A really good deli should focus on certain food types and have staff that know the products inside and out. One of the problems that a consumer faces is that when confronted by shelves filled with jars, bottles, and things that are vaguely recognisable, is to try to make a decision. That is why you need expert help, someone who has tasted most of the items and who has a passion for food. I recall a visit to a fish shop where I asked the assistant what a particular fish tasted like and the answer was that she never ate fish!
There is an Italian deli in Abbeygate Street called O &F — Olio & Farina — and that ticks all the boxes. I called in recently and asked for a guided tour of all the jars, pastas, meats, cheeses, etc. The reason that I mention my request for a ‘tour of the shop’ is that in many ways it is the only way you will really understand what is available. How many times have you wondered at the assortment of goods on offer and left empty handed? This is particularly true when many of the products may be unfamiliar, or you may feel that one jar of basil pesto is the same as another, so why bother? A visit to the food hall in Harrods in London is a good example of what I am referring to, you walk around, stare in amazement, and because the assistants are busy serving clients who know exactly what they want, there is no one to ‘sell’ to you or to convince you that you really have to sample the xyz product.
The proprietors of O&F are Liam and Maria Payne and they are on hand every day in the shop to tell you about the products, and that is the big difference between chain stores and owner run shops. I sampled the wild boar ragout with some of the Trofie pasta and I can honestly say it is the first time a product from a jar tasted exactly like a home made sauce. The depth of flavour, the absence of any artificial flavourings, meant that it was gorgeous. The Trofie pasta is in my opinion the best dried pasta that I have eaten. It takes about 18 minutes to cook and needs a lot of boiling water in the saucepan as it is very absorbent.
They also stock excellent cookware and little items that you cannot find easily, like the Olivewood lemon and orange juicer for about €12, or the excellent Ballarini pasta saucepan which I bought. It is shaped like a mini wok, made from several layers of aluminium, and coated with a non stick surface. It costs about €40 and I have been using it for the last couple of weeks and reckon it is the perfect pasta cooker. When the pasta is cooked, drain separately, wipe the saucepan clean, add the ragout to the pan, and heat. Add the cooked pasta back to the pan, toss around, and serve with grated parmesan and rocket leaves — lovely.
Some of the products I recommend are the mortadella, the sorrento lemon scented olive oil, the pesto, asparagus tapenade, the Varaschin prosecco, and the honey mixed with old balsamic vinegar. They also have evening cookery demonstrations where for about €30 you can sample four or five difference courses with four or five different wines, so why not call in and ask to be added to their mailing list — I know I certainly will. The fascination with Italian foodstuffs continues and a visit here is a must.