THE BLOG

This Week I Ate... Jamon on a Sherry Ferry and Signor Sassi

02/05/2014 17:58 BST | Updated 02/07/2014 10:59 BST

I'll start with an apology. I'm sorry Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack on Exmouth Market. My path to your door was filled with good intentions, then something happened and it left me pulling a no-show.

That something was a Sherry Ferry. You know those kinds of ferry? They motor up and down London canals and they fill you with sherry. You consume four hours worth of sherry - and I'm a steady sipper, glugging it down rapidly and continuously like it was wine - and a cycle ride from Paddington to Exmouth Market becomes a step on the path to Bonnie Gull that you simply cannot take.

So with public safety in mind I didn't make the journey. So don't blame and sack the luscious PR, it's all my fault. I promise I will make another attempt at the journey. I will brush aside every damn ferry of sherry that crosses my path, playing out the naughty call of the sherry siren. But I will not deviate. I will be there.

Just not this week. As I write, my pores exhale with the scent of Tio Pepe; the Fino En Rama to be precise. This is a sherry that few get to taste, mainly because - unfiltered and unclarified - it is drawn from the middle of the cask and has to be drunk within three months of bottling.

It's a touch creamier than the normal Fino, so that's like not really very creamy at all. But it's more intense. As with Fino you drink it ice cold and it's a bit like the amp in Spinal Tap. It's like turning the volume up to 11.

We sipped it as our Sherry Ferry chugged slowly along the Grand Union Canal, under bridges, through long tunnels, past London Zoo, passing extravagant houses whose immaculate gardens cascade down to the water. Then to Camden Lock, a dirty looking place, where we turned and chugged back, sipping Fino and wolfing down freshly cut jamon all the way. Until back in Paddington at which point I didn't cycle to the Gull thingy place.

I did however eat the following day at Signor Sassi. For every now and again one must remind oneself what a proper Italian restaurant is like. This one - in Knightsbridge - has been going for decades and is all bright lights, mirrors and gold staircases, doubtless to keep the local clientele happy. I sat with my back to the mirror - I really can't cope with seeing myself eating in a restaurant - and can only imagine what it must be like for other people.

On the walls ahead of me were hung a hundred photos - those ubiquitous badges of approval as acquiesced by the celebs who have deigned to dine there too.

And the staff: slick post-middle age men in sharp suits with a dapper line in oleaginous presenting (bang on, just the ticket in such a place) and others in long white aprons.

And the place is so much the better for it. It confers reassurance. The menu is classic Italian. The food is not extraordinary, but it is just as it should be. It reminds me of the times when years ago, my father might take me to lunch at an Italian restaurant. Solid, reliable pasta dishes; lobster spaghetti (never allowed to slip off the menu since the place opened in 1984) or fettucine with ragu and meat courses such as lemony veal.

These dishes are good but what is better are the things you don't order. Once seated at the table along comes a whole plate of parmesan bits and then a bowl of chopped tomatoes with sublime light and tasty olive oil surrounded by toasted chunks of bread.

Before pudding came a plate of sweet fried pastry dusted in icing sugar - chiacchiere, I think it's called. Not having the requisite seven hours to demolish a good six courses and more, that was enough, save a lovely glass of vin santo (note to the restaurant, surely you can make your own cantuccino - these ones came wrapped). There is a generosity of spirit that these bites engender. It matches the service and it make you feel really welcome; as if you had walked into a friend's house and keen and hungry you could start stuffing your face.

To sustain a restaurant like this must take considerable patience. It must be so tempting for each young turk who gets his hands near the stove to start tweaking dishes. And it takes great restraint to let it be and keep those old favourites on the menu which is what drives people back time and again.

Signo Sassi is like the sprightly gent leaning on his walking stick by the square of that old Italian hill top town you come across on your travels. His eager eye misses nothing, he knows this place, has seen everything and can whip any young whippersnapper who think he can beat him at bowls.