Whenever we look at Theo Randall’s menus, which have won him a best Italian London restaurant of the year award (we still find it hard to believe), we find an irresistible urge to sleep: the ingredients may be good, their cooking just so, but boy o boy how boring, stiflingly conservative do those dishes look to engrained Italian eaters like us. Instead, in unglamorous Euston there’s a place where every dish looks interesting. We had tried Santino Busciglio’s cuisine at Number Twelve last year and we were impressed. Recently we’ve had another fine dinner there: below we offer some sample snapshots with our sparse comments – see the full review for a more complete description of the restaurant’s style.
Actually, before the snapshots, we’ve got to tell you about a big change in the front room. Gone is elegantly restrained Fabio (who joined Michelin starred Apicius), and in comes volcanic and enthusiastic Antonio (Cerilli), an initial partner in our fave Latium before the advent of Giovanni (Baldino) first and then Umberto (Tosi). The room, part of the Ambassador’s hotel, is also undergoing changes, in our opinion for the better.
Let’s begin with the great bread (an innovation compared to our first report: not any longer served one piece a time from a tray, but placed in a basket on the table – as we like it)
And these are refined Cannelloni of duck, with a celeriac cream (we think we remember), mushrooms, lentils and cavolo nero (again from memory, too many other dishes in between!).
This humble turkey (yes, turkey) was a real show stopper:
Turkey must not be an easy meat for a restaurant, and you don’t see much of it around: so lean, with the risk of terrible blandness. But here excellent raw materials and Busciglio’s technique combine beautifully. Cooked sous-vide with great care, the meat has none of the dreaded dryness, and it expresses a beautiful flavour, coming both from the quality of the beast itself, and from the tasty filling, ‘rabbit style’, made up of the giblets and also chestnuts. The variety and complexity of the dish is enhanced by the presence of a side bread sauce for moisture, of a (very, very well made) potato puree with a crispy bacon slice on top, a very sweet and concentrated ‘berry jam’, a fine reduction and… yes, that Christmas loved/hated classic: four tiny, beautifully presented Brussel sprouts (this would have made Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall happy). There is courage and humour in this dish.
And this dessert, too, is not something you’ll see anywhere else around:
It’s a Genoise made with olive oil (instead of the regular butter), which makes it crispier beside yielding a different flavour, sitting in a generous pool of melted chocolate to scream about, together with four ‘cubes’ that provide a salty background. On top of it, a Guinness ice cream: yet another layer of flavour, bitter this time. Opinions divide and discussion ensues. We don’t know if the chef will keep this on the menu, but this is culinary freedom! This is fun!
Chef Busciglio has obvious passion and integrity. He creates a cuisine that, while showing an eclectic side, is ultimately Italian in spirit: doing Italian cuisine means for him using the best ingredients he can find, not only from Italy (as is obviously the case for olive oil) but nearer home – we think of a fantastically aromatic honey (on the left) from Dorset
or of the rose veal Ossobuco, slightly darker than the classical Italian version-
and making these ingredients express themselves unmasked, gently enhanced by the cooking techniques and enriched by sagacious combinations: Italian style.