There are those types of places which you don’t know whether you should share with others or not purely for selfish reasons. Capitan Corelli on Battersea Park Road is one of them. Very rarely do I venture saaaaaf of the river Thames but for real Southern Italian fare I find myself stepping into highly nostalgic territory.
The smell of real Ragu which is at the heart of most Southern Italian homes, is the first thing to greet you as you open the door and usually accompanied by greetings in thick Sicilian accents. As the coffee machine whirrs, a man with a towel slung over his shoulder and slicked back hair angrily prepares espresso cups. If this was Italy, he’d have a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He rants a little from time to time and to the untrained ear it may sound as if he’s cursing but this in fact is humorous banter ‘Italian’ style.
Capitan Corellis is a typical Southern Italian ‘Tavola Calda’ which for 4 decades has attracted both Italian diaspora longing for a familiar fix and the local people of Battersea who recognise a good thing. Young and old pile in for pasta, meat dishes, Gelato and contorni made by hands which bless the food with an authentic ‘fatta in casa’ taste. Enzo, the man you’ll see slogging away in the kitchen, emerges with steaming plates of pasta and smiles.
There isn’t a fixed menu here, this is a no frills kind of place. Instead you can choose from an array of enticing dishes behind the counter which never fail to disappoint: Polpette (meat balls in Ragu), braciole (stuffed beef), Scarola (cooked greens) Roasted potatoes, Cottoletta (Bread crumbed chicken); They’re all dishes which satisfy both the stomach and soul. Huge portions find their way in front of me and just as silently told myself off for finishing the food mountain, cups of fluffy Tiramisu catch my eye.
Coffee and Ragu waft by intermittently, broken by Italian Salumi and Cheese, the mixture of thoroughly Italian smells impossible to recreate in England – and yet here it is in South London’s leafy suburbs. Pictures of bygone eras hang on the tiled walls, mementos of the decades of happy family times with Capitan Corelli at their heart. Then I notice a suited man in his 50s contentedly staring out of the window. He is the same man pictured in many of the photos. His deep contemplation stops only when he takes a sip of the velvety espresso before him. Perhaps his mind is far away in Sicily, perhaps this is his living room. As regulars enter and exit most pay him their respects.
This could be anywhere in Southern Italy; I sit and soak up the feeling with a fully belly. The lunch time rush is over and a calm falls over Capitan Corellis. The only thing that reminds us we’re not in provincial Sicily are the big red busses which roar past occasionally.
Where Italian West End eateries have lost their charm and authenticity by attempting to keep up with the times, Capitan Corelli has kept its values and remains timeless.
The bill arrives; it’s a small price to pay for such a big experience.Capitan Corelli 132 Battersea Park Road
London SW11 4LY 020 7622 9586
Nearest Station: Battersea Park Overground