After browsing through the many artefacts at the Victoria & Albert museum, including the legendary Ardabil carpet and Dale Chihuly’s mind-bendingly intricate glass sculptures, we returned to Blackfriars and had a quick tipple in the Black Friar, an art nouveau pub, notable for it’s ornate sculpted and carved friezes, and which rather conveniently has a great range of very well kept cask ales. Then we crossed back to Crowne Plaza to pay a return visit to the beautiful Voltaire bar for a pre-dinner cocktail.
This particular invention is a quirky little number created in partnership with Temple Spa; it’s a gin based drink containing grapefruit juice, thyme, rosemary sugar and lemon, and was a perfect aperitif, even including a tube of soothing foot balm which was much needed after all the walking. As tempted as I was to kick off my boots there and then in the bar and start applying the lotion, I resisted the urge, instead heading to the recently renovated and re-launched Diciannove.
From the very moment we arrived, service was warm, attentive and friendly, and I noticed this to be the case not only with us, but with every table that was being attended to. It struck me the effectiveness of good service really can’t be under-estimated as it adds to the overall atmosphere, in part because nobody feels ignored or frustrated. I remember my days working as a waiter and event organiser fondly, as it would often be the case that you could turn around a person’s bad mood from the moment they walk in, lending a kind and sympathetic ear, finding out and fetching exactly what they require in a timely fashion and by simply smiling in spite of their frustration at the cruel world responsible for delivering them to you in this state of angst. This chrysalis of perfection becomes their safe haven, and you are their protector for a brief while.
As we were staying in the hotel that night we figured on staying at Diciannove for the duration, so rather than seeking to wolf a meal down in two courses, we opted to share a range of smaller dishes. After a round of delicious freshly baked breads and infused oils came thinly rolled classic Neapolitan style of pizzette, light and pleasing for the palate, with a sauce that belied the freshness of ingredients.
Then came ravioli filled with roasted Luganica sausage, a scattering of toasted pine nuts and sage, another hit with the slight smokiness of Northern Italian sausage, softened by mellow fruity olive oil. The Lexus (otherwise known as Alexandra) is partial to Lobster, so of course we had to sample Lobster spaghettini.
All the pasta is freshly made, which of course makes a real difference, as did the supple tenderness of the lobster meat and the fact the concasse (tomato sauce) was also made freshly and had a beautiful silky finish to it. The white wine used in preparing this dish is from Piedmonte, the same region as Gavi, so had good minerals which pair well with seafood.
Perhaps the highlight of the meal was a burrata mozzarella, a fist sized ball of cheese and sweet creamy goodness, with a texture so implausibly lush that I nearly refused to share it. Burrata is a more complex cheese than the usual buffalo mozzarella we are used to, and when you read about the methods of preparation you begin to understand why it is considered something of a delicacy.
Although I don’t usually choose steak as it tends not to be the most creatively prepared dish (and besides we were very full at this point), we were reminded there is always the option of popping the belt down a notch, so along it came;
Filetto di Manzo, fillet of beef with soft polenta and porcini mushrooms: tender meat, a rich refined sauce, velvety soft creamy polenta, certainly lived up to the hype, with the robust, earthy flavours proving quite substantial. The mention of the word dessert filled us with a sugary dread, however we were again assured (notice a pattern forming here?) and convinced (but of course) that sampling a selection of desserts would be the way forward. Eat, eat! The mantra was like music to our ears. Tiramisu was laden with marsala wine, the mascarpone and eggs whipped to fluffy perfection; Zabaione or Zabaglione similarly and suitably heaving with booze, and a chocolate salami number so intensely rich, dark and sweet that in spite of my ever-expanding waist line and the look of panic on our faces, we slowly but surely managed to finish the lot. Or at least I did, whilst being watched with a look bordering pity and horror. Bravissimo!
It seems amusing in retrospect that I was almost a little nervous about going to Diciannove on the same day as Bar Boulud, being as Bar Boulud has a more established reputation. This concern was unfounded however, as both meals were fantastic in their own right, and when you consider that the executive chef Alessandro trained under Giorgio Locatelli who has also earned a Michelin star for Locando Locatelli, you could certainly argue they are not so far apart in terms of quality. I would go back to Diciannove in a flash, and Alice as she tumbled further down the rabbit hole of culinary London with all the Eat Me and Drink Me signs flashing in front of her eyes, agreed whole heartedly.
Read about Alexandra’s adventures here.