Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Vinoteca: simple food, very well done

Given the nature of London's Square Mile, you would think that you would be spoilt for choice when it came to choosing a restaurant. How hard can it be to run a small place serving simple dishes at reasonable prices?  Soho can do it. If anyone from Paris ever again dares to query whether it is possible to get great food in London, just send them for a walk along Frith Street and such illusions will be banished within minutes.  Surely then the grand old City, with its bankers and lawyers a plenty, should be able to serve up food beyond our wildest dreams.  And it does.  There are some exceptional restaurants in the City (Hawksmoor for one is tremendous) - but all of this comes somewhat at a price.
And so, casting our net a little wider we ended up in Smithfields (home of my favourite London caf(e) - Beppes).  We thought about Smith of Smithfields, but having had a meat overload the night before at (for the first time) a very disappointing Gauchos, we were looking for something a little lighter.  So we headed to Vinoteca, the first of the three eateries (there are now outposts in Marleybone and Soho) started by Brett Woonton, Charlie Young and Elena Ares. 

The menu is made up of a few smaller bites, and some Mediterranean style rustic starters and mains.  We shared some sprats (small fish, in this case smoked and served cold with horseradish cream) and some Jabugo Peregrina.  The sprats didn't receive unanimous approval, but I enjoyed them.  The Jabugo was a mixture of chorizo and cured meats - all quite nice but not a patch on the Manuel Maldonado meats at Jose and Pizarro.  Someone else had the pigeon breast with potato and truffled shallots - this was delicious, the perfectly cooked, slightly gamey, meat worked wonderfully with sweet shallots.

Slow-cooked rabbit with cannelloni beans
For main, I had the slow cooked rabbit with cannelloni beans, kale and aioli - the rabbit melted and the beans were soft and juicy, the kale provided the much needed greenery.  Others had the bavette steak with roast garlic and shallott butter and chips (seemed to be a favourite), and the cod with fregola (a type of pasta from Sicily, small balls a little larger than couscous), samphire, fennel and salsa verde.  The chargrilled cod was a little overdone in the mouthful I tried, but other than that it was a really well thought out dish.

Cod with fregola and samphire
Two courses in and we were all happily full with delicious food.  With no need for desert, we headed off to a place round the corner for Sierra Nevada pale ale on tap - nice to find, but not at five sixty a pint.  Anyway, back to Vinoteca, great food, reasonable prices and within five minutes walk from St. Pauls - there should be no excuse for anyone ever to go to a Corney and Barrow again!
Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Mele e Pere: reasonable Italian, served loud

Recently I had friends down from the North and, along with their son and daughter-in-law, we had planned to go out for dinner.  Having failed to make a booking, and given that we were staying central that evening, our options for a good feed were limited.  Someone had mentioned that Mele e Pere, a recently opened Italian in Soho, was a bit above average so, with a reservation secured, I thought we should try it out.

Mele e Pere describes itself as a "relaxed trattorria". Relaxed it was not.  First it is hard to find, looking as it does like a sweet shop from the outside - lots of colourful glass apples and pears.  Once you have found it and made your way down the stairs into the basement restaurant, you are hit by a wall of sound.  We were sat in the middle of the room - now I am no architect but the shape of the room (the slanting walls perhaps?) meant that all of the sound funnelled into the middle.  It was deafening.  And that comes from a guy who loves the hustle and bustle of busy restaurants - quiet and refined I am not.

Anyway, that aside, we moved onto the menu.  Although it is stated to change everyday, I think that the majority of things are actually staples - the menu on the website looks remarkably similar to that which we had. Some cured meats, a few starters followed by pasta and sauce dishes and larger meat secondi.

We shared some Coppa Mantovana which was melt in the mouth.  I had the octopus with desiree potatoes and salsa verde - octopus was perfectly cooked but the potatoes were cold and the salsa verde lacked punch.  The Geek had the beef tartare which was tender and well seasoned.

For main I had the pork belly, lentils and bean sprouts.  I think that the pork belly was meant to be cooked three ways although only two were discernible - crispy and slow cooked.  The lentils and bean sprouts were largely redundant.

Others had the tagliatelle with beef ragu and the spaghetti with clams broccoli and chili- all looked fine and seemed to slip down quite easily, if not splendidly.

There is a wealth of incredible Italian's surrounding Mele e Pere - Boca de Lupo, Polpetto etc etc.  And, while the food at Mele e Pere is okay, and in some cases really quite good (that octopus was really very well cooked indeed), once the new-opening-buzz has died down, I can't see many returning time and time again.  Good if you need a reservation quick snap in central London on a Thursday night, otherwise give it a miss...

Mele e Pere on Urbanspoon
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Morphy Richards