Thursday, 28 October 2010
Annoyingly, given the events that were to follow, Degò took quite a bit of finding. Although the address was given as 4 Great Portland Street on the website and on Google, it was only after systematically counting all the buildings up from Oxford Circus that we eventually noticed it tucked down a side street on Market Place. From the outside it looked smart enough, busy and with attractive high ceilings, although you'd be doing well to find a wine bar a few steps away from Oxford Circus that wasn't rammed on a Thursday night. Popularity, as anyone who's ever eaten at Aberdeen Angus will tell you, is no reliable sign of quality, and the meal we endured at this restaurant last night is as fine an example of this rule as almost anywhere else in the capital.
The first and only sensible thing we did last night was order a bottle of prosecco. This was all anyone else seemed to be doing, and very happy they all looked as a result, despite the slightly cheap and uncomfortable red and black décor that was probably aiming for L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon but felt rather more like a provincial nightclub. Anyway, our prosecco (a 2006 Franciacorta Brut if anyone cares) was very nice, and although it's a bit naff the geek in me liked the hole in the table they'd hollowed out for an ice bucket. It's just a shame that before too long I was thinking of less sanitary ways of using it.
"Our bread is homemade and baked daily," the waitress announced unprompted as she placed the tray in front of us. If it is, they either have an unearthly attitude to what constitutes a "day", or they consider "baking at some indeterminate point in the past and then reheating" technically the same thing. It was all horribly stale - the buns were chewy and tasteless, the breadsticks as fragile as thousand year old bones, and worst of all was the Foccacia, which was so dry and crumbly it pretty much collapsed into dust in my hands as I tried to pick it up. They were all so bad in fact that, breaking with my usual tradition, at the end of the meal I mentioned it to the same waitress, who while looking genuinely surprised didn't offer much more than a muttered apology in way of compensation.
I'm not sure how "Italian Style" these Tramezzini are, although I should say in fairness that my companion last night, who spent many years in part of the world, tells me that even back in Italy they are generally just straightforward thin-white-slices with ham and mayonnaise inside, and to that end, they were probably not far off. That's not to say I particularly enjoyed them, though. A heavy hand with the mayo meant they all just tasted like something from the shelves at Pret, and bizarrely, every other slice of bread seemed to be stale. Why every other? Had they been made a while ago and stored one side up, uncovered? Perhaps I'd rather not know.
You could have constructed a better cheese course, and for less money, by "sourcing" from ASDA. A blue goats was bitter and unpleasant, something claiming to be Robiola was cold and bland, and a lump of something that I missed the name of tasted like supermarket cheddar. A jam-like substance on a spoon was just formless, sugary gloop, and a separate tray of sliced meats was better but still deeply unadventurous - mortadella, Parma ham, and something more fatty which would have been nicer had they trimmed the inedibly solid skin off it. One of them was also ever so slightly fizzy in the mouth which was a bit worrying - I'm still here this morning though so it was just unpleasant, not actually physically damaging. Phew, right?
If all that wasn't bad enough, two items from the restaurant menu downstairs appeared that, earlier in the meal, we had ordered with the kind of mindless optimism only possessed of those who have not yet eaten at Dego. The first called itself a burrata, but this was as far from the heavenly, creamy version at Polpetto as you could possibly imagine. A rubbery prophylactic of cheap mozzarella contained semi-skimmed ejaculate which squirted out belligerently as I prodded it with my fork. It sat on a bed of tasteless chunks of tomato and was garnished with some soggy, fatty deep-fried vegetables of unknown origin and some ludicrously elephantine ears of stale crispbread. And yet, unbelievably, worse was yet to come.
It's difficult to describe just how rancid this dish of braised octopus smelled, but try and imagine a tin of tuna in brine, opened, left for a week, then eaten and expelled by a cat with Crohn's disease. It was revolting, and I was convinced it was off, but startlingly my companion claimed it was "fine" and to stop being such a pansy. I couldn't help noticing, though, that while I refused to touch it at all, she barely took more than a couple of mouthfuls before queasily declaring herself "full". Talking of pansies, you will have noticed the restaurant's entry to next year's Chelsea Flower Show in the picture above. I don't mind the odd teeny edible flower but I draw the line at being asked to eat a herbaceous border.
So not a great success, then. I should have known, when in that busy room on a Thursday night I noticed that we were the only people ordering food, that perhaps Degò's strengths lay in a different field, but quite how low the standards dropped was a constant source of morbid fascination throughout the evening. By the time I held aloft that sad, grey sack of mozzarella on the end of my fork and watched it drip thin fluid into the bowl, I was merely nauseous. After the arrival of the Fishy Pansy, I was hysterical. "At least," I remember thinking, as our pleasant waitress took back the barely-touched food, "the service has been nice", but Degò couldn't even leave me that scrap of comfort. The bill arrived, £80 for two bad enough, but with 12.5% service added and a space to add an extra tip. And with that left any last scrap of goodwill I ever had towards the place.
2/10 (for the Prosecco)