Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Semplice – Michelin Risotto


There must be something wrong with this Monday. Zucca was our initial choice for a laidback Monday wind-down. The stylish Italian eatery closes on Mondays. Fine. Gauthier Soho was a natural alternative, especially after I was teased by the black truffle risotto at Taste of Christmas. Only to be told that Gauthier opens every Monday except this one, because it is under refurbishment.

Cynthia came up with Ristorante Semplice, which maintained its Michelin One-Star this year. Like Texture, Semplice has a lower profile compared to the celeb chef franchises.  Still, Chef Marco Torri boasts a glamorous career history, trained under various 3-Michelin starred chefs around Europe.

Giovanni was welcoming as ever, as if he remembered me from the days of Locanda Locatelli. No candles this time, instead the room was warmly lit with amber-toned lights against chocolate walls. While studying the menu, spoilt for choices, the first wow arrived.

Canapés – Zucchini & Root Vegetables; Parmesan bites and Bread Crisps
This is artwork. The Parmesan bites were heavenly. I mean it. They were like drops of clouds, gently sprinkled with Parmsan on the brittle shell that resembled a meringue, faintly sugary, and dissolved instantly in mouth. It was literally a breath of Parmesan. The paper-thin vegetables and bread, dried not fried were also airy delicacies

When our first course arrived, Giovanni promptly removed the board of unfinished canapés. I thickened my skin and asked for it back. The dim light did little to hide my red face…but man, those were some serious canapés.
We were offered a selection from the breadbasket. I opted for tomato bread, which was warm and appetizing with a crusty shell. The server introduced us to the Italy imported extra virgin olive oil before pouring.

Risotto alla Milanese – Traditional Milanese risotto with saffron and bone marrow
Still hung on bone marrow from Hawksmoor last Friday, this risotto jumped at me. Talk about a golden glow. Rice soaked up the flavours, yet maintained a chewy solid core; cooked to perfection. A tad stingy on the bone marrow front, but it would be a much too weighty starter otherwise. I can see how the risotto here converted Giles Coren, as the website quoted.

Wild mushroom risotto with quail/partridge
This was on the day’s special. How I wish Chef too showered my dish with this amount of marrow. While the Italian rice was equally al-dente, I wasn’t thrilled by the creamy wild mushrooms. Perhaps it was a tired combination, it was a taste far too familiar, and not to mention the comparison made with the white truffle (charged by weight) risotto Cynthia had last time, which she was still drooling over.

Roasted milk-fed Piedmontese veal zucchini, shitake mushroom, tomato, sweet potato
What happened to the artwork? There is no doubt about the execution of the dish, thick slices of veal sealing its juices and cubes of shitake mushroom immersed in the sauce, which was not dissimilar to a diluted gravy, though fruitier and livelier. It wasn’t tremendously exciting in terms of flavour, but still straightforwardly good.

Pan-fried Cornish John Dory, swisschard sauce, sautéed and deep-fried swisschard
Since my first encounter of John Dory at Quo Vadis, I vowed not to order the fish. Semplice change my perception today. Unlike the dense block I experienced, this was so buttery silky that it effortlessly flaked into the swisschard sauce. No it is not a fatty fish, but yes it was delicious.

Before presenting the desserts menu, our waitress dragged over a cheese cupboard. And I do mean drag since there were no wheels on it and it made the kind of noise that drives you insane when heard on a Sunday morning. There were at least twenty odd cheeses in various shapes and colours. Cynthia is not a fan; I am, but politely declined when offered to taste since we weren’t drinking that evening. What good is Inzaghi without Del Piero?

 ‘Domori’ chocolate fondant served with grappa pannacotta, crispy spice bread and chocolate sorbet
This was ingeniously dubbed ‘chocolate with wingz’. The fondant was bittersweet with a rich viscous centre, the bits and pieces around it were comparatively mild to balance the substantial fondant. I was particularly charmed by the chocolate sorbet.

The bill came to £115 without wine, including service. It was precise cooking with top quality ingredients, though I would encourage more adventurous combinations, like the Parmesan bites. Giovanni has mastered the perfect balance between formality and personality, giving the usual buzz of an Italian restaurant. Do I prefer Semplice to L’anima? They are quite different. Semplice is more grounded and authentic I feel. L’anima placed more emphasis on the overall package. It was a warm evening at Semplice.

The Domori chocolate with sea salt on the right - great stuff

9/10 Blenheim Street
London
W1S 1LJ
Tel: 0207 495 1509


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