Italian

Fifteen – Old Street

To say my experience at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen was horrific wouldn’t be fair. However, to say the thought of returning turns my stomach wouldn’t be far off the truth. The thing is, it’s an ok restaurant based on a wonderful concept (the restaurant also runs as a charity that gives young, unemployed people the chance to be trained as chefs), but is so fantastically exorbitantly-priced for the food you’re served, you get the feeling the only person who’s really getting any benefit out of it is Jamie Oliver.

A starter of buffalo mozzarella and peaches was probably the highlight of the meal. Well-sourced cheese and nicely balanced against the sweetness of the peaches. Still, at over £11, I was surprised it didn’t come plated in gold.

The main, a Fisherman’s Stew containing about one or two pieces of mackerel, pollock, squid (respectively) and topped with 2 teeny tiny mussels, one clam and an angry-looking prawn staring at me with a face that said ‘No, I can’t believe it either’, cost a mind-boggling £28. Twenty-eight pounds. To add insult to injury, the seafood was completely overcooked and absolutely drowning in a tomato stew that I wouldn’t be surprised if had come out of a jar.

Dessert – a strawberry balsamic panna cotta – was ok, not particularly memorable other than the fact that it has a nice consistency, but was maybe too heavy on the balsamic flavouring.

A few positives though…

  1. It was cheerfully busy on a Tuesday night, but not so much so that you couldn’t hear your dining companions. I imagine it would be a good setting for a work dinner that you’re not paying for (which is actually what I was there for).
  2. Service was faultless. I really liked our server – he was calm, knowledgeable and just really nice.
  3. The decor was lovely. However, I suspect that’s another reason why it’s so expensive

Will I be going back? Not unless someone’s paying. And even then, I’d feel a bit guilty for not pointing them in a different direction.

Fifteen Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Rossopomodoro – Notting Hill

Do you want to hear the saddest thing ever? Up until a couple weeks ago, my flatmate wouldn’t eat cheese. In fact, he hadn’t tried it since he was a kid. Just went off the idea of it all. ‘It’s squidgy’, he told me on a number of occasions.

I know. Let me give you a moment to pull your jaw from off the floor.

When he moved in about a year ago, I remarked that we’d have him eating it in no time. Well, it took longer than I thought it would, but we’re nearly there. The first step was cheese on toast – a mild cheddar. As one could imagine, it was slightly dry – not the first thing I’d eat.

The second step was pizza, so Neil (my other cheese-loving flatmate) and I took Charlie to Rossopomodoro in Notting Hill.

We started out with the Bruschetta (£3.50):

Fairly standard, but nice and fresh. And no parmesan! I think he liked this one.

What didn’t work for him, but I found a cheesy delight, was the A Tiella Platter (£6.00):

This was an assortment of Traditional Neapolitan fritters – some with cheese, some with potato, all fried to a delicious crispy golden brown.

For the main event, I went with the Pizza Fru Fru (£10.50):

Divided into three sections, this pizza was a bit schizophrenic. Provola and tomato sauce on the left; Ricotta and salami in the middle ;and friarielli (wild turnip tops) and provola on the right. While I really enjoyed the first two, I wasn’t too keen on the turnip tops. Slightly too bitter and overpowering for the milder provola. What was delicious though, was the crust. Perfectly structured, but not too crisp – this was really nice bread.

Charlie, a bit anxious at this point, had a margherita pizza, which he did actually finish. I think he wanted to say that he didn’t like it, but the fact that he ate the whole thing tells me otherwise.

With all of that, and a bottle of wine down, we took a look at the dessert menu. Man, oh man, the choices. Curiously though, 90% of them featured Nutella as a key ingredient. Not that I’m complaining.

We had the Calde Calde (£5.00):

Sweet warm doughnuts iced with vanilla sugar and topped with Nutella – these were the best, by far.

I went with the Tiramisu (£5.00):

The actual Tiramisu was good – not fantastic, but good. The Nutella was good too (of course), but I’m not sure about the two together. It was a bit heavy.

Neil went with the Nutellotto (£5.00):

Buffalo milk ice cream topped with (you guessed it) Nutella. I really enjoyed this. It was just a nice subtle flavour. I wouldn’t mind getting it on its own for a nice light treat.

And to top it all off, because we were fat asses that spent over £20 a head, we were given three placemats featuring Italian vegetables. Here’s Charlie modelling one:

Fetching, isn’t it?

I should add here that the service was stellar. Warm, friendly – very Italian. In fact, I think we may have been the only native English speakers in there, which is is generally a good sign.

So that’s it. Charlie’s first real brush with cheese was a success. So much so, that we got Firezza two days later, takeaway from our local pizza place the next weekend and this past Sunday we had Mulberry Street delivered. I wouldn’t go so far to say that Charlie ‘likes’ cheese yet, but he certainly likes pizza.

Rossopomodoro on Urbanspoon

Trattoria Lucca – Camden

I’ll be honest, my meal here wasn’t fantastic, but I still really loved it. Why? The place is freakin’ adorable.

Just a short walk away from Camden tube, and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time and travelled a few thousand miles east to a tiny cafe in Rome circa 1963. All that was missing was the checkered table cloths.

As we walked in, we were greeted enthusiastically by three old Italian men with varying thickness of mustaches. Instantly I felt like I was with family (and I’m not even Italian!). My friend and I sat by the window with full view of the cute bar and amazing looking dessert cart. Unfortunately we were running a bit late, so had to get stuck right into the mains.

I went with the Veal Scalloppine with Tomatoes and Garlic:

The plate came out first with just the veal, but as a nice touch, the roasted potatoes and green beans were delicately served by another server separately.  I couldn’t fault the sides, but the tomato sauce on the veal was a bit much. It was gloopy and completely overpowered the meat, which was probably quite nice, but I guess I’ll never know.

It’s cheap, cheerful, and while I wouldn’t go out of my way to rush back, I’d happily go again. I just wouldn’t get the same thing.

Trattoria Lucca on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Homemade Lemon and Goat’s Cheese Ravioli

A few months ago, I saw a recipe in Stylist I knew I just had to try out: Lemon and Goat’s Cheese Ravioli.  Having had an unused pasta machine in my flat for the past year, I had had enough – I was ready to try my hand at making pasta from scratch, and this was the recipe to do it with.

The recipe, as below, wasn’t particularly difficult. You only need a few ingredients – ones that you’re likely to have around the house anyway – and it’s all very straightforward.  I changed a few things from the original recipe – mainly the addition of chorizo (because it’s chorizo. It’s gorgeous). But you know what? I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.

Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic – everyone should put lemon zest in their pasta. But holy moly, if it didn’t take bloody ages.  My PR/marketing side of me keeps wondering if the return (yumminess) was worth my investment (time). I’m not sure. Still, if you have time and want to put that unused pasta machine to good use, definitely try it out!

(Click to enlarge)

ravioli recipe

If anyone is wondering, I made the recipe graphic with Beeclip – a sort of canvas-maker.  Full disclosure: They let me know about their service, but had no other involvement in the post.

Red Pepper – Maida Vale

Red Pepper is a place I walk by pretty much every day. Situated approximately 5 minutes walk from my flat in Maida Vale, it’s astonishing that I hadn’t eaten there until a couple of weeks ago when my dad was visiting from the States. Astonishing and tragic, because Red Pepper is excellent.

The restaurant is tiny, situated nearly opposite of the very popular Prince Alfred pub, home of the Formosa Dining Room. There are – max – 8 tables, all but one empty – and with 2 servers and a bar tender on duty (during an England World Cup match, no less), it felt a little overkill. The menu is fairly standard Italian, pasta and pizza. Nothing looked too inspiring, so I’ll admit I didn’t have the highest of hopes.

My dad and I ordered two pastas that came ridiculously fast, even for an empty restaurant.

Mine, Linguine Vongole:

His, Spaghetti Marinara with Goats Cheese:

Both pastas were excellent. The noodles were perfectly cooked, not too much sauce and absolute bucketloads of flavour.

The clams in my linguine were abundant – I had nearly enough for one clam every bite. That, in London, is amazing enough. The butter, sage, oil and pepper were perfectly balanced. Usually with pastas, I end up feeling overly stuffed, but this was perfect.

We have quite a few little Italian places in Maida Vale, including the very disappointing Le Cochonnet (which I can’t even be bothered to review), but this is now my favourite. I’ll definitely be back.

Red Pepper on Urbanspoon

Vineria – St Johns Wood

Despite it technically being a very manageable walking distance from my flat, I’ve never eaten in St Johns Wood before. There’s something about crossing the border into NW8 that doesn’t sit right with me. Maida Vale is nice and all, and you do walk by your share of mansions around Warwick Avenue, but St Johns Wood? It’s a whole different world.  A world of Kate Moss and Paul McCartney and god knows who else with oodles of money. I’ve just always felt a bit out of place there. But you know, since I’ve wrapped up Maida Vale, I figured it was time to branch out north.

Vineria is a small Northern-style Italian restaurant just off Abbey Road. It’s smartly decorated  – lots of white with clean lines and interesting chairs.

The boy was going to be a bit late due to the stupid Jubilee line being down, but the staff weren’t bothered about it at all. They brought me some bread and suggested a glass of wine. Everyone was very pleasant.  They had a promotion going on that if you ordered a starter and main, you’d get 50% off the food bill. Starters were around the £9 and mains were anywhere from £14 to £35.

When Leif arrived, we were presented with an amuse bouche of parmesan with balsamic syrup:

Vineria

Nothing much to say about this one. The cheese wasn’t the best.

To start, the Seared Lamb with Parsnip and Raspberry Vinegar Reduction:

Vineria

I really liked this. The lamb was perfectly cooked and was offset by the very nice, only lightly sweet raspberry vin.

Now I never get pasta for my meal (too carby – makes me sleepy) , but for some reason I had a craving. Going off of my yummy squid ink gnocchi at Sketch, I went with the Cuttlefish Ink Ravioli stuffed with salmon and served with a fresh clam sauce:

Vineria

I was a bit so-so on this. It was a bit tepid, and didn’t really have the kind of kick I expected. The salmon filling was dry and the clams completely overcooked. I cleaned my plate, but felt pretty disappointed with the whole thing.

Leif went with Risotto with Gorgonzola cheese and radicchio.  We both gasped when the plate was brought to the table:

Vineria

Have you seen anything look more unappetizing? Didn’t taste great either. No one wants to eat something that looks like it’s been regurgitated. Huge, huge thumbs down.

After our meh mains, we decided to skip dessert.  It’s a shame, the meal started out very promising. Coming in at around £48 for two of us with wine, food, discount and service, it was reasonably priced, but if you ever go, stay clear of the pasta.

Vineria on Urbanspoon

Med Kitchen – Cambridge Circus

Normally I wouldn’t find myself anywhere near one of these restaurants. So how did I end up here? Friday night last minute + Top Table reservation gone awry + going to Avenue Q down the street + no other choice = Cheap 3-course for 15 deal at Med Kitchen.

I started out with what I thought was a proper duck salad, but ended up being a duck pate of sorts:

This wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but there was far too little bread for the amount of pate they give you. I’m not a big fan of eating meat paste on its own. (I can here my veggie friends groaning at that. Sorry)

For my main, Penne Arrabiata:

Not too bad. The penne wasn;t overcooked and the sauce had a nice kick to it. Only thing that was confusing was the amount of greens on top.  It should have been a garnish – instead it just dried the whole thing out. If you’re going to have that much, you need to have more sauce.

Dessert was vanilla creme brulee:

By far, the best of the night. It was the perfect temperature, had a nice crust and wasn’t too sweet. Very very nice.

Looking back on the whole meal, it was all a bit underwhelming. There are plenty of better restaurants in the area, so if you have more than a couple hours notice, check out other options first. But you know… live and learn.

Med Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Polpo – Soho

This tiny Venetian tapas restaurant in the middle of Soho has really made quite a splash since it opened earlier this month. Harnessing the power of social media, Polpo‘s owners have managed to drill down into the heart of the London foodie community and probably get more food blogger reviews in a few weeks than other restaurants have in years.  Now, whether that’s a good strategy for a new restaurant remains to be seen – the reviews from what I can tell are a mixed bag. My experience, however, was definitely a positive one.

I managed to snag a table for 3 for a 2pm lunch. The restaurant is still hopping. We sit down and take a look at the menu.  I have a momentary freakout because I’m with one vegetarian and one sort of vegetarian, and at first glance it doesn’t seem like there’s much on the menu for them to eat. A bit of detective work, however, found veggie dishes popping out from other categories.

We start out with some green tapenade crostini, potato & parmesan croquette and salt cod on polenta:

polpo

The croquettes are lovely, as is the salt cod.  I’m not too much a fan of the crostini.  The tapenade had a weird rubbery texture I couldn’t quite get used to.

We also tried the grilled zucchini:

polpo

This was fantastic. There was a nice bit of bread crumbs on top to give it a bit of a crunch. The zucchini itself had a nice bite to it as well (seems they were generous with the lemon). I always think zucchini has the potential to come out very soggy depending on how its cooked, but this was done perfectly.

Next up was a dish specifically for the carnivore at the table (me). Roast pumpkin with prosciutto and Parmesan:

polpo

OMG. This was soo good. Very simple, elegant blend of savoury flavours. The cheese was a sharp balance to the warm pumpkin. I’m making this at home. Easy, super fantastic dish.

Pizza bianca:

polpo pizza

This white pizza was a blend of cheeses with some very sweet roasted onions. It was a good size portion. I would order it again.

Grilled polenta:

polpo polenta

I don’t think I eat enough polenta. It’s such a great side dish.  Ours was a bit on cold, but that didn’t detract from it.  There was a hint of sweetness in the dish that made it pair well with whatever else we had at the table, including this dish of turnip tops, chili and garlic:

polpo greens

For me, the only slight disappointment was dessert.  We all went for the chocolate ganache cake, which we were assured was the best on the menu.  While it was indeed tasty, it didn’t blow me away.  It was less a chocolate cake, as it was a lemon cake with a bit of chocolate sauce.  I like to keep my chocolate separate from my citrus, but that’s just me…

polpo cake

So far, I’m a fan of Polpo. I’d definitely like to give it another go some time, particularly to try some of the other meat dishes – especially because I was so fond of the pumpkin ham. It will be interesting to see if it stands the test of time now that all the blog buzz is starting to die down.

Only time will tell…

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Stef’s – Oxford Street

Stef’s is located pretty much on the cusp of the first circle of Hell (just north of Oxford Street across from the Plaza Shopping Centre and next door to a Nando’s), but that won’t stop me from going there again.

We had a large group on a Saturday night and were all there on a Top Table deal of 2 course and a glass of prosecco for £15.95.  Now, most of the time on these deals, I expect to be treated pretty poorly, but the staff at Stef’s couldn’t have been sweeter.  The ‘deal’ menu had a lot of choice, we weren’t rushed by the staff at all and I thought the food was excellent (plus, all 7 meals came at the same time – something that seems to be a huge challenge for far too many restaurants these days).

For my starter, I went with a very simple mozzarella and garlic bread.

A really nice start to a very garlic-y meal. But in a good way

For my main, I had chosen a tomato cream tortelloni, but unfortunately they had just run out.  It must have been pretty popular.  I asked for a recommendation, and ended up going with a spaghetti with mussels in a spicy tomato sauce.

It’s so easy to get used to banging on about crazy intricate sauces and complex flavours that you often forget that simple can be best. This was a nice al dente pasta with tomatoes and chili and garlic and spices.  Nothing complicated, but certainly very good.

I was one of the few tempted by dessert, and went with this chocolate souffle cake.

I was amazed (and a bit bemused) as to how this cake got to our table so quickly.  Usually with a souffle it takes a little bit of time to cook – especially to the point where the middle of the cake is nice and oozy. I ordered this and within minutes it was sitting in front of me.  It’s a mystery – a very delicious mystery I probably don’t want to know the answer to.

Definitely pop into Stef’s if Oxford Street Christmas shopping is doing your head in. It’s not quite as good as Amaretto, but still a cheap option for yummy Italian in Central London.

Stef's on Urbanspoon

Amaretto – Fitzrovia

We all had a very tough week at work. Lots of pitches meant long hours in the office, so once our presentation document was finished, our boss treated us to lunch at Amaretto, a cozy little Italian restaurant off Tottenham Court Road.

I haven’t had proper Southern Italian food in a while and I almost never order pasta in a restaurant ever since I worked at Macaroni Grill. It sounded good.

We ordered some nibbles of bread and olives.  For some reason, I really like olives now. I even had olive bread. The bread was warm too. Triple bonus points for that.

amaretto olive bread

For starters we just ordered a few plates of bruschetta:

Bruschetta can sometimes go horrible wrong.  If it sits too long, you get really soggy oil bread with old tomatoes. This was none of those things – it was crisp, fresh and perfect. Wish it had a bit more basil though. Basil really makes a good bruschetta.

For my main: Homemade gnocchi in a tomato sauce with buffalo mozzarella gratin.

Wow. This was a-ma-zing.  I forgot how much I liked fatty pasta.  Crispy baked cheese on little potato dumplings. What more could you ask for? I mean, look at this gnocchi… When they say homemade, they mean homemade:

Absolutely delicious.

Love, love, love Amaretto.  I can’t believe I’ve walked by it nearly everyday for a year and never went in. Can’t wait to go back.

Amaretto on Urbanspoon