All reader reviews by Louis

La Porchetta (Finsbury Park)

La Porchetta is not just about the best pizzas in London (a judgement I fully agree with); it's about finding in a city where overpriced Italian food is the norm a restaurant where there is little or no pretence, welcoming staff, generous portions of all dishes on the menu, a splendid stinco di porco (that's ham hock for you, slowly simmered with white wine and mushrooms), and much else besides. It's about enjoying a meal as good and comforting as you'd get in an unpretentious trattoria in the mother country. If you hate children, or noise, of course, this is not the place for you. And there is plenty of both, as eating there won't burn a hole in your pocket, and as the waiters and waitresses show the traditional Meditteranean warmth towards young ones. On match days, this also becomes a meeting place for Arsenal fans and their families. Many of them - like me - have been going for years, and will go back. I won't expect cooking of the standard you get at Locatelli's - the best of its kind, by the way -; but I know I won't be disappointed, and will raise my glass of (complimentary) grappa or limoncello to that with pleasure.

Thursday, February 28, 2008
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 10

El Pirata

Mayfair has got its fair share of rip-off places; but there are exceptions - Angela Hartnett's at the Connaught, provided you've got the cash - and El Pirata, which I 'discovered' only a few months ago, and have visited regularly since. Not once was I disappointed; the food is prepared expertly, served with great courtesy by an all-Spanish staff, the ingredients are impeccably fresh, and the very keenly-priced wine list deserves to be explored at leisure. Expect all the classics (squid cooked with rice in its own ink, kidneys braised in sherry, pulpo alla gallega, etc, etc), with a few surprises (baby eels) thrown in. All of them served in surprisingly generous quantities - more than a usual 'tapa', less than a 'racion' -, and a very reasonable prices. For two sharing six-seven dishes (more than enough!) and a bottle of wine, expect a bill in the area of £55-60. In Mayfair...what's Spanish for 'miracle'?

Sunday, July 23, 2006
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 9

The Fat Duck

The price of a meal at The Fat Duck makes it unlikely that anyone would eat there more than once in a long while. £60? No way. If one chooses the tasting menu (15 dishes, plus petits fours) and - a personal recommendation from someone who takes his wine seriously - lets the sommelier pick what will fill his or her glass as plate follows plate, the bill should come to £200 per head. What you'll eat, and drink, is well worth the price of a night in a London hotel. I actually doubt that the Fat Duck makes much money on serving food, given the quality of ingredients, and the time-consuming nature of the work involved, some of which is simply unbelievable. And who cares about a couple of hundred pounds, when the experience can be as memorable as this? A friend I lunched with there yesterday - my first visit, hopefully not the last - described it as 'the most extraordinary gastronomic moment' of his life, a view with which I am in complete agreement. The cooking is virtuosic - quasi-theatrical in its use of liquid nitrogen, for example -, daring, technically as close to perfection as I've ever seen and tasted - but also steeped into the greatest traditions of the highest and most refined cuisine. I get goose pimples at the memory of the dish Blumenthal created in hommage to Alain Chapel, a 'jelly of quail, langoustine cream, parfait of foie gras', an unlikely combination which touched the heavens, unique in its conception, but faithful to the spirit of grande French cuisine. Over five hours spent in the elegant and surprisingly intimate restaurant room, not once did we feel that someone had tried too hard, or mistaken imagination and whimsy. And as in all truly great restaurants - where the staff feels honoured to work, and the guests are grateful to have secured a reservation - the atmosphere was relaxed, convivial, without a hint of pretence, and, thankfully, not one celeb or City wide-boy in attendance. Simply food-loving people who'd saved cash in the anticipation of spending an unforgettable moment. Simply magnificent. The best restaurant in the world? Probably.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 10 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 8

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