Thursday, 5 August 2010

Osteria dell'Angolo, Westminster

So, we've done Zucca, we've done Trullo. Each, in their own way, brilliant crowd- (and critic-) pleasing local Italian restaurants that punch well above their weight for their price point and together form almost a statement of intent regarding the direction that Italian cuisine can, and should, take in the capital. But what of anywhere else? Bloggers, and the network of similarly-minded foodies on Twitter, have a distinct pattern of behaviour - good places are highlighted and obsessed over weeks before they open (and occasionally even after), bad places are gleefully and publicly trashed, and everywhere falling between these two extremes is comprehensively ignored. For Sichuan you go to Chilli Cool, for burgers you go to Byron, for steak, Hawksmoor or Goodman. Anywhere else might as well not even exist, unless of course you're Cantina Laredo or Guerilla Burgers in which case we'll quite happily line up and give you a thousand reasons why you shouldn't go. It may not be fair, it may not even be particularly helpful, but that's just the way it works.

So, then, what of the hundreds of other mid-range Italian restaurants quietly peddling their wares in forgotten corners of the capital? One of them is Osteria dell'Angolo in Westminster, inside which I and Carla of BribedWithFood (who lived for many years in Italy and knows her stuff) found ourselves sheltering from the rain last night. We were there on recommendation of a number of ex-pats who spoke of an authentic vibe, friendly (and 100% Italian) staff and a mouth-watering menu of modern Italian food. I'm not sure quite how 'hotel breakfast bar' translates into an authentic Italian restaurant vibe, but Carla assured me that it felt true enough for her, and I can certainly vouch for the friendliness of the staff - if not always their competency (we noticed a diner across from us having to ask twice to be brought cutlery, as his food sat slowly cooling on the table in front of him). As for the food...

Unfortunately we got off to a bit of a bad start. Amuses consisted of a couple of smoked salmon and peppered cream cheese crostini, which would have been pleasant enough (if dull) if they hadn't been served on stale cold bread that crumbled unpleasantly in the mouth. How difficult would it have been to toast some fresh bread to order - surely it would have taken seconds? These had been kept refrigerated and tasted of laziness.

The house bread selection was much better. Foccacia in particular was moist and dense and with a lovely golden crust. A cheesy roll of some sort was studded with caraway seeds and went down very well. Even the cracker thingies (yes alright, Carla told me their proper name but I'd had a couple of glasses of wine) tasted delicate and fresh. Ironically, if we'd have just been presented with the bread basket and they'd left out the amuses altogether, we would have felt better off.

Starters were pretty good. A classic beef carpaccio with parmesan shavings definitely had a ring of the safe and familiar to it, but was no less tasty for that - the parmesan was nicely aged and the beef perfectly seasoned, although it probably wouldn't otherwise have been the most flavoursome meat. Octopus was better, with sweet and tender slices of seafood and some delicate slightly pickled veg.

In true Italian multi-course style, we split up the starters and mains with a single dish of squid-ink gnocci, which were fantastic. Dense parcels of heavily squiddy gnocchi sat in a silky sea-bass and bean sauce, garnished with a few broad beans. There was absolutely nothing not to like, and mopping up the rich sauce with the little spongey gnocchi was a delight.

Mains were more of a mixed bag. Carla's tuna looked like it could have done with more vigorous searing on the outside, but was nevertheless cooked properly medium and tasted fine. But I'm afraid my 'crusted veal' (kind of mini schnitzels) were soggy and tasted overwhelmingly of oil despite the presence of what would otherwise probably have been an interesting mix of herbs in the breadcrumbs. They were served on a bed of boiled celery and surrounded by some miniscule slices of spring onion and a thick, sweet jus which didn't cut through the greasy veal pieces at all. I left most of it.

Too full for dessert we ordered the bill, which with a bottle of white and a coffee came to £110 including service. It's more or less what we expected, and a few months ago I would have probably given it a point or two higher and praised their authentic dishes and not stratospheric cost, but what a difference two trailblazing new restaurants and the power of collective foodie opinion can make. Osteria dell'Angolo is not, by a long way, a bad restaurant, and I know plenty of people - normal, well-balanced people who just go out expecting nothing more than a nice meal and don't obsess over the latest restaurant openings like their lives depended on it - who would have a thoroughly decent evening here. Sadly, I am not one of those people. I can't help the fact I've been to Trullo and Zucca and know that there's better out there, and for less. I also can't help the fact that I know, heart of hearts, that I wouldn't ever make the effort to go back to Osteria dell'Angolo. I know that these are more my problems than theirs, and I'm pretty sure they'll continue to make a fine living serving nice, normal Italian food to nice, normal people and the world will carry on turning. For us obsessive types though, Osteria dell'Angolo is not good enough to be noticed, and not bad enough to be noticed. Sorry, but that's just the way it works.


Osteria dell’Angolo  on Urbanspoon


Unknown said...

Boiled celery sounds like the most disgusting thing ever.

I've often been past this place and...well actually that's the point, I've often been past this place and never felt the urge to go in. It just looks soulless and over-lit; if that's authentic' I'll stick with the ersatz!

Gregory said...

As good as Trullo and Zucca are, is it not more interesting to identify and assess the annonymous culinary gems (or also rans) such as Mangal and this ?

As all the critics and blog community plough into the latest and greatest, I find it more enjoyable to read about :

a) the unknown & undiscovered
b) those restaurants who were reviewed years ago and have been forgotten.

thank you again

Matt said...

"(and 100% Italian) staff"

Are you not coming perilously close to opening up a can of worms with statements like that?

Hollow Legs said...

That squid dish looks delicious, though not much of the rest of it. I'll stick with Zucca.

Chris Pople said...

Matt: Why? All the staff WERE Italian.

Matt said...

Because it read like if that wasn't the case it would be A Bad Thing.

Chris Pople said...

Matt: It was part of a wider point about authenticity, and yes being served Italian food by a Geordie would make it Less Authentic. I personally don't care that much about strict authenticity but plenty of people do.

Matt said...

Is that actually legal? Not the fact that you don't care about authenticity, but that a business specifically employs people from Italy (or Germany, or whatever)?

Chris Pople said...

Matt: I'm guessing most things that go on in restaurants aren't legal. As a diner, I'm quite happy to remain ignorant.

Matt said...

Apparently not (oddly, they use Italian waiters as an example):

I don't agree with that one bit, I have to say.

An American in London said...

I think £110 for two is a pretty heft investment, even if the food had been good, so comparing it to Trullo, anyway, isn't quite apples-to-apples. I mean, they served you amuses, crappy as they were. In any case, I think it's alright that everyone's lionizing Zucca and Trullo in hopes that someone out there with an idea to open up a good Italian restaurant that'll cost you £60 for two will feel encouraged to do so.

Or that someone out there who knows of another Italian gem at that (Zucca and Trullo's) price point will start putting the word out.

I say the above as someone who misses popping out almost daily in New York for a well-cooked, reasonably-priced dinner of simple Italian food.

As for authenticity - most cooks in the kitchen in the US and UK are, as I understand it, not from the country whose cuisine the resto purports to create. So why would it matter if front-of-the-house were similarly not Italian/French/Indian, as long as they're knowledgeable about the menu?

Greedy Diva said...

The best Italian food in Italy is always so simple (good olive oil, a few good, fresh ingredients, cook al dente etc), it's incredible how hard it seems to be to get it right here. I'm rapt to see the recent spate of good new Italian neighbourhood restaurants opening up, like (apparently - I still have to try) Trullo and Zucca. I'm still enamoured with Polpo and Bocca di Lupo, and the upcoming opening of Polpetto also brings a smile to the dial.

Unknown said...

We are spoilt aren't we. But I agree with Greg - I enjoy reading about the places that are a bit off the radar - keep it up Chris

Happy Frog and I said...

I'm so glad I've found your blog! Since I left London and moved to Reading I've felt I've missed the restaurant scene so this helps me capture it without the calories - thank you! :-)

I do agree with Gregory's comments though, unknown/undiscovered restaurants are great to hear about to.

gastrogeek said...

Am loving your take no prisoners attitude, and that squid ink gnocchi looks like quite the celestial mouthful.