Monday, November 14, 2005

The Neal Street Restaurant, Covent Garden

The Neal Street Restaurant
26 Neal Street,
London WC2H 9PS

Tel: 020 7836 8368

On Saturday, my wife and I had a day out in London. The day was a wedding present. During the afternoon we went to see Mama Mia! and then we dined at the Neal Street Restaurant, which is run by Antonio Carluccio, one of my favourite chefs.

Before going into the restaurant we visited the shop next door that sells all sorts of Italian foodie delights. I resisted the temptation to buy anything, but I fear a return trip may be inevitable.

The restaurant itself is fairly plain, well laid out with metal tables and chairs, the walls adorned with pictures and quite a few mirrors that give the impression that it is bigger than it really is.

So, onto the food. It started well. Very well - and very unexpectedly. A small bowl of the largest, greenest olives I've ever seen was put on the table. My wife took one and told me I had to try one as they tasted unlike any olives she had ever had. I reluctantly agreed because, even though I hate olives with a passion second only to tomatoes and parsley (does that make it thirds?) I thought I ought to try out every thing I could in this restaurant. So I gingerly bit the end off of one of them. This was indeed unlike any olive I had ever had before. Very sweet and not unlike sipping the very best Extra Virgin Olive oil.

And so, onto the meal proper.

I decided to start with Tagliolini Al Tarturo Bianco - tagliolini in a truffle sauce with shavings of white truffle. I'd never had truffle, so what better place to try it than in the master of fungi's restaurant. To say it was delicious, is an understatement. Despite the fact that my wife said it tasted like old boots (she's wrong by the way) if I ate nothing but this for the rest of my life I would die happy (and broke). My wife had Trifolata Di Funghi Del Giorno - Mixed sautéed mushrooms of the day with wild garlic and chilli served with carasau bread. I managed to sneak a mouthful or two of the mushrooms and they were cooked to perfection. I'm not a big mushroom expert, but I can definitely say, that there were none of those little button mushrooms in brine that they serve in Little Chef's across the country. They were served on what appeared to be a very large fried crispy tortilla-like thing.

Originally, we were going to go for the full Italian Starter-Primi-Secondi-Dessert meal, but decided to stick to the good-old English three courser in the end, rather than over-eat and not enjoy the end of the meal.

For main course, my wife chose Sella Di Cervo Al Forno - Roasted venison loin served with quince compote and morel sauce. She said it was really nice, especially the compote, which she said had quite a 'marmalady' taste and went really well with the meat. Having completed one quest (my first truffles) it was time for another. Could Antonio, one of my favourite chefs, make polenta interesting...? I chose Polenta E Funghi Porcini - Fresh polenta served with braised porcini mushrooms. I kept my fingers crossed that Antonio wouldn't let me down. The plate itself looked okay, but nothing special. A bowl of polenta in the middle of which was a pile of mushrooms. The polenta was quite loose, 'floating', if you will, in olive oil. And so, I dug my fork into the polenta for a taste. Very nice. Not amazing, but certainly not boring. I tasted a mushroom. Very nice indeed. Nice texture, nice 'strong' mushroom taste. I scooped a forkful of mushroom and polenta together. That was the way to do it. Suddenly, the combination of the two created this amazing smoky flavour. Carluccio had done it - a non boring polenta dish!

For dessert I had Panna Cotta Alla Grappa Con Pere Caramellate - Panna Cotta with pear flavoured grappa, served with caramelised pears. It's as nice as it sounds, and looked great to boot. My wife had the Sorbetto Di Campari I E Frutto Della Passione - Campari and passion fruit sorbet. Initially she said it was lovely, but after a few mouthfuls she said that the bitter after taste began to take over. The only downside, if there was one (not including the one near junction 10 of the M25) was the vegetables. On the menu, they were £3.50 for "seasonal vegetables and salads from Italy." Having been told that they consisted of roasted potatoes, spinach and endives we asked for just the potatoes and spinach, not realising that the £3.50 was for each vegetable, rather than a selection of all of them. This seemed a little excessive for the amount that was delivered, although both were tasty. So that was it. I'm pleased to say that Carluccio lived up to my expectations and I'd definitely go back given the chance.

No comments: