London Restaurant Festival 2013: Cicchetti Trail – a real Italian experience
Tapas is becoming increasingly trendy, but it’s not exclusively a Spanish tradition; it’s also a typical Venetian way of approaching meals in modest portions.
Venetians eat small plates called cicchetti at bacari, their local taverns, and the 2013 edition of the London Restaurant Festival is offering the same experience in London.
The Cicchetti Trail touches six stops in the West End, we tried all of them one by one:
1. Massimo – 10 Northumberland Avenue, WC2N 5AE
The elegant restaurant set in the luxurious five-star hotel Corinthia is the first stop of the trail. Welcomed with olive oil, focaccia (typical Italian oven-baked flatbread) and a bottle of Peroni Nastro Azzurro, the choice is between Pan-fried Baby Squid with Spicy Fresh Tomato; Pumpkin and Amaretti Tortelli with Sage, Butter and Parmigiano (v) and Fillet of Sea Bass with Crispy Rice Paper and Artichokes Cream, on Braised Fennel Broth.
Although tortelli is plural and sounds inviting, the portion is actually a single tiny piece that will disappoint. The taste is sophisticated – perhaps a little too buttery – but too small. On the other hand, the sea bass is a generous portion for a cicchetto, folded in a delicious crispy rice paper and lying on a tasty fennel broth.
2. Polpo – 6 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA
After the great success of Polpo in Soho, the company decided to expand and hit the foodie hot-stop in Covent Garden. The atmosphere is somewhere between an Italian bar and trattoria (tavern), and the choice on the menu is quite wide. Of six cicchetti on offer, you’ll be able to taste four. We tried all of them: Arancini with Oregano will satisfy your palate with a gentle but pungent taste, Potato & Parmesan Crocchette are a solid filler, the Smoked Salmon, Beetroot & Horseradish doesn’t look or taste Italian – I would not go for it – Ricotta Squash & Sage Crostini is pleasant at first bite but then becomes heavy, Fried Ox Tongue & Balsamic is the more sophisticated cicchetto on offer, the Chopped Liver Crostini a classic, tasty pâté.
Even though Polpo boasts the most diverse offer, the quality doesn’t fully meet the expectations.
3. San Carlo Cicchetti – 215 Piccadilly, W1J 9HL
Set a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus, San Carlo is the most classic and old-fashioned of the restaurants. Traditional Italian staff with a very recognisable accent – wearing a typical 70s white blazer – will guide you to the table. Both the dishes on offer are superb: Truffle and Pecorino Ravioli, with Onion and Cream Sauce, and Grilled Octopus with Neapolitan Tomato sauce. The ravioli taste of truffle, they are properly cooked and covered with a delicious creamy sauce. The octopus is incredibly fresh; its outside is tender and enriched by the flavour of the grill.
Portions are generous and the choice of drinks is between a Peroni Nastro Azzurro and a glass of bellini – go for the latter.
4. Theo Randall at the InterContinental – InterContinental London Park Lane 1 Hamilton Pl, W1J 7QY
Surely the most celebrated chef on the trail, Theo Randall’s restaurant is set in the elegant InterContinental hotel, Hyde Park Corner. We are served Calamari in Padella – pan-fried squid with fresh borlotti beans, chilli, anchovies, parsley and chopped rocket – and Zucchini Fritti – fried courgettes.
It’s true that in terms of food there’s no choice, but this will be the lightest and most sophisticated meal of your trail, with three different drinks to have with it: Peroni Nastro Azzurro, a seasonal bellini cocktail or a glass of prosecco.
5. In Parma – 10 Charlotte Place, W1T 1SH
This is what In Parma is all about, offering the best cured meats and cheeses from Parma, all PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) products.
A selection of high quality mixed charcuterie and mixed cheese (v) is served with focaccia and either Peroni Nastro Azzurro or a bowl of Lambrusco. Lambrusco is a typical wine of Modena, another major food hub in Emilia-Romagna, and even though it’s known in the UK for being of poor quality – that’s not real Lambrusco but a nearly non-wine related product exported abroad by shady companies – it’s actually a really good wine. In Parma is a true Italian experience.
6. Mele e Pere – 46 Brewer St, W1F 9TF
The final stop is Mele e Pere, a trattoria in the heart of Soho. In a lovely basement we are offered two different dishes: Home-Made Fregola, Romanesco Broccoli and Grilled King Prawns and Fried Panzerotti and Spicy Tomato Sauce.
Fregola is a Sardinian ball-shaped pasta made of semolina and it’s served in a similar way to couscous. Mele e Pere prepares it with a spicy touch and a delightful grilled king prawn.
The fried panzerotti is a reinterpretation of the typical gnocco fritto from Modena; it’s not served with tomato sauce as stated on the cicchetti menu but with Italian salame.
Even drinks are home-made: a glass of vermouth (the main ingredient of the martini cocktail) or a classic fortified wine from Turin, either red or white.
Cicchetti Trail is a culinary journey through six different Italian restaurants and with an affordable price of £50, this is a worthy experience.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Laura Denti
For further information and to book your tickets for either Saturday 19th October or Sunday 20th October visit here.