Latium

 

The day: 14th January 2008, Dinner.
The place: 21, Berners Street, London W1 (020-73239123)
The venue: Latium
The food: Fine Italian Dining
The drinks: Italian based list, wide price range starting from below £20 up to the hundreds, also by the glass.
 
(For a more recent meal, see here)

 

Well…if you read this blog regularly you know already how we feel about Latium and the cuisine of his chef/patron Maurizio Morelli. If not…be aware from the outset that for us it’s simply the best Italian cuisine in London: yet unrewarded by Michelin stars (though they will come, no doubt) but well-noted in the best and most competent Italian guide which covers some restaurants abroad (by this guy), and by legions of discerning customers, which makes it advisable to book in time (at least twice we found it fully booked on a Monday night!). After our review from our visit almost exactly one year ago we want to update you – we need to update you: there are changes, big changes. And there is progress.
Starting from the interior:
Beside some new benches in the smart L-shaped front room, the big news is a chef’s table in a separate room near the kitchen (in the photo you can spot in the distance the window on that room, and beyond, the kitchen, all viewed from near the restaurant’s entrance).
A closer view is here:
Many tables are round, as we like, and all are comfortable and well-spaced. On the right of the first photo, another novelty: a bar area where coffees are prepared. Mmh…you know what? Thinking of it, in the more than 50 times we’ve visited this place we’ve never had a coffee: the single item on which we cannot pass a judgment! If you have sampled it let us know what it is like.
And in the front room an almost entirely new team since our first review: Baldino has left, Alex has been joined by the new manager Umberto Tosi, and most of the rest of the young team is also new. Will Signor Umberto lead the team as aptly as it was led before? Sorry, you’ve got to wait: you know that we always talk about the (all-important) service only in the end…Here, while you wait have these lovely canapes with the compliments of the kitchen:
These haven’t changed, so we quote ourselves: they are 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.
There are remarkable news on the food front too (what did you expect?) – but for that, again, you have to be patient until the desserts to find out…more on this story later…
The menu pricing is just as it was last year (good!): £24.50 for two courses or £28.50 for three. None of those as ubiquitous as odious supplements that make a mockery of fixed price menus: whether you have wild seabass or fillet of beef or pork belly that’s what you pay. And the shorter lunch set menu is incredible for this quality of food and service (oops, we are giving the game away on the service): £15.50 for two courses and £19.50 for three. The signature dish is still there: the multicoloured four fish ravioli we photographed and reviewed here and here which epitomises Morelli’s passion for filled pasta. The rest of the list has starters such as fois gras terrine with toasted morello cherry bread, or salad of veal tongue with tuna sauce and baby leeks in vinegar; primi such as rigatoni with baby octopus, black olives and broccoli (try them, they are terrific); secondi such as pan-fried fillet of wild sea bass, candied lemon, fennel and red pepper sauce; and an entire ravioli menu, both as starters and main course, and indeed more…more on this story later…
The bread arrives:
Sardinian cartamusica, spinach and pecorino bread, walnut and raisins bread, sun dried tomato rolls and olive rolls. Serious stuff, a basket quite unique in London.
We begin with this:
This is not on the menu (come on guys, we’ve been here more than 50 times, we told you!). It is artichokes in a clear hen broth with quail eggs and prawns. Divine. With some pepper, the intense sweetness of the prawns is exalted, and a creamy explosion of flavour on your palate is triggered by the eggs. The (Sardinian we believe) artichokes are delicious and fit the prawns and eggs combination very well. Light, elegant and rich at the same time, this is already a show-stopper.
For primi we go for:
Ravioli filled with Taleggio cheese, Swiss chard and walnuts, and marjoram.
Tagliolini with crab meat and aubergine sauce
The ravioli make our job easy: when a dish is so beautiful to look at, and it is as delicious as it is beautiful, little more has to be said. We shall only remark that the walnut flavour makes a heavenly marriage with the chard, and that the butter condiment is flavoursome but judiciously light.
And now the tagliolini, in their velvety and luscious condiment, with the pungent aubergine expressing itself with personality. The pasta is perfect, and the sweet crab is well integrated in the sauce. The tomatoes add both a visual and a flavour finish, and an extremely high quality olive oil suffuses the ensemble. An example of a dish which is refined and at the same time appeals to your most basic gluttonous instincts: you want to just tuck in and stuff yourself, but you also want to pause and relish the flavour.
For secondi we choose:
Poached fillet of beef with spinach, pickled carrots, toasted hazelnuts, in tomato broth
Roast fillet of monkfish wrapped with lard, pumpkin sauce, savoy cabbage, girolles mushrooms and red wine reduction.
The fillet of beef will remind any Italian of a deconstructed ‘pizzaiola’ (beef/veal with tomato sauce, very popular in Italian homes). But there’s quite a difference here: touches such as the acidic pickled carrots and the toasted hazelnuts, the monstrously good broth (Morelli’s stocks are great), the perfect cooking of the beef (sous-vide we think), make of this amazing kaleidoscope of flavours a ravishingly beautiful modern dish of deconstructed tradition. Indeed for Man this is the best among many fine dishes, and he is forever and beyond reason imploring Morelli not to take it off the menu…
Talking about beautiful dishes, look at how the monkfish is resting on a brilliant palette of colours. Flavourwise, there is a dominant theme of sweetness, primarily from the smooth pumpkin sauce which gains structure from the wine reduction (this is a good example of how to create a ‘classical sauce effect’ while keeping the dish light avoiding heavy use of dairy fats). The mushroom flavour is very concentrated and holds its own assertively. The fish is cooked well, the bite through the lard into the moist meat extremely pleasurable.
And finally, the dessert:
Three colour ravioli

Yes, here is the big novelty, a new signature dish: the passion for ravioli has finally made into dessert territory! From left to right: apple ravioli with pine kernels, raisins, cinnamon and vanilla sauce; chocolate ravioli filled with ricotta, candied fruit, pistachio, served with orange sauce; mint ravioli with pineapple in coconut sauce. Well, what to say, just read the ingredients and salivate…this is a triumph and this dish will make a mark. Just note that the apple ravioli are a delightfully deconstructed ‘strudel’, the chocolate ravioli play incredibly intensely with the orange sauce, and the final coconut sauce concludes this tour the force with a caress on your palate.
After this complex piece of work, we wanted to show you also:
Yogurt mousse with wild berries.
This mousse is one of our long-time favourites when we feel we are eating too much (that is, always) and yet we need a dessert, and illustrates the fact that even for very basic, very simple dishes it matters a lot who prepares them, an ordinary chef or a serious chef. None of the excess acidity you might fear from the yogurt: just a perfect blend of flavours in a very light yet tasty dessert.
With the usual 0.75 bottle of water and a bottle of wine that disgracefully we forgot to make a note of and whose memory has been washed down by many more litres of the noble liquid since, but which cost about £25 (that we remember), the bill came to a supremely reasonable £96.20. We never want them because we are so full, but they are delicious and they are brought to your table as a final complimentary item:
We have tried them in the past, and if you still have space in your stomachs, they are well worth it (if you only have space for one, the lusciously decadent white chocolate truffle in cinnamon coating will linger in your memory).
The service at Latium is one of the best we know of. A team that operates unhurriedly the busy dining room like clockwork, with fresh directness but also with elegance and a touch of formality, and who act -as should always be the case- in close cooperation with the kitchen, and with an intimate knowledge of the dishes. All coordinated with towering assurance and friendliness by the charming Signor Umberto, and of course by the equally friendly and energetic Signor Alex, who continues from the old team. Chef Morelli’s cuisine rests on very sound classical foundations, yet, as you have seen, there is so much inventiveness and originality. These combine to produce a profoundly personal cuisine, not similar to any other, with dishes that strike for their ‘solidity’ going hand in hand with a supreme lightness. And for their great visual beauty (take another look). Add to this the restaurant’s new look (with few more trimmings still to come), Latium is definitely on the up. This is fine, beautiful dining – at killer prices. Maurizio Morelli is an outstanding young chef you’ll hear much more about in the future.

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2 comments on “Latium

  1. Loving Annie says:

    Wow. Between you and Douglas B of Intoxicated Prose, I’m definelty going there since I am a pasta lover….

  2. Man-Woman says:

    Well in that case we can promise you won’t regret it!

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