Mention pizza and Windsor in the same sentence and you often get a wistful sigh in return. The city is synonymous with delicious Italian food, often baked in wood-fired ovens. A taste of that cooking has landed in west London, with the arrival of Chef Gino Parco’s Porcino, on Hyde Park Road just north of Gainsborough.
With the first 100% wood-burning pizza oven in London (whereas Windsor has 10), for those who love Windsor-style pizza, this is pretty exciting news. Porcino’s oven heats up to around 800 degrees and can cook a thin-crust pizza in less than two minutes, creating a crispy yet soft crust and evenly cooked toppings. The Patata pizza features potato slices, caramelized onion, rosemary and gorgonzola crema — comfort food at its best. Chef Parco fires up the oven each morning from his wood supply out back and then lets it die down by supper-time. The staff jokes that it heats the whole restaurant. Guests can take a look at it too, as the kitchen is open — divided by a half-wall that Gino likes to lean over to chat with his guests. His trademark smile is a pretty clear indicator of how happy he is in the kitchen.
But Porcino is much more than pizza. Parco is a graduate of the George Brown College culinary program and did his training at some top restaurants, including Langdon Hall, before returning to his hometown of Windsor to work. He opened Porcino there in 1996, followed by Colours at the Windsor Art Gallery. In 2010 Parco sold the restaurant to his partner, and the Porcino name was changed to Toscana.
“For a long time I wanted a change — to try to live somewhere different,” he says. He had heard about the success the Remark family had experienced, by expanding to London, so Parco followed suit. He toured the city on many weekends and decided on Hyde Park for Porcino. “I saw this area was growing. The west end seemed nice and I had some good feedback. So, instead of moving to Toronto or Vancouver, I chose London. I can still stay in touch with my family in Windsor, too.”
Porcino is a casual neighbourhood restaurant with seating for about 30 people,large open windows and a centrepiece bar. With black tables and chrome accents, it’s modern family Italian, with peppy music and a TV screen over the bar.
Still, it has an adult tone with an impressive wine and cocktail list including 33 red wines, some high-end champagnes, and fun cocktails such as the Bicicletta: Campari, Pinot Grigio and club soda.
Chef Parco says he does “simple food, properly.” He should also add, expertly. For example, try his take on another Windsor classic: giant meat balls which are served as an appetizer with homemade meat sauce on a modern glass plate. Accompanied by his house made olives and some bread, Porcino shines with both small plates and full meals.
Also winning diners is the Wild Mushroom Ravioli served with his own mushroom cream sauce, truffle oil and parmesan shavings. He gives the dish just the right amount of truffle oil, not to overpower it, creating a very satisfying and filling vegetarian dish.
“To me, we bring it back to basics and people seem to enjoy the food,” says Parco. The flour in the pizza dough is from Arva Flour Mills, and he is also supporting his Hyde Park neighbours by bringing Olive-Me olive oils, operated by Missy Haggarty down the road, into his kitchen. He uses her truffle oil with his pasta and also her balsamic vinegar is used on a dessert glaze.
Porcino is a hopping little place that fills up early with people hungry after their day’s work. Service is prompt and the atmosphere is relaxing. Even though it’s been open for less than a year, Parco’s experience is evident, and his ambition undiminished. His goal is to open one or two more Porcinos in London and then a more high-end restaurant. “We are creatures of habit, in this business, “ he chuckles. Thankfully, he has brought his habit to London.
1700 Hyde Park Road, London
lunch: monday–saturday, 11 am–2 pm
dinner: monday–sunday, 4 pm–9 pm
JANE ANTONIAK is a regular writer for eatdrink who also lives in west London where she operates Antoniak Communications.
BRUCE FYFE is a contributing photographer to eatdrink and an assistant librarian at Weldon, Western University.