Paolo Vernetti, Morso15th April 2018
What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.
This week, we talked with Paolo Vernetti, Co-founder of MORSO, about the rejuvenation of pasta, the origins of Neapolitan pizza and why you need to be drinking more Grappa.
You’re opening a restaurant when it seems everyone else is closing them. Is there room in London for more restaurants?
Yes, I believe there is! I have no doubt that there will always be space for good quality food in London; it is such a vibrant and diverse city with some of the best food spots in the world, with a large population of people who are so interested in food and keen on trying new flavours and new dishes.
I am also convinced that if you do something great, with love, passion, and care, eventually people will notice and appreciate it, regardless of the current market situation. And the creation of MORSO is simply fuelled by a desire and passion for offering amazing food! I know it might sound too simplistic or romantic, but at the end, quality of food, drinks and service is what makes the difference between a great restaurant and a bad one!
Pasta seems to be having a revival. Why do you think this is?
I think that pasta and Italian food have always been popular and never really suffered a decline, but the quality of the food has exponentially increased in the last three or four years, helping pasta to regain the spotlight.
Good restaurants are trying to move away from pre-cooked – and too-often over-cooked – pasta and towards far more delicious handcrafted and homemade, fresh versions, even if that requires highly skilled chefs to make, who are not easy to find these days.
MORSO advertises itself as a ‘pasta, small plates & grappa’ restaurant. Pasta and street food might be everywhere, but Grappa certainly isn’t! Why Grappa?
I grew up in Napoli, in the southern part of Italy, not knowing much about this incredible drink, mostly produced in the north-eastern region of the country, Friuli.
Grappa is of very humble origins as it is made with the leftovers of the wine production process and was traditionally drunk in the morning by tough farmers to “warm up” before going to work in the fields! In the mid-60s a few producers started to improve the distillation process and methods and eventually came up with what is now a very refined drink which resembles high-quality brandy.
I truly discovered Grappa when looking for both new drink recipes and an alcoholic beverage to use when cooking and I found that Grappa is so versatile, especially when mixed in cocktails. A couple of tasting sessions with an experienced mixologist made me fall in love with it and I now am on a mission to get people to know more about Grappa!
"As simple as it sounds a big smile and a warm welcome will go a very long way and often this is all it takes to set customers in a very happy mood"
For the uninitiated, how would you describe the taste of Grappa?
It all depends on the Grappa.
There are numerous varieties on the market and they are all very different from each other. For example, at Morso, we’re mostly serving Nonino, which is one of the most famous brands in Italy; they have a huge range. But one of our favourites is the CRU Fragolino, which is made using pomace of the Fragola grape. It is incredibly smooth and has a very aromatic and fruity, berry taste. Generally, though, I would say that Grappa is similar to Cognac, but with a stronger kick and aroma. It can be drunk as an aperitif as well as a digestif and, in the hands of a good bartender, Grappa is like liquid gold! You’ve got to try it!
Food and drink aside, what makes for great restaurant service in your mind?
The name of this industry is Hospitality and I find that most people forget that being ‘hospitable’ is the first prerequisite of every person in the team, regardless of their work title or job description. As simple as it sounds a big smile and a warm welcome will go a very long way and often this is all it takes to set customers in a very happy mood.
I think that a good waiter/waitress should always be attentive, amicable and empathetic, in order to understand the customer as well as anticipate and satisfy their needs on time. Sadly, there are far too many people that work in this industry that don’t consider good service a priority, because they consider hospitality as their only option or just a temporary job.
Tell me this, as a proud Neapolitan. Some of Napoli’s most famous pizzerias have recently opened sites in London; is the Neapolitan style of pizza a trend, or here to stay?
Definitely not a trend.
Pizza, as we know it today, was born in 1889. Almost everyone now knows the story: Raffaele Esposito made a pizza for the Queen Margherita, eventually naming it after her, and pizza has been incredibly popular since. It became a staple of Neapolitan cuisine, eaten as often as 3 or 4 times a week by families in the area, but for over a century you could only find this type of pizza almost exclusively in or just around the city of Napoli. The rest of Italy and the world had their own versions of this famous dish with crispy thin bases or deep pan ‘Pizza Hut’ styles which completely differ from the Neapolitan style one.
Now that Neapolitan style pizza is available almost everywhere, people seem to be really enjoying it!
Where do you like to eat in London? And Napoli?
I’m selective when I go out in London, but I’m open-minded and I like to try different restaurants. Some of my favourite spots right now are Bocca di Lupoin Archers St, Ceviche in Soho and J. Sheekey in Leicester Square.
In Napoli I prefer to eat street food, but if I had to pick a favourite restaurant it would be Le Colonne Marziale, a 1 Michelin Star restaurant just outside Napoli where the Chef Patron Rosanna Marziale – who is also the World ambassador of Buffalo Mozzarella – makes some incredible creations with local produce, and of course the mozzarella is at the centre of her creations.
And, to finish, tell us a bit about MORSO.
It hasn’t fully sunk in that we are about to open a restaurant, but we are so very excited about our new site and can’t wait to start in May!
We’ve found this little spot in the middle of two great neighborhoods in North West London – Maida Vale and St John’s Wood – on a little parade just off the famous Abbey Road. It’s a great location and we already love the area, we now hope that the locals will welcome us and love our concept.
We’re paying a lot of attention to the bar. We want to make sure it will be at the centre of the experience. In fact, we’re working on expanding on the range of drinks and cocktails that we originally served at our popup events, as well as adding a few new dishes to our small bites and fresh pasta menu. And we’re adding a cheeky Aperitivo menu. And a weekend Italian inspired Brunch! We just want to share and show off our love and passion for what we do.