish. Maccheroncini may sound like a portmanteau of macaroni and arancini (perhaps the Italian for “mac and cheese balls”) but they’re actually large pasta cylinders in a white sauce. With flavours of artichoke and white truffle oil, it’s a deceptively tasty dish. The nutty flavours of the truffle oil contrast wonderfully with the creaminess of the sauce.
Paccheri all’Amatriciana, from the town of Amatrice, takes the form of flattened tubes in a rich onion, tomato and pancetta sauce. However, neither of these dishes surpasses the gnocchi. Somewhere between conchiglie, pierogi and a steamed dumpling, gnocchi can be hard to place for pasta puritans. But here, served partially hidden under a blanket of melted mozzarella, it is truly a winner. The gnocchi itself is pillowy rather than chewy and the fresh basil sets off the flavours of garlic and tomato in the sauce.
Tempting though it was to twirl into a tagliatelle, we decided to show at least some degree of restraint. Finishing with a tiramisu-administered coffee hit, the blend of Italian and local came up in conversation.
The restaurant uses British meat and fish and some seasonal Italian ingredients. With hand-rolled pasta and homemade vermouth, the majority of the magic happens in the restaurant itself. However, they are also keen to bring some east London spirit in from the cold - such as the craft lager courtesy of Dalston’s 40ft Brewery and the spray-painted mural on one wall.
Gotto Trattoria is dubbed “a little slice of the Italian Riviera on Canalside”. Maybe it was because it had implanted the word “grotto” into my head but on this cold yet sunny day, it almost had the feel of an alpine bistro. Either way, the food, the service and the strong sense of authenticity make it an excellent choice (sir).