Restaurant review - Paglia e Fieno, East Grinstead
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 May 2020
Laura Paton experiences a memorable meat dish at Paglia e Fieno in East Grinstead
It’s sometimes assumed that meat doesn’t play a huge role in the Italian diet, but if the menu at Paglia e Fieno (Straw and Hay) is anything to go by, this is a nation of devoted carnivores. Devoted, that is, to choosing “best-quality… treating it with respect and handling it in the correct way,” as the restaurant’s website explains.
That respect is clear for all to see: at the back of the restaurant, under a hanging sign marked “Macelleria” (butcher’s shop), there’s a large glass cabinet displaying a variety of impressive-looking cuts of meat, all dry-ageing for maximum tenderness and flavour.
Tonight, the “butcher’s choice” menu lists five specials, including T-bone steak (£28), chateaubriand (£46) and veal chop (£24). And, if steaks, chops and shanks don’t do it for you, there are pizzas, pasta and fish dishes to choose from. Visit mid-week and you can make the most of the set menu seafood nights – lobster on Tuesdays, crab on Thursdays (both £20) – and a bottomless Prosecco offer (Wednesdays).
We start with olives (£4), calamari (£8) and a buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad (£8). Described as Sicilian and naturally vibrant with a nutty, buttery taste, I’m disappointed to find the olives are pitted and similar to the lack-lustre varieties found on supermarket shelves.
The buffalo mozzarella salad isn’t quite as advertised either: instead of marinated cherry tomatoes, there are fridge-cold slices of beef tomato; rocket leaves instead of basil; and a single drop of extra virgin olive oil, if that. However, the plump, cricket ball-sized mozzarella is lovely – stretchy and soft, the cheese is creamy at the centre and has a deliciously musky flavour.
Nestled in greaseproof paper, the calamari rings are served with garlic mayonnaise and a lemon wedge. They’re encased in a pale, crisp batter and the meat is soft and moist inside – perfectly nice, but they lack seasoning.
Along with an unforgettably large, gloriously glazed Chilean steak I ate 11 years ago in Santiago, tonight’s fillet of beef (£22) makes it into my steak hall of fame. Aged for six weeks, it’s pink, juicy and rich, and comes with wilted spinach, mash and a proper peppercorn sauce. There’s a lot of sauce, flowing right to the edges of the huge white plate, but when it’s made like this – with red wine, not cream and brandy – it’s all gravy.
There’s a choice of chicken, beef, sea bass or calf’s liver to accompany the Paglia e Fieno salad (£13/£13.50). My companion chooses the fillet of sea bass, which arrives separately and unadorned, allowing its delicate flesh to be truly appreciated. The salad is a little unusual. Slices of grilled aubergine, red pepper and courgette rub shoulders with mixed leaves and cherry tomatoes, and everything’s topped off with a ball of mozzarella. It’s a strange combination, especially when eaten with the fish. And there are those olives again…
When it comes to meat, the folk at Paglia e Fieno talk a good talk. And if love makes food taste better then it’s abundantly clear where their true passion lies.
Paglia e Fieno, 102 London Road, East Grinstead, West Sussex RH19 1EP
01342 328713; www.pagliaefieno.co.uk
Currently closed in accordance with government advice – check opening times before visiting