Yes, I know. I too remember the fuss I made over these ‘returns’, but brace yourselves audience for this shall not be the last! You see, this week, W, a friend from a mystery overseas destination is visiting London and so, as she is on holiday and because she was my maiden fine-dining companion, my prime paesan of the dinner plate, particeps criminem initialem meum even, she gets to pick where we eat. However, after following this little diary of mine, with intense interest no doubt, where else does she want to go, but to those places she has already read reviewed here!
It was Saturday night and signorina fancied some Italian. Therefore, as we had a very early flight out the country the next morning (I shall not be giving away the location just yet), we scheduled an early dinner at LL. It was a reservation for three as a friend of W’s, C, joined us. In the taxi, I tried to recall the dishes that appealed to me the first time round, but which I had been unable to order (and Lord knows I did order a lot); a couple stood out in my memory, but I also hoped that the menu would have since been updated. The chances of this were somewhat slim, given that it had only been six or so weeks since my last visit, but in truth, I was not too concerned; after all, tonight I had the delightful company of two charming young ladies, so the food was to be only the facilitator/catalyst/grease for tonight’s entertainment and not the distraction itself.
Arriving at LL, I was delighted to be greeted by Daniele, the gentleman who took care of me before. He had been an invaluable source of suggestion when ordering and seemed to possess a good understanding of my tastes and preferences already. He promptly seated us at a large table under those large, latticed street windows in a corner booth that would have comfortably held a couple more. Shortly, a plate of bresola e rucola was delivered to our table together with that basket of bread.
Il Pane: Parmesan grissini, flavoured white bread (garlic, chilli and black olive), cornbread, focaccia (rosemary & olive oil, salt and onion), pizzette, brown bread and Pane Rosetta. The granaio, filled with its wide and tasty assortment of Italian breads, was as good as before. Today, the creamy, cheesy grissini and sweet caramelised garlic bread, which I had hyped up prior to arriving, proved most popular.
Antipasto 1: Bresola e rucola. An unexpected, but well-received dish of cured beef with rocket and goat’s cheese helped start the mental and tummy juices flowing as we deliberated over the menu. The beautifully marbled, crimson coloured slices of this air-dried salted beef were tender, almost sticky and flavourful; it also emanated a pleasantly sweet and musty odour. The meat was matched with a crisp, peppery rocket salad and a mild dressing of goats’ cheese and olive oil.
After much wheeling and dealing, our negotiations had eventually yielded some mutually agreed upon dishes. These were supplemented with a couple more recommended by Daniele to give us another two antipasti, a couple of plates of pasta, two fish dishes and three desserts.
Antipasto 2: Insalata estiva. The colourful and simple summer salad glowed with bright, fresh greens, whites, reds and oranges. It was an eclectic mix of cherry tomato, green, yellow and fresh bean, radish, white beet, pumpkin and green leaves, garnished with a sweet potato tuile and pomegranate dressing. Unfortunately, it looked more interesting than it tasted. Though the ingredients were firm and fresh, it was all a little dull with the supposed pomegranate completely undetectable.
Antipasto 3: Gamberi siciliani e borlotti, aglio e peperoncino. Pan-fried Sicilian prawns and borlotti beans with garlic and sweet chilli was another starter. Three succulent, still-shelled Mazara prawns came with almost translucent, plump, pale fallow borlottis in a shallow sea of spicy sauce. The prawns were cooked perfectly and juicy; the meaty beans, warm, nearly mushy and thoroughly enjoyed, especially by me; whilst the sauce was well-prepared with clean flavours that gave a refreshing kick, but did not overpower the shellfish.
Antipasto 4: Acciughe, peperoni, capperi di Pantelleria. A final antipasto of salted anchovies, peppers and capers was a surprise from the staff who, having seen me emasculated by my two female companions (not big anchovy lovers themselves) and ceding in favour of ordering other dishes, surely felt sorry for me. The anchovies came wrapped in between two layers of an interchanging yellow pepper and capsicum quilt with large caper halves and daubs of spinach furnishing the plate. The wealth of rich flavours was pleasing; the very salty fish and powerful, sour capers were balanced by the sweet, soft, almost molten peppers and herby spinach. Even the ladies “did not hate it.”
Primo Piatto 1: Linguine all’astice. Linguine with lobster, garlic and chilli was the first of the pastas. Now, I always like ordering something different at the same restaurant, but I had no luck steering them away from this irresistible combination. The appetising looking dish again slightly disappointed me – actually, I had the same exact feelings this time as I did last; though the al dente paste was good and fat tomato slices nice, the lobster was again chewy and the dish a little oily. At least the kitchen is consistent then.
Primo Piatto 2: Ravioli di cipolla rossa, salsa al Chianti, ricotta salata. The next pasta of red onion ravioli, Chianti sauce and salted ricotta was one which had caught my eye before. Several sizeable ravioli, stuffed with shredded red onion and submerged in a Chianti sauce infused with veal stock and rosemary, came blanketed with a liberal grating of ricotta. The subtly sweet onions, encased within the excellent pasta shells, contrasted pleasingly with the salty cheese shavings, which soon melted into the rich, deep sauce. The subtle hint of rosemary came through especially well. This was definitely one of my favourite dishes of the meal.
Pesce 1: Nasello in scabeccio e insalata di finocchio. The mains started with this Giorgio Locatelli classic of steamed fillet of hake, garlic, parsley and fennel salad. A hunky chunk of hake, on a bed of fennel shards and in a hot olive oil, lemon and white wine vinegar sauce, was garnished with plenty of roughly chopped parsley and garlic. The pristine white of the flaky fish was highlighted stunningly against the parsley’s leafy green and sauce’s bright lemon yellow. The hake, steamed, I believe, in a bag, was imbued with a rich herb and citrus sour tang, which balanced agreeably with the sharp vinegar. The candy-like crunch of the fennel also compared nicely with the soft fish. I found these flavours, though strong and not to everyone’s liking, very enjoyable, however the dish was somewhat spoilt by the slight overcooking of the hake.
Pesce 2: Sogliola arrosto, macedonia di vegetali. The roasted Dover sole with risina beans and seasonal vegetables followed. Again, another substantial serving, but complain I dare not. The thick fillet of Dover sole (on or off the bone is offered), seared to a precious golden brown char and resting on a bed of peas, courgette flowers and risina beans, was dressed with a light drizzle of pesto. The fish was firm, if possibly again a little dry and overcooked, but still retained its mild, almost-buttery flavour. The legumes were good; the peas, slightly sweet and the colourful courgette added texture, as did the tasty, creamy Umbrian beans. The nutty and herby basil pesto brought with it intensity, moisture and an agreeable aroma.
Contorni: Zucchine fritte. A simple side dish of julienne courgettes came prepared in a very fine batter and lightly fried. The delicate vegetable had maintained its subtle, mild taste well and was left not at all greasy by the frying.
Dolce 1: More sciroppate, gelato allo yogurt. The main courses consumed, desserts commenced with confit blackberries and yoghurt ice cream. This ideal summer treat featured a coupe of dense, maroon blackberry jam topped off with a thick, milky ice cream of yoghurt. The zesty, sugary fruit confit was a superb foil for the sourness of the creamy yoghurt. This was refreshing, uncomplicated and moreish.
Dolce 2: Fondente di cioccolato al Gianduiotto, gelato al mascarpone. Having devoured our fruity dessert we were ready to assuage our cocoa cravings; this was attempted with a chocolate and Gianduiotto liqueur fondant with mascarpone ice cream. The petite sugar-dusted fondant came served with a dollop of ice cream upon a sugary biscuit cracker. This well-executed, chocolate classic contained a lovely, hot liquid core that oozed out liberally once the soft cake’s coat was punctured. The fondant had a rich, nutty taste from the Bicerin di Gianduiotto liqueur – a 200 year old chocolate and hazelnut drink famous in Turin. The ice cream was indistinguishable as mascarpone, but it did have a good, smooth consistency.
Dolce 3: Selezione di sorbetti. Our two dolci were accompanied by a selection of sorbets. The presentation here was delightful; eight large scoops of sorbetti, each of a different flavour – prosecco, pistachio, earl grey, lime, dark chocolate, green apple, raspberry and passionfruit – were individually garnished with either a small tuile biscuit of different varieties (caramel nut, chocolate chip or plain) or frozen slice of apple, whilst the plate itself was brightened with decorative splashes of mango and strawberry coulis. All had excellent consistencies and flavours that were each distinct and clean, enabling us to quickly identify which sorbet was which. The dark chocolate and earl grey were unanimously agreed upon as the tastiest.
Petit Fours: Grappa chocolate truffles, amaretti, gelatina di albicocca e mango. The PFs were again dark chocolate and grappa truffles, almond amaretti and apricot-mango gelées. The fruit jellies were once more decent, but this time the truffles were not as overwhelmingly alcoholic as before and thus more agreeable. Even so, I still preferred the amaretti over both.
Throughout the night, service was exemplary; we were very well looked after by all the friendly and efficient staff; especially the again excellent Daniele. The food was good, but for me, did not reach the heights of my previous meal here; none of today’s dishes even came close to rivalling the sardine alla griglia, panzanella (grilled sardines, bread and tomato salad) that I enjoyed so very much on that last occasion. My opinion of the desserts however, did improve as I thought that today’s choices outdid those that I had tried before. All in all, a pleasant meal indeed, but unfortunately no wows this time.
An interesting piece of news we picked up over dinner was that Giorgio is imminently about to open Ronda Locatelli, his new branch in Dubai. He will be going back to basics and serving traditional pizza and pasta dishes in a massive 210-seat restaurant within Atlantis The Palm Dubai hotel. There he will join the illustrious company of Nobu, Michel Rostang and Santi Santamaria of Can Fabes. Congratulazioni e buona fortuna, Giorgio!
8 Seymour Street, W1H 7JZ
tel: 020 7935 9088
nearest tube: Marble Arch