Growing up in the 1980s, I’d sometimes hear my mum and dad say stuff like: you can tell a Chinese restaurant is good when you see Chinese people in there.
Now this throws up several questions. Like did Chinese people ever see Jane and Steve, my parents, enjoying a gammon and pineapple in Harvester and rush in to ask for a table?
There’s really no way of knowing, but nevertheless this dubious cliche came to mind one late afternoon in Melisi, a small, neighbourhood Italian that we’d never have thought to visit had it not been recommended by our upstairs neighbours Tas and Emily.
Sitting there, on a stool at the countertop, was a man, late fifties let’s say, enjoying the company of a tall, fat glass of red wine. I’ve no proof he was Italian but from one dubious cliche to another: he had a leathery tan and was wearing beige shorts and a pair of loafers without socks.
I wouldn’t have thought anything of it had the food not been so good. The pizza dough, which the waiter explained had been fermented for several days before being finished in their wood fire oven, was every adjective you’d want it to be, and the fresh pasta… the fresh pasta was thick and chewy and bathing seductively in lavish, colourful sauces you want to mop up with your finger to accompany the bits of pasta stuck in your teeth. I wasn’t planning on writing about this place, but here I was, eating probably the best fresh pasta I’ve ever eaten. In Ruislip.
The staff were also Italian. The waiter told us a thing: he said they all had a dish on the menu inspired by their home towns. He told us he was from Calabria, which is right down there in the toe, and that’s where they came up with nduja, and so nduja has a starring role on one of the white base pizzas. I got my phone out to make a note.
One more thing. During our meal I became aware of another, more up-to-date tell that a restaurant is worth stopping by at: how many delivery drivers are standing at the pass with hot boxes. We saw at least eight before asking for our bill, and that’s not counting the man wearing loafers without socks, who poured the last inch of his wine down his throat and left with a pile of boxed pizzas of his own just as we were heading off. 8/10