2 Veneti

(Visited: January 2014)

It’s not that we were particularly burning with a desire to eat here, a place that has always looked more of a neighbourhood restaurant than a destination one. But it has been in that corner, near the Wigmore hall, ever since, we have strolled in front of it so many times when going to concerts that we thought it may have been doing something good after all.

The verdict? An almost, almost correct, if basic, italian cuisine, but a little erratic in execution – too much salt in the garnishes of a lamb dish, two liver slices (in a Venetian style calf liver) one lovely but the other one tough and rubbery and not trimmed properly, cod quenelles that were OK but not too flavoursome. On the other hand, overall the quality of our meal was just OK (notably a lobster linguine with good sauce and good cooking, at £5 supplement).

The prices are high-ish but in line for the area. The room is very pleasant (white tablecloths, mirrors, nice lighting), the toilet less so. Service was extremely kind and smile-rich.

The impression is that of a basically sound traditional cuisine that needs to be a little sharper, with more attention to details. If we lived right in the neighbourhood, we might identify their strong dishes and pop in every now and then. Though, at the other end of Fitzrovia, Latium at similar prices offers an altogether different level of experience, and it’s hard to avoid the comparison.

Note: in the pictures below, the pasta is half of a portion (they kindly divided it for us to share one course).

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Marcus: Soulless and greedy hotel restaurant. But the food is good.

(Visited: December 2014)

We’ve been so many times at Koffmann’s, for once let’s walk round the building and try its 2* neighbour…

The entrance is unsigned, within the hotel, through the hotel bar. It is, undoubtedly, a hotel restaurant.

From the a la carte menu (£85 for 3 courses at the time of writing), Sweetbreads were supernaturally well cooked (panfried), very soft inside and beautifully caramelised outside, and the almond and pear accompaniment was inspired.

The a la carte main was a venison. The advertised accompanying chestnuts were in thin slivers, and did not make an impression: this was somewhat of a let-down. There was a black pudding ‘paste’, a sure-fire crowd pleaser, but the most satisfying bit was ultimately the venison itself, of top quality and again cooked perfectly.

Wood pigeon with black truffle and buckwheat was simply a stunner, the jus packing amazing flavour and the components working really well together (and this was from the cheaper lunch menu, £45 for 3 courses). From the same menu, a Halibut with salsify and cockles was pleasant, though the fish portion here was minimalistic almost to excess.

Desserts were OK. In a Pineapple, pain perdu and coconut, don’t expect the moistness you picture in your mind when you think ‘pain perdu’. Apart from that, it was a rather good dessert, with the various elements (including lovely meringues) working as a team. And the chocolate from the lunch menu (dark, milk, white) was at least as good, the sweet equivalent of the previous black pudding crowd pleaser.

From a quick read, the wine list is overpriced and unimaginative. The champagne section begins with the low end offering of a famous high end House (never a good choice, why not seek out one the nice smaller and less famous producers?), a bottle of which could be bought in Sainsbury’s for £25. Here it cost £88.

So we skipped wine, bought the Sainsbury’s bottle, plus a £50 Barolo, and felt smug. Boycott high price wine in restaurants!

The dining rooms form a large area, in which there are more customers than they are comfortable with serving at a decent pace at peak times. The result? Long delays and an unpleasant, uneven pacing of the meal, which at the 2* level we find unacceptable. Less greed would lead to better service. The staff however are good and well drilled.

In sum, the food was overall excellent, at the level one expects from 2*, with some high peaks and no serious let-down. The dining experience overall was, however, not equally pleasant due to the long waits, with no apologies whatsoever, and to the atmosphere (we were tempted to cancel the optional 12.5% charge but didn’t because our server could’t have been nicer). So while we would like to return to try more, we probably won’t.

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Review of 2014 and the UK restaurant discovery of the year: Locanda De Gusti.

Hi All! Sorry for the year’s radio silence. We’ve had an interesting 2014 restaurant-wise. To warm you up for our discovery of the year in the UK, let us catch up with a brief summary of just the main events…

A trip to Tokyo allowed us to sample 3* Michelin Nihon Ryori Ryugin, which was disappointing overall. There was more fire in a more basic izakaya in Roppongi, Warayakiya.

In Florence, we were equally underwhelmed by the luxurious Il Palagio (poor value for money), as well as by very hyped-up Ora d’aria (pretentious). Both restaurants are 1* Michelin, but we discovered instead a future star, a young talent by the name of Enrico Panero at Ristorante Da Vinci in Eataly Florence. We found top Sicilian cannoli at Ara: E’ Sicilia, we had great fun at Il Cibreo Teatro del Sale, but we met with poor attitude at another restaurant of the same Luciano Picchi stable, Il Cibreino.

In Barcelona we continued to find reasons to queue at ‘institutional’ tapas bar Cerveceria Catalana, less so at the newer Paco Meralgo, good but a tad overpriced.

In Trentino-Alto Adige we returned to excellent Andrea Fenoglio (1* Michelin in Merano), we discovered charming Locanda Alpina in Brez, as well as a simple joint with strong dishes in the centre of Trento, Moki, and we continued to enjoy Scrigno del Duomo (both the osteria upstairs and the formal restaurant downstairs), even if sadly it has lost its star.

In London, we found that ex-masterchef professional winner Steve Groves is a real talent at Roux Parliament Square, we continued to patronise our historical Italian favourites Latium and Briciole, both creations of inspired Chef Maurizio Morelli, were in for a crushing disappointment at ex-fave Koffmann’s (is he closing?). We have also had good but not wowing experiences at 2* Michelin Marcus and 3* Ducasse.

In Fife we have been many times at the place of another Masterchef finalist, The Adamson’s in St Andrews, which serves very simple but impeccable food, and because of a change of address we have been fewer times than usual at the still excellent Peat Inn, where Chef Geoff Smeddle is still going strong and holds on to his well-deserved star.

In Edinburgh, we have first of all enjoyed the strong New Zealand-style ‘gourmet coffee’ culture of the city, notably at Wellington Cafe (for Man) and Castello Coffee (for Woman), but also in many other places, and also the high-level patisserie of Patisserie Maxime. For food, beside the greatest of them all for fine dining, The Kitchin, with Castle Terrace as a close second, we always enjoy at a lower price point Galvin’s Brasserie De Luxe and especially our 2013 discovery of the year The Atelier.

Which brings us to this year’s discovery…Locanda De gusti. This is a unique family restaurant, run by Neapolitan chef Rosario Sartore (alone in the kitchen most of the time!), helped by a very strong small team that includes his wife Maria (puddings?), and Raffaele and Elena in the front of house, who work wonders. Even at the most incredibly busy of times, when one fears everything might collapse, everybody always deals with pressure in a cheerful and relaxed manner, and miraculously things work out – the Neapolitan way…with a charming Russian touch (Elena).

Paccheri con la ricotta

Paccheri con la ricotta

Rosario’s sauces are lovely, vibrant with herbs and just the right punch of hotness, rich without heaviness. Who can resist his pasta with lobster? We’ve always eaten it so greedily that we always forgot to take a picture, and it is our favourite dish! Here is a cousin

Linguine ai frutti di mare

Linguine ai frutti di mare

The Parmigiana is the best we’ve eaten out (and in fact we forgot to take a picture of that, too!), but it is the way he treats (the always fresh) seafood, be it stewed, grilled or fried, that amazes us, so superb it is.

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With very few concessions to fanciness and empty frills, this is a relatively simple and traditional cuisine, trattoria style: but it ain’t that easy…not at all: if it was, how come so few succeed in achieving such standards?

It takes not only skill, but good ingredients. For example, the cherry tomatoes from Piennolo, which you can see in many dishes here, are of a quality that is lacking in vegetables at many a starred restaurants. And the seafood itself is always immaculately fresh, like these mussels:

Tubetti con le cozze

Tubetti con le cozze

As we said, seafood and Seafood pasta are specialities,

Cavatelli con le cozze

Cavatelli con le cozze

Monkfish and beans

Octopus and beans

but Locanda goes strong also with traditional Neapolitan meat dishes (e.g. ragu’) and desserts

Selection of traditional sweet treats: pastiera, struffoli, sfogliatella

Selection of traditional sweet treats: pastiera, struffoli, sfogliatella

struffoli

struffoli

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Always conclude with a proper Nepolitan Kimbo coffee…

Espresso

Espresso

This is not a routine operation always dishing out the same stuff day in and day out: here, if you are Italian and have been in Naples, you re-live the pleasure of old flavours, and anyway anybody can perceive it’s a labour of love and of sincere passion, because it shows in the plate! The value for money is fantastic. No wonder the place is going strong.

The best Italian Pinot Noir?

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A pinot noir that knows the limits of its terroir and weather and extracts the best from both.
Not a big one, all power and depth, rather an agile one, all elegance, lightness, nimbleness; not thick burgundy curtains but half open Venetian blinds that allow a glimmer of sunshine in.
Rose immediately, then berries; when drinking what strikes you is the tingling acidity and a hint of gameyiness later on and the love for Mr Alois Lageder and his biodynamic wines that pervades you.
Below 30 pounds.

Kitchin: on top of his game

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Since when we wrote our last post in August we’ve had many good meals, but perhaps none beat the phenomenal game tasting menu had at The Kitchin last Friday.

This is one of the great culinary experiences to be had in the whole of the UK. It represents Scottish produce at its best, treated classically but unpretentiously.

Over time we have come to have high expectations of this restaurant, which we love, and so it can by now hardly surprise us on the upside. Yet this menu did. From the most delicate, buttery roe deer carpaccio with hazelnut dressing, through the elegant game gelatine with partridge and quail eggs, the beautifully finished, intense pithivier, the roasted mallard with a lovely ‘endive tatin’, to the most incredibly full flavoured hare a la Royale (and yet we are used to Master Koffmann’s interpretation, another one that definitely delivers on flavour…), this was a memorable evening, £90 of bliss. (the picture on top shows the hare had on a previous occasion  as a main course).

Kitchin rocks, even when he isn’t there…congratulations to the team!

PS: it was a camera-less night, but at the end you’re given a copy of the menu, which we photographed at home, for you to dig into the details:

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Field (Edinburgh)

quadro(Visited June 2013)

This place is tiny, with tiny tables with a tiny space between them, and it is noisy. The good way of putting it is that it is charming French bistro style. The bad way, that it is tiny and none too comfortable. It depends on your mood.

The bread neither improves nor depresses your mood.

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Two starters promised well but they ended up being the best dishes of the meal. A grilled asparagus, poached egg, parmesan crisp and poached shimeji was simple but effective, the asparagus with a pleasantly chargrilled flavour. the poached egg cooked just right, the crisp light and intense (the shimeji were so few that they didn’t add much, but in principle they gave a pleasant acidity). A fresh pea pannacotta, crushed peas and ham hock cromesquis could not be faulted, the cromesqui crisp outside and moist inside, the pannacotta and the peas very very, very, eatable.
Pea pannacotta nad ham hock cromesquis

Pea pannacotta nad ham hock cromesquis
Poached egg and parmesan crisp on asparagus

Poached egg and parmesan crisp on asparagus

The mains were more complex and they failed. A maple glazed duck breast was tough, and the dish was a messy one, with Savoyarde potatoes, a bland duck leg bon bon, and cherries and pistachio that were there just for the name, being in such small quantity (especially the pistachio) that they added nothing to the dish. No jus to speak of.

A hake, while of good quality, was reduced to a rather textureless, mushy consistency: how basic a mistake can this be, steaming a moist chunky fish to death? But this wasn’t the worst of it after all. The piece of fish was floating in an incredible slop of creamed sweetcorn with some chorizo and perfunctory avocado (mostly missing in action), unprepped tomatoes forced by the lava heat to ooze their acidity into the creamy madness. The only saving grace were the chunky chips on the side.

Hake in deranged sweetcorn sauce

Hake in deranged sweetcorn sauce

Duck leg and duck bonbon

Duck leg and duck bonbon

Desserts. A cheesecake of the day was flavoured with coffee and chicory. We learned that this is not the worst combination of flavours, but not the best either, and anyway it was timidly executed, neither sweet nor bitter enough to make an impression. The base was quite thick and more soggy than crumbly.

A coconut milk pannacotta carried only a hint of coconut flavour, probably mostly coming from the flakes on the outside, but was sitting on top of a good roasted coconut, without which it would have been one of the least memorable desserts ever without tasting bad.

caramel and coffee cheesecake

caramel and coffee cheesecake

coconut milk pannacotta

coconut milk pannacotta

Prices are low (both for the lunch/pre-theater menu at £14.50 for 3 courses, and in the a la carte with mains at around £11-13 and starters at £5-6), but this is reflected in the quality and the setting. Service was smiling and friendly, but that won’t be enough for us to return.

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Two beautiful Cabernet Francs at Koffmann’s and Briciole, with plug


(Visited: July 2013)

The first beauty, Chinon Beaumont Catherine and Pierre Breton 2010, is a classic expression of this grape, medium bodied, floral with herbal notes, a little spicy, and a persistent desire to go on vacation in the Loire. 13% alcohol, biodynamic. We had it at Koffmann’s.

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The second is a very, very different CF: L Bandit Franc, Proprieta’ Sperino 2006. This is from Piedmont, a darker, fuller bodied experience, 14%, with fruit and chocolate, but elegant, not in yer face. Had at Briciole.

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Both wines were a joy. At Koffmann’s you pay at the lower end of the possible London markup range, while at Briciole the mark up is off scale, so outrageously gentle it is, just a touch above what it would cost you retail online. Given that it comes with gorgeous, hearty and expertly executed Italian food like these  tagliolini with pecorino cheese

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or these tagliatelle with a lamb ragout (yes it takes much skill as well as good produce to make a good pasta)

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or like this burrata oozing its heavenly juices

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given all this, and more, we were saying, we strongly urge you, whether or not you are a wine lover, to pay Briciole a visit. Or two. Or more.

And if you are indeed a wine lover you’ll unashamedly cry of happiness.

As for Koffmann’s, we’ve plugged our beloved old (metaphorically of course) man on this blog so many times, and moreover we’ll do it again soon…, that only the most trusting of you are not thinking by now that we are fully paid up advertisers, so we’ll refrain for once…

Lovely Summer lunch at Latium (London)

(Visited: July 2013)

Back again…

For us, Latium is a fixed feature when we are in London. Its immaculate produce and the great,  balanced flavours draw us here again and again. (A previous review is here).

In this latest lunch the games were opened by a mild-flavoured pigeon with Summer truffle that was cooked just right and tender and light and I-want-more-of-this.

pigeon and truffle salad

pigeon and truffle salad

Beside the classic tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, a dish of swordfish ravioli came with the most ravishing of tomato sauces to accompany the (excellent) fish. Amazing to to find tomatoes of this quality in London. This is a new dish and we think it’s a winner.

Porcini (ceps) tagliatelle

Porcini (ceps) tagliatelle

Swordfish ravioli

Swordfish ravioli

Veal liver was buttery and melting, and the high heat of the cooking extracted the potent offaly flavour beautifully, the peas and broad beans giving that lighter Summery touch in an otherwise pretty strong ensemble.

calf liver with Tropea onions

calf liver with Tropea onions

The duck had made us curious because of a dodgy sounding broad bean and cherry accompaniment with Amarone sauce. But it worked a treat, it really did. The duck cut in the way you see in the photo instead of the more usual slices emphasises the succulence of the animal.

Duck breast with cherries and Amarone sauce


Duck breast with cherries and Amarone sauce

We tried their new pine-nut ice cream (good!) together with the usual favourites chocolate and hazelnut. And the millefeuille dish was lightness itself imbued with Summer fruit flavour – the pastry deserves a special mention.

Pinenuts, hazelnuts and chocolate

Pinenuts, hazelnuts and chocolate

Millefoglie with strawberry sorbet

Millefoglie with strawberry sorbet

At £35.50 for three courses the  quality for money at Latium is completely unmatched by any other Italian restaurant in London. When can we go back?

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Castle Terrace (Edinburgh)

(Visited: June 2013)

This in a way is the ‘offspring’ of the Kitchin, and while it bears a family resemblance in some dishes, as we shall see it definitely has a character of its own. And what a character…

Although this time we went for lunch, they were kind enough to recite to us the special seasonal dishes generally available in the evening only. We had to have three of them: as there was no menu and we’re insufficiently sad to take notes, we have to go by memory: apologies for the vagueness and imprecision of some descriptions.

The amouse bouche consists of two offerings: a layered vegetable cream, this time with carrots, then a coriander foam, and a dust of cumin:

Cream of carrots with coriander foam and cumin dust

Cream of carrots with coriander foam and cumin dust

followed by a ravishing trio: a salt cod raviolo, a mini hamburger, and a spectacular Ceasar salad of Beck-esque memory (like Heinz Beck’s fagottelli carbonara, where the carbonara makes the explosive filling, here the parmesan is liquified inside the green “salad”: wonderful!)

what a trio!

what a trio!

And now  the food proper. First off, a tartare of mackerel and one of salmon:

salmon tartare

salmon tartare

Mackerel tartare

Mackerel tartare

Classy, precise, powerful stuff, with many layers of flavours and great attention to textures (a feature we’ve noted, and appreciated, in Chef Dominc Jack’s style), where the natural succulence of the fish is not covered but enhanced by all the minute things that go on around it.

Then a lovely terrine of roe deer from Saltoun Estate, served with pear, prune and port.
terrina

Just look at it and you see the technique. For the flavour, you have to trust us: it was as good as the technique.

And look at the work in the first seasonal special, crab meat lovingly rolled in thin avocado slices:

Crab and avocado

Crab and avocado

to which the mango imparted a beguiling sweet note.

For mains, a roe deer with celeriac and a pithivier reached stunningly deep into the meanders of flavour, the exemplary jus lifting this complex homage to game:

Roe deer

Roe deer

And then perhaps the superstar in a meal of stars: her majesty the lobster

Lobster a la plancha with squid, asparagus, peas and green beans

Lobster a la plancha with squid, asparagus, peas and green beans

Sure, we had tried this dish (or a close relative) at the Kitchin, but it never ceases to amaze us. The splendid ingredients (beside the lobster, squid, asparagus, peas, green beans) are there, undisguised and beautiful, just so very perfectly cooked (probably first boiled and then grilled). One of those apparently simple dishes that in fact only a very accomplished chef can obtain, and that one could go on eating forever. The £45 it cost us seems a lot but was entirely justified.

Desserts were a fitting conclusion. A raspberry souffle’ served with a raspberry compote, both extremely intense, and the obligatory icecream, good and improvable (hard to please bothersome Italians with icecream – by the way, we forgot to say that bread, that other bugbear of ours, is good). And a delicious strawberry cheesecake, with layers of strawberry gelatine alternating with different flavoured layers, from the spongy strawberry one at the top to the crowdie cheese one at the bottom.

layered cheesecake

layered cheesecake

Raspberry souffle

Raspberry souffle

Service is strikingly well drilled, with a team of sleek young waiters ready to answer with ease any question on the dishes and their components. The chef here clearly makes an effort to make FOH and kitchen interact, and the manager manages his crew very well.

The room is nice, modern and rather understated, but it can be noisy, both because of the structure (many reflecting surfaces) and of loud tables. Regrettably, this restaurant doesn’t merely attract quiet old farts like us. If you are like us and want to concentrate on food and conversation, lunch is better than dinner. Prices are high but what we said for the lobster applies generally: they are totally justified for food of this quality. Though sadly we do find mark up on wines sufficiently outrageous to give them a miss.

We like the ‘technique with a mission’ style of Castle Terrace. There is (almost) nothing vapid or superfluous in those dishes, which retain a basic heartiness and full flavouredness. The comparison with the Kitchin cannot be avoided….If we have to put it coarsely, it feels a bit more ‘haute cuisine’ here, with a penchant for its intricacies and complexities, and a bit more ‘raw energy’ at the Kitchin, where the superb cooking skill is more hidden, and where there’s more of a preference for simplicity and for the ‘from nature to plate’ approach, as evidenced already at the amuse bouche stage (raw vegetables at the Kitchin). Both fantastic restaurants in different ways. Both with the finest executions of the finest examples of what nature has to offer. We have to confess that  we eat at least as well, and sometimes better, in these places (and at the Peat Inn) than in several multistarred venues (recent experiences at Ducasse and Bottura spring to mind…). If the Michelin star system wasn’t what it is, Scotland would glow with many more stars. A pity for the professionals, perhaps, but not too bad a situation for us customers :)

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The Ship on the Shore (Leith, Edinburgh): Seafood! Seafood!

Interior

Interior

(Visited: June 2013)

Leith, the shore/harbour part of Edinburgh, glows with the light of two Michelin starred destinations (The Kitchin and Martin Wishart). But there is so much more to life than ‘fayne dining’…

We have a soft spot for seafood (we have a soft spot for many food things, come to think of it), and we wanted to sample this pub a few steps down from Martin Wishart which specialises just on that.

We have in our sight the monster size ‘Royale’ cold seafood platter, which comes with the house champagne option (the lovely NV Ruinart) thrown in at such a bargain price that it would be silly to resist.

So we don’t resist.

amouse bouche!

amouse bouche!

Note the glasses…and the amuse bouche :)

As we said, enormity is the name of the game: eight oysters, numerous mussels, large portions of cured salmon and poached (also smoked) salmon, smoked cod, smoked haddock, whole dressed crab (with two extra claws), small and large scallops (coral in), and of course the usual crustaceans, lobster and Dublin bay prawns, all accompanied by thick-cut chips, a salad and three sauces: a Thai-style one, an onion vinaigrette and a very, very nice home-made tartare.

platterpieno

platter2

It was a feast. It took us well over an hour to finish it. Seafood at its freshest and its best, in this genre. Undoubtedly certain items would be best eaten warm (e.g. scallops), but within the logic of a cold platter one could hardly ask for better or for more. Immaculate freshness (oh, that crab!), excellent quality (oh, the plumpness of those mussles!), nice preparation. The smoking of the salmon and other items was strong, peculiar and pleasant. Mr. Crab was dressed with some class (only the white, something we would not expect in a pub). The only minor fault was the cooking of the lobster, which was a wee hard.

chunky chips

chunky chips

salad

salad

This is simple fare, not haute cuisine, but when you think of the combination of quality and (stonking) value for money, you cannot not put this pub at the top of any foodie’s address list. The platter comes at £90 and would be enough for three, and the house champagne (a NV Ruinart) is basically given away at retail cost since it only costs you £35 when you have it with the platter (it comes at £50 on its own). And pricing is very good anyway: some of the competitors in Edinburgh have the Ruinart at £70 at the time of writing.

We liked it so much that we were tempted to go back for more just a couple of weeks later. We were not disappointed…

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