The day: 10th January 2007, Dinner (and many other times…).
The place: 21, Berners Street, London W1T 3LP (020-73239123)
The venue: Latium
The food: Fine Italian Dining
The drinks: Extensive list, Italian based, wide price range starting from well below £20 up to the hundreds, also by the glass
Let us come clean: this is our favourite restaurant in the UK. Since we came here the first time about a year ago we have never been disappointed once (and we come every week when we are in London), neither by the kitchen nor by the service. This is where we come to relax and be pampered after a hard day at work. So relaxed that – when we do not brave the weather to ride our scooter – we risk missing the last train home!
The name is meant to remind us of the provenance of Chef patron Maurizio Morelli, from Latina (a city in the Lazio region). The cuisine reflects inspiration from plenty of other Italian regions (as in most Italian establishments in London) but there are some rare dishes and ingredients that you hardly find anywhere outside Rome and surroundings. Examples are ‘carciofi alla giudia’ (artichokes fried in a special way that even in Rome you only find in the ‘Jewish ghetto’ area – it’s really called that way) and puntarelle.
The outside is very discrete, and stands opposite the Philip Stark’s designed Sanderson hotel, so you won’t miss it.
The new menu was not yet available at the time of our visit, but we were given a sneak preview, so here it is:
It is nicely straight: 24.50 for two courses or 28.50 for three, and no supplement for anything, be it beef fillet or scallops (unlike almost everywhere else)!
Plus, they have just launched a shorter lunch set menu, unbeatable for this quality at 15.50 for two courses and 19.50 for three.
For the first week it offered dishes like Chickpeas soup with rosemary, Stracci di pasta with aubergines, tomato and ricotta and roast fillet of pork with Borlotti beans and black cabbage (desserts and cheeses from the main menu).
The dining room is L shaped with well spaced tables, many of them round (which we prefer), and the decor is modern-sober. In the evenings there is a more intimate lighting, as opposed to the bright lunchtime setting. Since it was busy as usual we did not want to bother the other diners taking pictures of the interior – you’ll have to check it out yourselves
A few minutes after being seated, you are brought an enticing tray of canapés, a refined mini-take on the traditional rosticceria fare: mini-arancini (deep fried rice balls), mini calzone (bread dough stuffed with mozzarella and Parma ham) and mini pizzetta rustica, imagine a cross between puff pastry and bread dough, splashed with tomato sauce, rolled, cut up and cooked – and of course gorgeous olives:
We ordered squid ink rigatoncini with cod, cauliflower and saffron, and the unmissable signature dish, the 4 fish ravioli. While we waited, the bread arrived: cartamusica, spinach and pecorino bread, walnut and raisins bread, sun dried tomato rolls and olive rolls. This is a very respectable bread basket! It would come with extra virgin olive oil for dipping, but we skip it to pretend we are reducing our calories intake.
But not only bread: before the primi, a welcome from the kitchen, off menu: a beautiful salmon tartare topped with diced oranges, rocket, lemon peel, extra virgin olive oil and basil. This dish summarises well Morelli’s style. Colour and composition are obviously very important, but taste does not play second fiddle. An elegant and simple dish, but also very satisfying and ‘consistent’ in the mouth. The taste of the salmon was strong enough to bear the sweet from the orange, in turn balanced by the bitter of the lemon peel and the rocket.
Now the primi. All pasta on offer is fresh, with no exception. In particular, our rigatoncini. Here again look at the colour (beyond the inadequacy of our pictures, if you can). They come in an aromatic guazzetto (generally made with oil, water and herbs: see e.g. the second picture here), and for us the most satisfying aspect of this dish is the play with the different textures of the pasta, vegetable and fish. The portion is substantial, which does not harm
The ravioli are sublime. They come in the following order: squid ink raviolo filled with monkfish with a hint of courgettees; spinach raviolo filled with brill and a hint of carrots; saffron raviolo filled with salmon and a hint of spring onions; and finally tomato raviolo filled with tuna and a hint of peppers. All dressed with butter (not as yellow as in the picture), diced tomatoes and seabass roe. The thin black dashes you see on the plate are also squid ink. This could seem a dish with too much going on: in fact, it is beautifully coherent, with a progression of intensity of flavours, and combinations of pasta, fish and herbs that match each other delightfully.
For secondi we chose monkfish on a bed of savoy cabbage with girolles, pumpkin puree and red wine reduction; and the special of the day, grilled squid with artichokes, spinach and shaved bottarga.
The monkfish dish is a striking palette of earthy colour which maintains the promise on the palate. It is a rich, almost decadent, velvety combination. The squid was as fresh as they come, supremely tender. The mint from the artichokes “alla romana” lent to the dish a nice refreshing character, finished off by the bottarga.
Finally, the desserts: baba’ with hazelnut cream and pineapple lime parfait.
It is obvious from the parfait how the passion for ravioli continues well into dessert territory… the outside of each parcel is a very thin layer of pineapple, filled with lime ice cream. The dominant note is a pleasant acidity, which takes on a sweetish overtone from the balsamic vinegar. This can work a bit like a sorbet, but much more interesting. The baba’ is a well executed classic (it is difficult to do, but you can try it at home, if somebody can translate this for you)– here is a luscious version with whipped cream and hazelnut sauce.
We told you that we come often, so we cannot pass in silence on one of our favourite desserts (which we skipped this time), look:
Imagine, ricotta mousse with candied artichokes, is this not the simplicity of genius?
Finally, petit fours, made up of a selection of different flavoured chocolate truffles, cantuccini, baci di dama and mini macaroons:
Good and in generous quantity!
We washed this down with a bottle of red Curtefranca la Montina 2004, at £22.50 and a 0.75litre bottle of water at £3. An additional glass of Vermentino di Gallura Arkena 2004 came on credit The total bill including 12.5% discretionary service came to £92.81.
Can you tell how good we felt? As you can see, this time Man and Woman agreed on everything, no mean feat.
The front staff is amiable and efficient; it is a true asset of Latium. Sadly, the ‘legendary’ manager Giovanni Baldino has just left, taking with him some very capable waiting staff, to open a new establishment (more on that story later…). However we are confident that the stalwart assistant manager Alex and the new staff will keep up the good work.
And what about the kitchen? What strikes us is that Maurizio Morelli, for his delicate hand and soft touch, succeeds in retaining ‘full body’ and strong structure in his creations. If he had not been a chef, he would clearly have been a painter: good for us he is a chef! His is a food of colour, emotion and creativity.
Can somebody please explain why he has not got a Michelin star yet?