At the end of another sun soaked day in Gozo, you flop down for lunch, put down your broken-spined, Soltan-stained paperback, take off your sunglasses and are served the perfect plate of pasta. The kind that you never seem to get at home. The kind that makes you feel like moving to Sicily to learn the culinary art from any nonna willing to teach you. Linguine, served inside a crab shell, cooked with flair, extraordinary richness with flavours as deep as the Mediterranean itself. It is the platonic ideal of crab pasta. This is what it feels like to be cooked by chef Giovann Attard - even if you are not in Malta but rather an overcast weeknight on London’s Charlotte Street.
Norma is an incredibly special space. Lighting is low, the welcome is warm, decor is ornate. As you enter, past the sight of chunks of delicious bread being carefully divvied up, the restaurant space continues up and up, table after table having a terrific time - right up to the private space for 14 at the top of the building. Try and secure the table in the nook on the right hand side of the ground floor - it manages to be both connected to the restaurant and clandestine at the same time. Start with a blood Orange Negroni or a refreshing lime and mint Marselito (with marsala dolce) which are both deliciously drinkable.
Our evening begins with outrageously rich spaghettini fritters, resembling tiny yetis or thin pucks of pug dog, “Someone on Tripadvisor said they were better than sex” advises general manager Krzysztof Kozaczuk . “But we don’t know what kind of relationship he was in.” Wild garlic and pea arancini arrive in a big dome of deliciousness, like a hefty paperweight made out of ectoplasm, topped with pea shoots. It is fabulous. Violet artichokes fritti benefit from a vivid swirl of saffron aioli and are anointed with gremolata, individual fronds just so. The bottle of zingy organic Jummare Vermentino helps things along.
As well as the crab that proved so transportive, the other pasta dish is equally extraordinary: pea and mint ravioli with “Bronte” pistachio (sadly not crying out “Cathy come home”). Three glistening lamb rump slices placed on top of a higgledy piggledy plate of delicious beans. Romano peppers are draped alongside old spot pork chop, complete with decorative white cabbage on top. Next time, the signature aubergine parmigiana (a little drier than you’ll find elsewhere and all the better for it) or the whole sea bass cooked over a charcoal grill look pretty much essential. To finish a truly awe inspiring tiramisù and, although on principle I never order off-menu, on this occasion I asked if they could do an affogato. No vanilla ice cream could be found, but madeira flavour was a supreme understudy. I would struggle not to order it a second time.
In short, Norma is glorious. Chef Attard is working some culinary magic here: if the passport office has lost your documents this summer, this could be the next best thing to the real deal. I firmly believe Norma is one of the most enjoyable restaurants in the whole of London right now. And Krzysztof can quote me on that.