Thursday, 27 May 2021

Cin Cin, Fitzrovia

Although we're still a long way from being back to normal, certain signs abound that the Old Order is restoring itself. I managed to get a walk-in at my local pub yesterday, for example. I can no longer get a seat on the tube between Victoria and Oxford Circus in the rush hour. And recently, I received an invite to a brand new bistro in Fitzrovia serving a very attractive-looking menu of Italian small plates. Nature is healing.

Cin Cin began life in Brighton, and in fact have two locations down there at time of press. The formula (not rocket science, just good food served smartly for not very much money) has proven so successful that they've now taken over the site of what used to be Bonnie Gull Fitzrovia, somewhere that used to be worth patronising for cheap oysters and fizz between the hours of 4 and 6pm, but in all honesty not much good for anything else apart from that. The bijou spot seems a lot happier in its new skin, menu full of the kind of stuff you'd eat any day of the week, and served by staff seemingly delighted to have the opportunity to do so. And after the year we've had, who can blame them?

The evening began with a little bowl of those giant green buttery olives, and a big chunk of focaccia with accompanying olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip - always a welcome sight. I mean, yes, you'll have been served these kind of things in countless Italian restaurants before but who cares? They're still great.

"Marinda" tomatoes (from Sicily, I sagely-inform-and-definitely-didn't-just-Google) came simply dressed in a white wine vinaigrette and more than lived up to the stark presentation. They were lovely, sweet and savoury, bringing to mind the tomato salad at Bar Nestor in San Sebastian which of course is the international gold standard of tomato salads.

A twist on truffled burrata, at Cin Cin they serve the cheese itself topped only with toasted breadcrumbs for a bit of texture, with the truffle flavour brought by prosciutto ham, itself laced with a healthy amount of the good stuff. Beneath was a "pesto rosso", presumably made with red pepper instead of the usual basil leaves, which had a nice clean sweetness to it, and finally a split spring of asparagus because why not, it's the season after all. There is a slight trend at Cin Cin to lean towards perhaps one or two superfluous elements on each plate, but when the ingredients are as good as this you can hardly complain much.

In lesser hands, arancini can be rather dense and unrewarding, heavy on the rice and light on flavour or interest. Cin Cin have quite rightly decided to go in the opposite direction - their crab arancino contains a generous amount of crab, and loads of rich, gloopy dairy, but very little rice, and is in fact best described more as a kind of giant seafood croquette than your traditional rice balls. This was my favourite dish out of everything we were served this evening - I am an absolute sucker for crab at the best of times, and croquettes for that matter, and as if the arancino wasn't enough by itself (and it absolutely was) it came sat on a bed of richly-flavoured basil purée which contrasted the main event perfectly.

Pea tortelloni were beautifully made little things, with silky fresh pasta and a nice smooth liquid inside. The sauce was buttery and satisfying, and although it could have done with perhaps a bit more seasoning, it was still a good sauce. I would argue, though, that it didn't really need either the shoots of onion, which didn't taste of a great deal, or the chunks of mortadella, which were just a distraction. Under normal circumstances I love mortadella, and onion for that matter, but I'm convinced this would have been a more elegant dish had it just been pasta, sauce, and a few peas. Less is more.

Gnocchi with courgette flowers was more stripped back, and that much more elegant visually as a result, although it's worth repeating that both main courses were equally enjoyable to eat. These gnocchi were apparently gluten-free, although you wouldn't know it to taste them, and the cacio e pepe sauce was nicely cheesey and peppery.

The main savoury course was monkfish tail, a lovely bit of fish very much of the same standard as the stunning halibut I was served at the Pack Horse, packed full of flavour and meaty texture. The accessories I was somewhat less enthusiastic about - some of the white beans were a bit on the hard side, and I'm not sure sultanas are really ever a great match with fish - but hey, it all made for an interesting enough experience and all got polished off.

The meal ended with a bang, though, with a magnificent warm rice tart, oozing with personality, and a blood orange sorbet which was packed full of summer citrus flavour.

So as I hope you'll have concluded yourself by this point, there is far, far more to enjoy about Cin Cin than there is to criticise. The odd (very) minor niggle aside, this was a confident, clever dinner by a kitchen that understands the rules of Italian cooking but isn't in thrall to them. It's impossible to imagine you wouldn't enjoy a meal here in this bright, airy spot (in fact there's plenty of outside space too if that suits) populated by friendly, professional people, especially once you factor in the very reasonable cost - £45 for 5 courses puts it safely in the Tasting Menu Bargains of London category. I enjoyed it very much. Isn't it nice to be able to eat in restaurants again?


I was invited to Cin Cin and didn't see a bill.

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