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Number Twelve Restaurant Review – By Clifford Mould

Number Twelve
12 Upper Woburn Place
tel: 020 7693 5425

Who's still afraid of Virginia Woolf? Don't be, because Bloomsbury is no longer all blue stockings, though it is still a bit of culinary desert. I was pleased therefore to notice this stylish new restaurant that opened in October. We went for a very leisurely lunch, and I can say in all honesty that this was one of the best meals I've eaten out for quite a while.

The dining room is elegant and spacious and the tables are decked out with inviting napery. There's a comfortable bar area and the dining space has been divided into two, giving a more intimate feel. The chef is Santino Busciglio, and although clearly Italian and having cooked recently at Alloro and Zafferano (the A-Z of Italian restaurants!), his menu at Number Twelve seems to be as much modern British as modern Italian.

Although the lunch menu priced at £15.50 looked quite attractive, we were in it for the big time, so we chose from the a la carte menu. Santino and his brigade bake all their own breads as well as smoking and curing both fish and meat. Shortly after we were seated, a marvellous selection of Italian breads came out, together with a bowl of bright green olive oil. We struggled not to eat too much of it as we needed to save space for puddings.

Santino’s home smoked Gressingham duck breast was really moist and deliciously cured, decorated with a generous fan of multicoloured segments of grapefruit and lemon. My favourite was the Irish salmon served in three different ways: a terrine en gelee (where the fish was not overcooked), a timbale of salmon tartare, and his tasty cold smoked salmon wrapped round a concasse of tomato and zucchini. The tiny pieces of vegetable that made up the concasse were all of an exact matching size, a mere detail perhaps, but one that demonstrates the care and attention paid by this chef. Presentations were beautifully done, not over elaborate, but with a sharp definition of the various components of each dish.

The menu changes daily, but on the day we visited there was sea trout, skate, rabbit, Welsh salt marsh lamb, pasta and risotto, the now ubiquitous pork belly, and sirloin steak. My guest’s fillet of native seabass was served (as fashion demands), skin side up, well browned but with tender and flaky flesh, served on a bed of white beans with a garnish of ceps and purple sprouting broccoli. I had mallard duck served two ways, which is the only way I believe you can cook virtually any kind of duck. If you roast the bird whole so that the legs are cooked then the breast will be overdone, and vice versa. Here the leg meat fell off the bone almost meltingly, while the breast had been excised and grilled to perfection, well burnished without, but still rosy within. The dish was generously garnished with Savoy cabbage and pancetta bacon. The bread sauce was a nice idea, but it needed a bigger kick of cloves and more of a bready texture.

That's the trouble with things your mum cooked at home, they are never quite right somewhere else. This was true of the Scottish Raspberry trifle - amaretti biscuits do not a trifle make -at least not in Bloomsbury. I was hankering after sherry soaked sponge at the bottom of the glass, and thicker custard, a trifle more vulgar perhaps? But seriously, this was a very nice trifle and it made me think that perhaps I was sitting in a cafe in Perugia. The deep chocolate tortino was a raving success, complemented by some rosemary scented ice cream, what a great combination!

This is a restaurant to which I would gladly return to try other things on the menu. My first visit will be to test out the set lunch menu.

Service was friendly and extremely competent, and the wine list is contemporary and provides rewarding opportunities for all pockets.

Prices: starters £6 to £8; mains £13 to £16; desserts around £6

Opening times: Monday to Friday midday to 3 pm. (last orders 2.45 pm)

Dinner Monday to Saturday 5.30 pm to 10.30 pm (last orders 10.15 pm)

Reservations: 020 7693 5425

Number Twelve
12 Upper Woburn Place
tel: 020 7693 5425

Clifford Mould


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