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|Address:||4 Great Portland Street, London W1W 8QJ|
|Tel:||020 3641 8303|
|Price: £42.00||Wine: £19.00||Champagne: £47.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Fri 12N-11pm (Wed-Fri -12M) Sat 1-11pm|
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Next time someone suggests meeting for a meal ‘somewhere central’ why not dine at Degò? It really couldn’t be more central (a mere hop and a skip from Oxford Circus in that interesting though gastronomically rather bland enclave just off Great Portland Street). The name Degò (apparently a fusion of ‘degustation’ and ‘osteria’) is tricky: to English ears all too reminiscent of a deeply un-PC and thankfully virtually extinct description of our friends from beyond the Pyrenees; and to French ears it’s alarmingly close to the diminutive for ‘dégeulasse’ or disgusting! Well, Degò is anything but disgusting; in fact it’s a delight. The room is decked out in black and red with a long central high table at which you sit facing your companion (I’m not quite sure how it would work if you were three) so it’s fine for all but the most intimate occasions – so not the best choice if you’re going to propose and aren’t entirely sure what the response will be; and it’s definitely not the place for swapping particularly salacious gossip. That said, we had no one beside us one Friday lunch so even state secrets could have been passed with ease. (There’s a basement room into which I didn’t venture but it’s apparently decked out lounge-style with sofas; and you can sit outside, weather permitting.)
Degò’s heart is its wine; its soul is its food. A long list of wines, many by the glass, wanders from the toe of Italy’s boot to the top and there’s clearly a discriminating palette behind the offerings – I opted for a glass of white (an organic Soarda Vespaiolo at £6.50) and a glass of red (a superb Barolo di Serralunga at £9.10 whose complexity belied its 14.5% strength). The menu is a mix of platters for sharing (cheese and salumi), small plates, pastas (in small and main-course portions) and mains. Let me say straightaway that the cooking is wonderfully fresh, seasonal and imaginative with a fine balance between the Italian and the British. I started with a small plate (and it really was small) of burrata cream cheese, three gorgeous pink Sicilian prawns infused with thyme – delicious! My host had an ‘Onde del mare’, a plate of small sheets of pasta enveloping a tuna pate with squares of raw tuna, capers and some herbs – again an absolute winner.
My main was a total re-imagining of liver and onions, half a dozen or so triangles of perfectly cooked calves liver sitting on a mound of finely mandolined raw onions – but they were so crisp and so sweet that there was no hint of rawness or edge – with some sweet-corn folded in. A lovely treacly balsamic bound it all together. My host's pan-fried tuna was heavenly and this time sitting on algrodolce onion confection. A trio of wonderfully flavoured ice-creams (peach, raspberry and a truly heavenly pear) rounded off a superb meal. It’s not cheap, but nor is it outrageously expensive, but the quality is first rate. Charming waiters and a sommelier who speaks with passion and obvious first-hand knowledge of the various wine producers he buys from. I shall be returning very soon…