Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.
[Update, November 2007: It saddens me to have to report that a few months back The Neal Street Restaurant closed becuase the building lease ran out. I hope they choose to open a new restaurant somewhere else in the future, but opening a restaurant is such an extreme effort that I’m not going to hold my hopes close to my heart.]
When I was younger I watched Antonio Carluccio’s Italian Feast on SBS, not unsurprising television in a family with chefs for parents. It was an excellent programme, Antonio wandering Italy introducing us to everything Italian – much like a grown up offering of Jamie Oliver’s more recent Italian gallivanting. I have read about Antonio’s restaurant in London and while he isn’t actually the chef there I assumed he would have a very good choice of chef (and probably a lot of creative input I’d like to believe). So since moving here it has been my intention to visit; although with some apprehension since it is taking a while to come to terms with the cost (when converted to AUD) of eating out here in the UK.
This week the opportunity arose, to make up for a week long business trip to Germany I had a long weekend with Kathlene and on Monday finally bit the bullet and went to the Neal Street Restaurant. I’m glad to say that it was worth every £ – all 145 of them (everything described below plus two glasses of good red, two bottles of mineral water and 12.5% “discretionary service”). This is a place you go to only if you consider food to be one of life’s most important little features, or if you’re simply a rich bastard.
I’ll start with the coffee, since it is expected of me. Coffee was the last thing we had that evening and unsurprisingly they knew exactly what a ristretto was and didn’t ask me to repeat it or if I was sure (or my favourite and the most common response: tell me that I mean espresso; gah). The coffee was excellent, the only complaint being that it was too long, the typical ristrettos I’ve had in Rome mirror more what I’m used to getting at Toby’s back in Sydney but this was more the volume I’d expect from espresso. It was good coffee, and was served with excellent chocolates that were perhaps a little too rich for the end of a meal.
We chose to have primi and secondi with the prospect of dessert, and are now glad that we chose to skip the antipasti since the serves were well sized. The meal started with the usual olive oil served with a nice collection of breads: something like a slice of ciabatta, a cube of brioche and thin slices of a sultana and walnut bread, possibly rye. The olive oil had excellent flavour and the olives served as appetisers were amongst the best I have ever had (not very salty, not vinegary and with a spiced flavour – freshly prepared I suspect).
For primi Kathlene the crab tortelli with a saffron sauce and I had one of the nights specials, pappardelle with a porcini mushroom sauce (all the specials were porcini mushroom, they must have had an extra good shipment). Beautiful fresh made pasta and a well balanced sauce; it was, quite simply, just right. Kathlene’s dish was somewhat more complex and my small sample proved a light flavour with a distinctive taste of saffron and excellent texture but the crab flavour I had hoped for was too hidden.
Kathlene ordered a porcini salad with a secondi of Sea Bass en Papillote and I had the quail with truffle stuffing. I should explain how the food is served, the service staff come to your table with a little cart and usually the meal is put together in front of you. For my earlier pasta the pasta was placed into a bowl and then the sauce spooned over it from a saucepan. The preparation was similar for my quail, and Kathlene’s Sea Bass came down in its paper wrapping which was opened up and the fish and mushrooms inside arranged on the plate before us. It brings a little of the kitchen into the dining experience (not to mention freshness); much appreciated.
My quail were perfect, there’s little more to say except that in an up market restaurant I was pleasantly surprised by the plurality of quail. No overpowering overuse of truffle and condimented with a tasty array of funghi. Kathlene’s sea bass was similarly baked with an array of funghi and well cooked. The porcini (aka cep by the way) salad was simple and focused entirely on the porcini; enhanced by a sprinkling of parsley, some strips of what was probably a pecorino romano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Our meals left us feeling well fed but still able to squeeze in some dessert… how could it be any other way with a cardamom icecream on the menu! My icecream was the icy sort, almost a sorbet and came in cardamom, cinnamon and saffron flavours. Saffron icecream! It was exquisite. Kathlene inevitably went for Antonio’s Tiramisu and it was a good rendition of this old favourite; very, very rich.
Overall we had an excellent evening, the food actually lived up to my expectations and the service was impeccable. The overall environment was a little more formal that I am comfortable with, but did not make me uncomfortable enough to not pick up my little quail leg bones and get the meat off with the best tools available. In high society I’d probably be made to eat with the dogs; though I might fit right in with medieval royalty.
Certainly a place for the mushroom enthusiast! On the way out we admired the
display of produce, including a tray with a wide variety of mushrooms. Antonio seems to have a thing for funghi. The Carluccio’s deli next door to the restaurant would certainly be worth a visit, but we didn’t get around to popping in. There are also a lot of Carluccio’s cafés around London, one near the office in Notting Hill, but I have never been to one of these – I assume they keep a fairly high standard.
…tasso, tasso, tasso, tasso…