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Housed in Grade 1 listed former warehouses this building was built around 1800 by Napoleonic prisoners of war which added to the atmosphere. We entered and at once felt relaxed in this very attractive brick and timber interior, with well spaced tables and smooth jazz playing ultra mellow music. Originally commissioned artwork gave the room a feel of a modern art gallery crossed with a restaurant. Very relaxing all round.
We were given a pleasant welcome, a comfortable table with plenty of room, a plate of good olives and a variety of delicious Italian breads with olive oil to nibble whilst we got stuck in to a very nice glass of crisp house white wine whilst we mentally digested the menu. There was plenty to tempt me on the Mediterranean accented menu, including English asparagus with balsamic vinegar and percorino and tagliatelle with squid, chilli rocket and tomato. However, feeling a little below par that night, I was very much in the mood for comfort food, so the idea of roasted tomato soup with basil oil was just what the doctor ordered! It was excellent, rich and thick, full of flavour, and did a very good job of making me feel more human!
I was rather impressed that the Head Chef, Nigel Richardson had specially imported his wood burning oven from Washington, USA and intrigued to hear that the installation took nearly three days and involved three cranes with English Heritage overseeing the whole thing. I therefore asked my guest if he would mind having a pizza for his starter or main course. Being a greedy fellow he plumped for one as a starter and choose a pepperoni, chilli, red pepper, tomato and mozzarella topping, eating the whole thing, which was quite a feat as it was large. He said it was crispy without being flaky, very tasty, with a lovely zang at the back of the throat from the chilli, although he wasn't sure whether, after all, it merited all the effort of the oven's shipping and installation. In the end it's the ingredients that really count, and here they are very good.
We followed onto the main course and I just had to have risotto as I am mad for it! This one was with cherry tomatoes, dolcelatte and mushrooms. It was creamy and superb, and matched my mood for easy eating food. I could slump back in a very relaxed fashion and eat just with my fork this excellent concoction, meanwhile my greedy but very contented guest moved onto steak with bearnaise sauce and French fries. He thought the sauce was powerfully flavoured but complemented (and complimented) the steak, marrying well with a rich and spicy Rioja Reserva 1996, very fairly priced at £22.50. I love Rioja, I don't think you can go too far wrong if you see one on a good wine list, as long as its a red, the whites tend to be not so reliable.
After a pause to make room for pudding, we were in no hurry as we were enjoying ourselves, having become very relaxed in the easy atmosphere, so we ordered one white and dark chocolate mousse and one lemon sorbet. I was also very tempted by wood roasted peaches with peach sorbet or passion fruit tart, but alas I know by experience that my eyes are bigger than my stomach! The mousse was beautifully presented and was not too sweet with a good flavour and nice consistency, topped with chocolate flakes. The lemon sorbet was everything it should be, clean and sharp, lemony and refreshing. It was a perfect ending to a robust meal. If I had been a lover of digestives I would have tried the Springbank 12 year old malt whisky, this is meant to be one of the very best Scotland has to offer and is not normally easy to find south of the border, no doubt the canny lot like to keep it for themselves!
We then wandered homeward bound, across the footbridge, marvelling at the peace and views all around us. This is a place to have a long lunch if you work in the area or a great evening local, if you are one of the serious city types who like to live on their business doorstep during the week.
The cost of your meal:
Prices are very reasonable with a good choice available on the set menu, two courses for £11.00 and £14.00 for three. There is also a delivery service so if your not in the mood to eat out but can't be bothered to cook you can relax at home with a delicious taste of Italy.
Louise Elgin - July 2000
West India Quay
14 Hertsmere Road
London E14 4AF Tel 020 7515-4245
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