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The decor surprises me each time I visit and is, perhaps, a little incongruous with the serious food. The entrance and stairwell are a vivid orangey-red, punctuated by small, monochrome canvasses. The restaurant itself is also brightly coloured, but being an elegantly proportioned, high-ceilinged room, it carries the colour scheme well. Bare floorboards mean noise levels are high and this is certainly not a venue for a secluded dinner a deux.
Assaggi serves fantastic, unpretentious food: the sort of dishes where the flavours individually tantalise the taste buds before mingling to delight the palate as a whole.
On a recent visit, I started with a delicately flavoured chicken broth in which floated tortelloni stuffed with a spiced lamb paste. A dash of red wine was added to the broth at the table, although an alternative would have been a sprinkling of grated Parmesan. The Bald One commenced with seared prawns served on a fried rice cake, garnished with fried shredded onions.
The choice of main courses is less extensive than for the starters, but no less good for that. The Bald One decided on sea bass: this was brought whole to the table and then filleted expertly away to the side. I dined on fingers of monkfish wrapped in pancetta - the light flavour but meaty texture of the fish contrasted beautifully with the wafer-thin wrapping. We shared divine puréed potato and perfectly cooked spinach.
Pudding was an unnecessary extravagance but is definitely too good to miss. Between us we chose a scrumptuous caramelised apple tart served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a most unusual and surprisingly rich amaretto sponge. Both were delicious and were followed by good coffee: filter in my case and cappuccino in his.
The wine list offers a comfortable choice, although it is, of course, entirely Italian. We were not familiar with any of the wines and so asked the waitress to recommend a bottle of white. Her choice was excellent and certainly complemented our food extremely well.
Part of the charm of this restaurant is its size and the friendly service offered by the staff for whom nothing seems too much trouble. They are very happy to replenish the delicious bread served whilst helping you to select your dishes (just as well, since the menu is written in Italian!)
The anticipation of a forthcoming visit adds to the pleasure of the evening: a booking is not easy to obtain, not because of some pretentious policy but simply because there are only a dozen tables. Assaggi is not cheap but probably does deserve its prices. Starters average £7 to £11, mains £17 to £19.50, side dishes £3 and puddings £5. Wines range from £13 upward.
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