Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Carnevale, London

135 Whitecross Street
London EC1Y 8JL
Tel: 020 7250 3452

Last night I made a return visit to Carnevale, near Moorgate. This time, I've the opportunity to do a better review and mention some of the dishes that we ate. I was accompanied by an actor friend of mine, who was over the moon because he had just been complimented on his art by what he described as 'proper actors.'

Carnevale is very cosy and has, at most, a dozen tables. There is a covered 'yard' out the back where there are a couple of tables which the staff quaintly refer to as 'the garden' and we were seated there.

The menu was better than the last time I was there, with a couple of extra dishes in each section. However, my first choice of starter (potato gnocci in a cep sauce) was unavailable so I started with a brioche with spinach, wild mushrooms and a soft poached egg. The brioche was very nice, the bread was a bit soggy by the end, but I'm not sure you can do much about that, spinach does tend to hold vast amounts of liquid. The egg was just right for me, not too runny, but not too hard so the yolk stayed on the bread rather than trying to explore the whole plate.

My friend enjoyed his starter of fried halloumi and salad. Apparently, according to other diners, the butternut squash soup was very good too.

For main course we both plumped for Breaded Aubergine stuffed with Smoked Mozzarella and Ricotta. This was served with Romesco Sauce and Green Beans. I'm always interested to see what different chefs can do with aubergine and this was really good. The aubergine was so tender, that you probably wouldn't have known it was there. However, this did mean that it's taste (such as it is) was somewhat overwhelmed by the cheese and the sauce, but I think it was there to provide a base and hold everything together - which it did.The sauce went well with the other ingredients and was tomatoey and spicy without being overpowering. On the side of the dish was a green salad. All very good and my friend was very impressed.

The dessert menu had a rasberry crème brulee, so I had to have it - real vanilla, topping suitably crispy, served chilled but not too chilled - about 8/10 on the creme brulee scale. My friend had a vegan white chocolate pudding with summer fruits (which were primarily strawberries.) He was surprised that it tasted so good, and I think, was tempted to lick the bowl clean. All this plus coffees and drinks for £25 each plus a few quid for a tip.

The food is of a high standard, and has none of the 'hippy health food' connotations that many people seem to think that vegetarian restaurants have, this was almost fine dining - the food was presented really well and I don't remember a single lentil on the menu. The service was friendly and prompt and the atmosphere is pretty good although, because of the closeness of the tables, when it gets busy it's difficult to hold a private conversation, but nice and easy to listen in to other peoples! Overall, I think the menu has improved since my last visit and it was pretty good back then.

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