Baby Gem Salad with Anchovies and Pancetta at Fino

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“How good can a salad be?”

It seemed a bit rich coming from Rachael who’d expressed horror at Tom’s asking ‘How good can a doughnut be?’ of St John Bakery’s top 100 option. But sure enough, that’s what she asked when hoping for an explanation of the dish she admitted having low hopes about. Perhaps it was low expectations, but she ate her words with her lettuce!

Crunchy. That’s the main selling point of good baby gem lettuce. It offers a crisp taste in an onomatopoeic physical form.

“Eating this felt a bit like following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things

Salty, with depth. Anchovies offer that umami richness alongside a salty bitterness that contrasts well with the crisp lettuce.

Salty, with bite. Pancetta (in crispy-bacon form) completed the dish with a velvety, indulgent, fatty bite that didn’t punch too strongly and obliterate the other flavours, but melted into them.

Okay, so eating this felt a bit like following Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Three Good Things (high, commercial) concept, in which you put together three main ingredients which complement one another and forget about the other twenty ingredients Ottolenghi (for example) wants you to pile on. And, to be fair, he’s probably onto something: this dish is simple, yet surprising. I found myself actively trying to get a little of each flavour onto every forkful, and they did match well.

If anything – and this obviously isn’t a criticism – the only thing that meant I didn’t come away shouting about this salad was that the other dishes (Fino is new to me) were equally delicious and faultlessly executed. Chorizo Tortilla oozed softly-done yolks. And I couldn’t believe the Presa Iberica wasn’t beef steak – a revelation.

I have a bit of a fear that, somewhere down the line when I’m trying to squeeze in and shuffle round later dishes, I’ll want to drop this down the rankings because I’ll have lost its immediacy and think ‘How good can a salad be?’ This here is a note to remind myself that I shouldn’t: it was delicious.

26/100 best dishes in London

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