In these strange times, when the greatest adventure is to the big Sainsburys, the longing to travel has become all the more fervent. Those days of wandering around bustling airports, free from the constraints of conventional time, seem so distant. So too does that rush of warm air that awakens your body from its worn-down state into a euphoria for the excitement to come. Cobbled Italian streets alive with al fresco diners, the enticing smell of a fresh ragù bubbling from inside a cosy restaurant, paired with a soft, romantic aching in your bones to live out your days in this bliss.
Now, I can’t promise you Symposium will renew these exact emotions, but it will stir in you a memory of those times gone by, and hopefully those times to come too. Situated just behind Victoria Park on Roman Road, this slice of Italy is a bit of everything. You can’t help but notice the entire wall of wines when you walk in, many organic, decorated with dainty hand-made price tags–definitely a far cry from the supermarket isle equivalent. Then you have the deli-counter, laden with fresh cheeses and pots of olives (and cured meats, if that’s your thing). There are shelves of imported dried goods, alongside fresh bread, and a little gelato counter ready for those warmer days. Though obviously not open currently, towards the back are the empty tables and chairs that will one day be filled with customers drinking wine and eating delicious food once again. It’s a lot to pack into a small shop, but it in no way feels suffocating or crowded. There’s a kind of authenticity, but not trying too hard and yelling about it.
Recently, Symposium extended their menu to include more vegetarian and vegan options, so naturally I had to give them a try. The online menu isn’t especially helpful, as all the dishes are unique to the day, so it’s best to just make the trip down and see what’s on offer. As much as I wanted to have the vegan lasagne, made with a plant-based ragù and oat béchamel, it unfortunately wasn’t available. Still hankering for pasta, I instead opted for the Butternut Squash Lasagne, and a pot of Nocellara Olives. After a pleasant chat over the counter, so rare is new human contact these days, I paid my £13, took my wrapped up goods and was on my way.
Clearly I have not had enough experience with the different forms a lasagne can take, because the Butternut Squash iteration baffled me somewhat. No tomato based sauce? Just layers of squash, béchamel and cheese? My skepticism faded with the first bite. The earthy, buttery squash practically melted on the palate, carried softly on a chewy base of fresh pasta. It was not over-rich in the way a ragù lasagne tends to be, just satisfyingly creamy. Sipping wine and popping a bright green olive into my mouth between bites of pasta, that hint of escape felt just a breath away. Escape from my kitchen, not even to Italy, but within the walls of some dim-lit restaurant, sharing food with friends without a care in the world. As lovely as the food from Symposium was as a takeaway, you can tell that it would be best enjoyed in that big space beyond the deli-counter, submerged in the ambiance of a shared love of food and life.
Currently, it doesn’t look like trips to Italy will be happening anytime soon, but with restaurants opening (at least outdoors) in the coming months, maybe that taste of adventure can be renewed in delicious food and the luxury of time spent once more with friends and family.