THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED (NOVEMBER 2008).
(We are not surprised: our review concluded: All in all, we found ourselves wondering how long this place will last, at least in this format, on the savagely competitive and ever-changing London scene.’).
The day: 4th January 2007, Lunchtime
The place: 39, Albermarle Street, London W1S 4TE (020-7493 7091)
The venue: Giardinetto
The food: Fine Italian Dining
The drinks: Extensive list, Italian based, rather on the expensive side, also by the glass equally expensive
Giardinetto is a relatively new kid on the block in Mayfair. The experienced chef Maurizio Villona is from the region of Liguria, the same provenance as Man. Would it evoke childhood memories? Let’s check it out.
The outside is very unassuming
We went through double doors like a jeweller’s. Let’s hope the products do not cost as much…Note that the outside menu does not match the one inside. Anyway here it is:
The interior is quite nice, a clean uncluttered look, ‘Habitat’ style. The division in two dining rooms of about six tables each creates an intimate atmosphere, with well spaced tables. We were sat in the front one.
The sophisticated atmosphere was somewhat let down by a prominent white ironing stain bang in the centre of our tablecloth.
The second glitch was the rather tatty and unclean menu, with pages coming apart: this indeed brought back memories of trattorie in Genova docks (at a time they were not chic!). Third glitch, the bread; there was no bread basket, unforgivable in an Italian restaurant! The bread was indeed served from a basket held tight by the waiter (containing focaccia, oil roll, white bread and olive bread, which was brown), and we had to keep asking for more – but we are not ashamed Here is what we manage to hoard:
Man found the focaccia unremarkable, so no childhood memories stirred here. We move on to order. To meet our target bill (without some control one would overshoot by a mile here) we took a 4 course set menu (lunch only) at £25.50, and one a la carte 3 course meal. The antipasti were a Monkfish carpaccio with citrus fruit (from the set menu) and Laguna baby cuttle fish with cicerchia polenta (£11.50)
What a nice presentation, for both dishes! Indeed, as we hope you’ll be able to see from the pictures, the presentation was elegant for all dishes. The baby squids looked like they had been either very lightly grilled or just gently roasted. In any case they were wonderful, tender and flavoursome. The ‘cicerchia polenta’ (a kind of chickpea puree) on which they were sitting was a fine combination. Less successful was the monkfish carpaccio. The carpaccio itself was a delight, sliced very thinly, silky and fresh. This is quite an achievement: monkfish is not typically used for carpaccio because of its ‘nervous’ texture. A nice touch, a light sprinkle of cinnamon which is not obvious and worked well. What we found did not work as well as they looked were the 5 skinned wedges of citrus fruit (orange, pink and yellow grapefruit), topped with a pate’ of taggiasche olives: far too strong, they overpowered the fish.
Both primi were very successful. We had Lenzuoline (i.e. lasagne) al pesto (£12.50) and Hare ragout pappardelle (from the set menu).
The ragout was very reduced (like a real ragu’ bolognese) and intense, excellent. The pappardelle were definitely undercooked (they were too thick to Woman’s taste, and not sufficiently elastic. According to Man the thickness was just right for this type of strong sauce, and the problem was just that they were underdone).
The lasagnette were super. Now this was childhood memory! A thick, richly scented pesto infusing perfectly executed lasagne. The presentation once again was a treat: the mini basket made of cheese (was it pecorino or grana or parmigiano? We can’t tell, when you melt the cheese to make it the moisture evaporates concentrating the salt in the cheese) on top contained a handful of pine nuts, a clove of garlic and basil: so the basic ingredients of pesto were there destructured staring at us invitingly. The only pity was that the basil was inedible.
The swordfish was OK and correctly cooked (no dryness) but relatively bland and also a bit anonymous in the presentation. The best part were the minted courgettes, finely diced and cooked just right. This is a standard side accompaniment which was properly executed.
The seabass. itself was a nice piece of fish. The skin had been removed and then placed back, and it was covered by very fine strips of deep-fried leek (we think). The skin did not come crispy as we would have preferred. Woman thought the fish was too much covered in oil. The dominant flavour in the potato cake was that of the small tomatoes, really intense. Woman wasn’t won over by the potatoes, to put it bluntly just bland starch. On the contrary Man thought that this enhanced the flavour of the ‘cake’ content. We agreed however that this was an elegantly assembled dish.
Finally we shared the dessert, a Cassata from the set menu.
First of all, let us make it clear that it was not real cassata. The real thing is a case of sponge filled with very sweet ricotta and covered with candied fruit and sugar paste (to get an idea, check out here). This was vanilla ice-cream with raisins, sitting in a ‘pool’ of thin custard and topped with chopped pistachio nuts and ‘meringued’ pine-nuts. Woman found it OK though the ice-ice cream could have been smoother. Man thought it was a nice and nice-looking dessert, though nothing to scream about.
Complimentary petit four followed, chunky and traditional: a ricotta filled ‘sfogliatella riccia’ (very good), crema filled cannolo (slightly dry), a take on chocolate millefeuille and a version of ‘baci di dama’.
To drink we had two 150ml glasses of wine: a Riesling (Apogeo Ca’ dei Frati 2004, £9) and a Bianco di Custoza (Santa Sofia 2003, £5.50 – combination of Garganega, Trebbianello and Cortese grapes) and water, 0.75 litre Panna (£3.00).
The final bill came to £100.13 inclusive of added 12.5% discretionary service charge: bang on our target!
Potentially Giardinetto could be a really nice place. The basics are all there: the dining rooms are comfortable, the chef is obviously very talented, and the service is attentive. However, there is a general sense of coldness, both in the cuisine and in the atmosphere, and some disregard for details (remember the tatty menu and tablecloth). The dishes look beautiful but some of the earthiness that you would expect in Italian cooking is not always there (only the seppioline and both primi were ‘stirring’ dishes). And the service: while really we cannot blame any individual staff member (the manager even remembered exactly what Man had had on a previous solitary and unphotographed visit!), overall came across as a bit formal, somewhat more French than Italian. There was a general lack of joy. The prices are too high, we think, but what really annoyed us was the wine list. We accept that UK restaurants have to apply margins of several hundred percents to make a living. But a balanced wine list in this type of restaurants must contain several options in the £20ish a bottle range. And by the glass: reds were all above £10 for 150ml glasses. And that missing bread basket….All in all, we found ourselves wondering how long this place will last, at least in this format, on the savagely competitive and ever-changing London scene.