Well do you know, I have to show off just a little because for some reason I can't even begin to imagine, we've been twice. Yes that's right we've got tables there on TWO separate occasions and it's still only June 2014. We're not famous, fashionable, well dressed, thin, rich or even particularly nice people so dog only knows why they let us in … or back in for that matter. Everyone can make a mistake once but twice looks like carelessness, as Lady B would say !
The first time was for my birthday, just the chubby hubby and me and you know it was just bliss. We had a couple of drinks in the extra tiny bar first. I love all cocktails to the point that I've decided to give up wine and just concentrate on the hard stuff but at first sight the short list didn't look that promising. Lots of things with vermouth; in fact 8 out of the 12 cocktails have vermouth in them and one of the few that doesn't is some foul ‘soft’ option of mucked about apple juice. I don't like vermouth except in fish pie where it's purpose is to disguise the taste of fish and, if I wanted to drink apple juice, I'd have stayed home and raided my daughter's lunchbox not put on magic pants and dragged out in the rain for the privilege.
Strangely it turns out I was totally wrong about vermouth, a circumstance which often happens to me despite my very strong convictions. Vermouth is blinking lovely stuff and I quickly knocked back ‘A Quick One Before Dinner’ which is “Trio of vermouths, aperol, champagne, grapefruit and lemon peel”. It tastes just like a kiss from Leonard Rossiter just before you go into dinner in an 80's throwback scene; a bit Grand Marnier-like, a hint of some proper liquor and a bit of aftershave, no tongue but a kiss that knows it's business. Leonard Rossiter has always struck me as the sort who drank Grand Marnier rather than just flamed pancakes in the stuff.
The chubby hubby had a ‘Ravello Breeze’ which apparently includes “Gin, lillet, saffron syrup and citrus” (the list happened to fall into my bag, hem hem). I thought it sounded both a bit strong and a bit girly and sure enough it came in this lovely tiny rippled glass with a tiny dainty stem and a puff of something foamy floating about on top. Well it may have looked like a French poodle but it tasted like spring in Desenzano wafting through your mouth and down your throat. Fan-freaking-tastic. I had something else too at the table but even with the list in front of me I can't remember what it was and it was nice but not fan-freaking-tastic so I'll leave that there.
By the way, the bar area is great people watching but tiny and full of people who haven't managed to get a table but have managed to get past the beautiful girls/ boys guarding the place from non-diners, trying to look like they belong and existing on tiny nibbly things and cocktails. The scene is top top class and if you like tequilas then they have some very unusual ones behind the bar but the best thing about the bar is the lovely silver bowl of metal flowers; lilies, peonies, roses and things all fashioned out of old cutlery and not in a rubbish craft show way. Really beautiful and I want it in my hallway with all my soul.
We were offered a normal table but chose to sit on the little bar ledge space that runs around the open kitchen. The CH wasn't too happy 'cos he's a traditional fellow but after 18 years together I'm more than content to sit side by side watching the action and not having to make polite conversation all the time. While waiting to order we had some beetroot blunts, which I'd read Giles Coren waxing lyrical over, and also some cornbread fingers 'cos I'm kind of trashy at heart. And they both sent me all Valley Girl. OMG how could they be that good ! 'Cos they really were. The blunts were all creamy and sweet and rooty and the cornbread ! Well it's proper cornbread the like of which I've never had in the UK and not even that often in the States. And the fingers come with a chipotle-maple butter which tastes like sweet-cured bacon which has been mashed and oozed onto the plate. Christmas they were good ! Slightly disappointingly, the second time I went the blunts were off and I had to stuff crab donuts dusted with coral into my mouth to keep myself from sobbing. It was very hard.
Starters: the CH had something that was good but no details come back (possibly octopus now I think of it as it's just the sort of thing he would like and order because I don't so no sharing) and I had grilled lebanese cucumbers which were fine but not quite at the heights of the canapé things. All totally salvaged by some incredibe short ribs which came next. Again you don't often see them here and I love so always order in the US. These were just perfect, sticky, soft tendrils of beef, sweet but still meaty and just yum yum yum. Whilst slavering and eye rolling over that, we had a “Spot Nuno” competition in the kitchen. I had this feeling he had a beard but most of the kitchen have beards in that totally hip, “I hang out in Brooklyn” way that the young ones seem to do now. We ended up asking one poor beardy who was trying to make what looked like 5,000lbs of beef tartare if we'd got it right and he misunderstood and went a fetched the great chef Nuno Mendes for us to meet. Totally cringing moment and we had to shake hands and mutter some complete sycophantic nonsense to the utterly charming but completely non-plussed man.
Consoled ourselves with puddings and, once again, I have to break out the Valley in me and say OMG ! I had some apple pannacotta thing and it was completely overwhelming without being to pastry-chef-tarted-up nonsense. Imagine a puff of dry-ish lightly toasted meringue still crunchy with sugar grains, a smooth cream just barely holding a tower shape and very lightly scented with apple and sitting on a little soft jelly of tiny but intense apple pieces. The whole thing set in a deep ring of bright herb granita only just sweet and tasting of basil and mint and all sorts of other good green things. Guys, we floated home and didn't even notice the rain.
The second time we went at the last minute after some mysterious man phoned and said “I think you'll take any table and you live locally; come at 6 with 4 of you”. I literally abandoned my child and ran around with family who happened to be in the house and it was a lovely, lovely night. Everyone loved everything, although my hip beardy music-producer brother (believe me, he fit in !) didn't love his ‘Happy Marriage’ cocktail which is quite scented with violet liqueur. I've heard some grumbles with the service but I've never experienced anything other excellent, professional and very friendly staff and, again, we're not that nice so it must all be them and their training.
This restaurant deserves every good word it's garnered and the food is truly delicious without being pretentious. Whoever designed the drinks list is a genius and the chef is all over that restaurant and without all the ego that often comes with a game like he's got going on. We've managed to get another table on a Sunday in July (why ! why!) and I'm almost having more fun deciding who to ask than in looking forward to the meal. Everyone I know, especially all the glam Chelsea set are desperate for a table and I'm a tiny bit enjoying their grumbles that they can't get one despite their expectations that everything is available for them always. I told you I wasn't that nice.