05 March 2012
Al Boccondi' Vino is like Upminster: it is several stops past Barking. It is a totally outrageous, one off.
Ostensibly, ABV is an Italian restaurant. The chef and front of house are almost comical parodies of how we view Italian men (tousle-haired, stubble, talking loudly with his hands, chatting to a single lady sitting at the bar) and women (large, matronly, fussing around, talking even more loudly than the chef). And the food is very much Italian too, but it is more that this is a floor show as much as a restaurant, where you are participants in a nightly theatre.
The restaurant is hugely popular, but, when we arrived, nobody seemed to care about the name of our reservation. We were almost immediately given the first of only three choices all evening: which table would we like? Having sat down, the second choice was offered: would we like red or white wine? Now I am sure that you can get more than one sort of wine, as another table seemed to have a different one, but I don’t know how you get to make that choice, as it was not given as an option.
And then the food just started coming: never mind that the other two of our party were not there, the first of the many, many dishes was set before us. We had been warned not to have lunch, and we were very hungry when we arrived. Really good advice that: don’t eat lunch. In fact, don’t eat breakfast either. And wear elasticated trousers.
After the initial arrival of sliced salami, there then came thick and fast about twenty more dishes, and lots more wine. So forgive me if I miss anything out, but there was bean soup with a parmesan crisp, a salad with prawns, grilled aubergine, fried artichoke, grilled king prawns, a beautiful scallop on the half-shell, carpaccio, pasta with pesto and then the big flourish of the floor show: the lamb.
Although the last people to sit down had probably arrived an hour or so after us, so skilled is the service that the pace of our meal had been slowed down and the pace of the late-comers accelerated so that, by the time the meat did the circuit of the room in its cooking tray, so that everyone could admire and clap, we were all at the same stage of the meal. The chef had disappeared by this stage, the single lady at the bar discretely slipping out a few moments later, leaving the shouting at kitchen staff to the front of house.
After this, the meal moved at a slower pace, with deserts and coffee, before the bill and the third and final choice: unlike almost every other restaurant anywhere in the western world, a “discretionary” service charge is not included in the bill.
Well fed, well watered and thoroughly well entertained, we waddled off to grab a cab back to the centre of town. Forget the trendy openings of ex-van-under-Hungerford-Bridge restaurants. Forget queuing for hours under a car park for a burger. No, make a booking, grab a train and head off to Richmond. There is no better entertainment to be had in town.