Wednesday, 18 February 2009
The Zetter Restaurant, Clerkenwell Road, London
‘Where do we go from Yo Sushi?’ was the question to my friend. Well, the answer to that would have been ‘Anywhere is better than Yo Sushi’ if this was a trivia question.
I was however, trying to find my way to The Zetter Restaurant (and boutique hotel) in Clerkenwell one weekend, with 3 other people equally as directionally-lost as I was.
‘Follow the sign to the big Z’.
‘What, like Zorro?’ ‘Yes, that’s the one’.
Who needs street names, landmarks, that kinda thing.
As we rumbled like baby elephants into the very quiet restaurant, the waiters greeted us with plenty of smiles, offered to get our coats and were most friendly even though we’d caused enough ruckus to put most people off. That’s what happens when you’ve been wandering around Clerkenwell on a weekend evening, with no shops open for miles and finally find the restaurant you’re looking for. It’s … liberating.
This restaurant is described as Mediterranean in most of the websites featuring it, but the menu was more Italian than Mediterranean. It was kinda like a mixture of … I’m not quite sure what.
Thing is, we were there for the 50% Toptable promotion, and all the food was half-price so I’m not going to question which continent it comes from, as long as it’s nice.
One really lovely waitress was constantly coming over to the table to ask if we were OK. Sensing perhaps that we had not a clue what to order from the actually really small menu, she recited the whole menu to us, explaining what each dish was and what meat was in it.
(Call me paranoid, but I refuse to eat something described as ‘risotto with meat of some sort’.) This bread came with olive oil (and something which looked like black pepper, but was actually salty).
We were told that they’re not usually as empty as this. Granted, the weather wasn’t amazing that weekend, winds were going at 50mph in town, and it was drizzling almost all the time. It was pretty good for us as almost all the waiting staff were there for our one table. Could really get used to this kind of service in restaurants.
50% off starters equals yes please
Jerusalem artichoke soup with goats’ cheese and onions £5.50
We were all really hungry by the time the starters were served up, not because the service took long, but because we took so long to decide what to have.
When the waiter put down a plate with 3 wisps of leaves, and some little berries, my friend looked as if he was about to eat the utensils. We all considered doubling up the orders, and a friend frantically asked to up her portion size from a starter to a main.
Then the waiter poured this white soup from the little jug, and everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
When everyone had calmed down from the initial portion-phobe, my friend who had this soup described it as sort of a mix between leek and potato, and something with cream.
Grilled chicken salad with Gorgonzola, endive and walnuts £5.50
Should I know what endive is?
Grilled chorizo on toast with roasted tomatoes and Chimicurri £5.50
A whole chorizo came with this dish, on top of possibly ciabatta slices which had been toasted. It tasted similar to sausages, slightly more salty than the sausages you get from supermarkets, but it wasn’t the chorizos I was used to seeing. Perhaps this is the Mediterranean version?
Poached octopus with Cannelinni beans, Piquillo peppers and pickled ginger £6.50
When the plate came, I thought ‘Now this is what you call a good portion’. Then I looked more closely and realised that 4/5 of the plate was plate, and 1/5 of the plate was this little concave with food.
It was actually more than it looked, and the squid portion was generous to say the least. Everything I looked for when I ordered this dish was delivered, from the chewiness of the squid, to the fresh and clear tasting seafood in the dish.
50% off main meals, bring it on
Braised squid and chorizo risotto £12.00 (half-price! half-price!)
In case you came to the conclusion that I wasn’t actually that much of a cheapo and that I do actually pay for expensive meals, do reconsider.
This was half price, about £6 which transforms a dish (in my opinion) from a so-so one to a very tasty one. The rice was cooked very well, the texture was chewy yet cooked, and the meaty chorizo taste infused through the dish. I couldn’t taste much squid, but it was probably the chorizo that over-powered it.
Chestnut pappardelle with wild mushrooms, sage and pistachio £12.50
Perhaps this may be a reflection of my usual choice of cuisine, but when this dish was put on the table, I thought that they’d served up shavings of donner meat covered with cheese.
Grey slices of stuff? Check.
Shavings of cheese? Check.
This turned out to be a really tasty pasta dish, meatless and all that. I’d never had pasta like this before, and in that dim romantic lighting which was invented to annoy food photographers, it really looked quite weird, colour-wise. Good thing it tasted much better than it looked. The pasta was al dante, and you know I like my pasta al dante. It was also full of flavour, surprising considering the fact that there wasn’t any meat in the dish to lend flavour to it.
Grilled fish of the day (seabass) with lentil ragu, salsify and salsa verde £16.50
Salsify? Like, seabass that has been going for salsa classes? Whatever it was, this was one tasty fish. Pity about the portion sizes, because I could have easily had another one of it. The fish tasted fresh and nicely-chewy.
It came with mayonnaise of some sort, which I guessed to be the salsify as no restaurant like this serves you fish and mayo. Not without chips being part of the dish anyway.
Braised ossobucco with tomato, saffron risotto and gremolata £16.50
Usually when I read a menu, I understand more than 50% of the items on it. This menu though, was like reading a French dictionary upside down. When we asked the waitress what an ossobucco was (refer to comment above about not eating non-descriptive meat), she first said it was something like ravioli, then someone said it was beef, and when the dish was all mixed up, the kitchen staff confused, and we got the wrong risotto, it turns out that ossobucco is actually veal.
Very soft, tender veal at that. Braised in some tomato sauce, and put on risotto which tasted like it had been cooked in cream and some white wine. Lovely stuff. I don’t usually have veal, and don’t intend to have veal, but I chewed on a piece before it dawned on me what it was.
(Look, it was ravioli, beef and something else before it was veal.)
Here comes the desserts … (50% off, can’t refuse)
Creme brulee with banana and ice cream £5.35
Looked nice, and the friend who had this said that the banana gave the dish an interesting twist.
Pear and pistachio tart £5.35
When this was served, I asked for it to be moved to the centre of the table to be photographed. It was very nearly not moved back to the friend, it looked THAT good.
I’m not sure what it tasted like, as I knew that if I had one bite, it’d cause some friction in the friendship when I refused to give him back his dessert, and ran out of the restaurant with it hidden in my coat.
A friend who tasted it said it was ‘pistachio-ey’, which is as good a description as any, I suppose.
Without the Toptable promotion, I would never have discovered this restaurant. Now that I have, I have nothing but compliments for the chef. If it weren’t so expensive, I’d say I’d come here again, but without the promotion, there are cheaper things to have which would probably be up to this standard.
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