The day: 25 May 2007, Dinner.
The place: 30 Connaught Street, London W2 2AF (020 – 7262 9623)
The venue: Trenta
The food: Fine Italian Dining
The drinks: Italian based list, quite short, many usual suspects, good range of (comfortably marked up) prices, starting below twenty.
Back again in London for a couple of days, coming from Trento we thought Trenta might be at least nomenologically appropriate for our next restaurant experience. For, if ‘Trenta’ (meaning thirty) is meant to be an indication of the ideal customer age, we are afraid we both fail miserably.
You’ll find this recent addition to the ever more buzzing Italian restaurant scene just off Edgware Road, westwards past the barrier of Lebanese restaurants where Maroush seem to keep cloning itself in an unstoppable way (nothing against the great Lebanese cuisine, by the way – so far we had always stopped at the barrier!).
A bold colour statement on the outside:
The interior is divided into two miniature rooms with just a handful of tables in each, one at ground level and the other in the basement. When we enter and we say we have a reservation for two, a man at the counter (who for the best part of the evening we thought was mute) runs speechless downstairs to call a woman. This nice woman puts on her best apologetic air and explains that unfortunately we cannot get a table upstairs because some lady had some hip problem…yeah, whatever. Now, not having the faintest idea of the place we had not requested a table upstairs, but we begin to be very concerned…
‘But is downstairs really so terrible?’.
‘No, no. It’s very nice’.
And indeed it is, in fact it is probably better than the upstairs room, where one would have to contend with the opening and closing of the front door. Tiny but nice. Walls white and strong red, modern paintings on the walls with matching colours, the modern feel sweetened by a piece of traditional furniture giving a homely touch. Guess: are the tables small or large? Anyway, we get a round table for three and we feel comfortable, and comfortably able to hear all the conversations going on in the room (though the atmosphere is pleasant and the noise level more than acceptable).
In the kitchen is chef Silvano Mazzoli and in charge the front room the athletic and hyper energetic co-owner Daniele Camerini, a living testament to the idea that ownership does motivate hard work.
The menu is quite short, and what surprises us is the scarcity of ‘primi’: only three choices. No, wait: tucked among the fish mains there is also a risotto with king prawns. The menu is fixed price, £19.50 for two courses (desserts are charged separately at £5). This looks cheaper than it is really is, as there is a £2.00 cover charge (cover charge? That relic of olden times? Ah, feels like being back in Italy again ) and a supplement on some items. So reckon on average 22.50 for two courses and £27.50 for three.
This is what the cover charge is for:
A fair offering. The bread is OK (certainly not amazing as we have read on other reviews: some critics should get out more), with the ever present Sardinian crispy bread (pane carasau: incidentally we don’t think we have been in a single restaurant in London that did not offer this item, which is funny because in Italy it is hardly seen in restaurants out of Sardinia), and a focaccia-ciabatta cross, sliced so tiny you could see through it. The best item was in the olive and nibbles dish: the spinach ‘frittata’ (we think pureed spinach worked with egg, on a thin layer of puff pastry).
The dishes look quite ‘unfancy’ (not necessarily a bad thing). We notice among the starters the cod ‘bocconcini’ with aubergine salad, and the salad of grilled asparagus, duck eggs and parmesan. However we go straight for the primi: the aforementioned risotto with king prawns and the ‘tardelli’ (type of ravioli) filled with wild spinach in butter and sage.
The tardelli are very pleasant, the filling abundant and tasty, with the sage well in evidence in the condiment, all flavours nicely balanced.
The risotto is the only real disappointment of the evening. First but not least , it is not a risotto… It completely lacks the creaminess of the real thing. The rice has not been cooked so as to absorb the flavour of the condiment. It has lost any bite, and there is a disconnection in taste between it and the crustaceans. It tastes more as if the rice has been previously boiled and then re-heated in the pan with the peas and the prawns. The tomato sauce too felt somewhat ‘disconnected’ from the prawns, having none of its flavours: we wonder whether all bits had been cooked separately and then assembled back? Having said all this, there are no unpleasant tastes and the prawns are in generous quantity. Please chef: we would humbly but strongly suggest to remove this item from the menu (or risk disappointing many more complaining bastards like us!).
For mains we continue on a fish theme: Swordfish (instead of the advertised tuna) with balsamic vinegar, cherry tomato salad, capers and olives; and Sea-bass in potato crust.
Now we are talking. The Swordfish is simply but colourfully and nicely presented, a generously thick chunk, pan-fried to great effect, with a crispy and golden-brown surface and perfectly moist inside, despite being cooked through. The accompanying potatoes repeat the crispy outside and soft inside texture, and we love them. The fish chunk is resting on a generous bed of spinach, which enriches and completes the dish taste-wise, colour-wise, and texture-wise. The flavour of the swordfish is, however, so delicate as to be evanescent – maybe it has lost some in the trip from the Mediterranean (where it was described as to have come from) to the British Isles.
Lack of flavour is certainly not a problem with the sea-bass, maybe the dish of the evening. An intensely tasting fillet, baked with the same cooking skill and attention the chef has shown with the swordfish, and the same can be said for the accompanying green beans and spinach. Excellent raw materials.
We conclude with amaretto pannacotta and chocolate duet (chocolate budino and chocolate pannacotta).
Definitely not a political statement, but in both desserts the right side was far better than the left. The amaretto pannacotta: well, the topping was nice, but the pannacotta itself slightly too solid, we thought due to an excess of gelatine. Instead, on the right, the amaretto icecream was really satisfying, nicely complemented by thin, coffee doused sponges. As for the chocolate duo: as you see, it is in fact a trio, and the odd one out in the middle was indeed a rather good raspberry (?) mousse. On the left, what Woman would have called a budino, which we suspect was the advertised chocolate pannacotta: much better consistency than the amaretto one, but a bit tame in taste. On the right, as for the mousse, another excellent performance by what must have been the advertised budino, a chocolate tart topped with dark chocolate icecream: yummy.
As usual we pass on coffee, and unlike in other places, we are punished by not being served the petit fours (which we are told are very good). Tsk, tsk, not in the tradition of Italian hospitality.
As for wine, we went for a Sicilian Anthilia 2004 (Ansonica and Catarratto) at £24.50. The HALF LITRE bottle of water cost £2.00. The bill came to £87.19 inclusive of 12.5% discretionary service charge.
We found Trenta an intelligent operation. A typical London venue, where space is scarce both in the kitchen and in the front room, and great imagination, adaptation energy and entrepreneurship are required to keep things running smoothly. These qualities are all there, and the enthusiasm and alacrity of Mr. Camerini, running from upstairs to downstairs and back (with great sound effects), trying to check every detail and to keep everything under control and everybody happy, are commendable. It would be good for many restaurateurs in Italy, working inefficiently amidst acres of space and complaining of the thin profits, to come and learn and live on the edge in his type of enterprise.
The same intelligence is shown in the menu. The chef keeps things simple, there is no over-ambition and there are no fireworks or sparks of great originality, but, with one exception as we have seen, his dishes are very well-executed and we mostly enjoyed them. He does not seem to have a passion for ‘primi’, but definitely comes into his own when frying and baking. The prices are just in line with what is nowadays good value in London for good Italian cuisine. We would suggest an investment in technology: a little bell to signal to the staff when a dish is ready, rather than the loud shouts ‘Viaaaaa!’ (Go!) that punctuated the dinner true Murray Walker style (if you are not a long time F1 enthusiast, forget the last remark).
And a birthday present for Mr Camerini: a food lift to bring the food up from the kitchen downstairs.
We would describe this as a good neighbourhood restaurant. Not a place one travels some distance to in order to sample culinary delights, but certainly one we would patronise often if we lived at walking distance from it. But alas, we are not neighbours of Mr. and Mrs. Blair…
Ah: and we were far from being the only customers over thirty!