Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Right Spot on Union Street Cafe

Even though Gordon Ramsay was joking about David Beckham being his sous-chef at his newest London restaurant, a small part of me was still hoping to run into DB on the evening.

We were seated in the mezzanine area where a window allows a good peek into the kitchen. The dining room has an urban, arty feel to it with the bare walls and exposed ceilings. The tables are very well spaced with random modern art pieces here and there, as if they just half-converted a warehouse. Cool vibe.

Our server was incredibly charming, he knew the menu inside-out, back-to-front; patiently and passionately explained each item. Based on his recommendations, we went for 3 starters to share followed by a main each. All with some gorgeous lambrusco rosso.

Burrata d'Andria, zucca, orange & vino rosso
I had my eye this long before I made the reservation; those who know me well would know my addiction to this stretchy, luscious mozzarella.

The cheese was beautifully fresh and milky. I like a touch of honey on my burrata, and the sweetness came from this smooth pumpkin mash in this ensemble, adding more substance to support the meltingly rich cheese, together with the light drizzle of orange juice that kept the dish vibrant and zesty. Loved it - simply delicious. 

Ovoli crudi, parmigiano vacche rosse & lemon
Okay, so it's raw slices of mushroom with parmesan and a squeeze of lemon juice - my little brain could not quite work out how this could possibly be tasty on the plate.  And my taste buds must have missed something too. The crunchy fungi had very little flavours to them, perhaps the flaky parmesan just dominated because even the lemon citrus went unnoticed. The combination just didn't work for me; a little too dry, a little too raw and a little to basic - credit to our server for selling it so well nonetheless.

Tagliolini rabbit & caciocavallo
After brief, very brief considerations for Mr Tofu, the boys decided to order the one pasta dish with rabbit. Well... if only little Tofu would taste as good.

Tagliolini is the finest cut of flat pasta, which was cooked to perfect bounciness with a good chew. The rabbit meat was succulent and tender, slightly shredded to better match its mouthfeel to the thin tagliolini. Caciocavallo is smooth semi-hard cheese with a subtly sweet taste to it, the gentle touch made the pasta dish more dimensional without weighting it down.

Guazzetto di scorfano, clams, mussels & fregola
(I may have forgotten to snap a pic of my main...)
I thought about going for the ox cheeks, but I still think my ox cheek recipe is pretty damn awesome already. So instead I opted for this fish stew.

Definitely one of the better fish stews I have had; the broth was savoury and balanced. It was concentrated enough with all the shell fish goodness, but not to the point of overkill. The large cubes of white fish were slithery and soft, morsels in mussels and clams were plump and creamy, together with plenty of chewy fregola, it was a delicious stew.

Polpo, braised borlotti & Calabrian 'nduja
The chunky tubes of octopus was delightful, full of bounce and carefully seasoned to bring out its delicate flavours. The bed of softly cooked borlotti (a type of kidney beans) was creamy and gently sweet, mixed in with the slightly fiery 'nduja salami paste, which complimented the springy octopus very well. 

Guancia di bue, polenta, gorgonzola & muscat grapes
The ox cheeks were cooked to the point of disintegration, barely holding in shape. Although it was a very lean cut of meat, the textures werent' grainy as the muscles fell apart into shreds, holding more of the thick gravy in between. Still, I can't say it beats my recipe:)

The fried polenta stole the show for me, the crispy exterior and soft velvety centre was fantastic; interestingly it reminded me of McD's hash browns, but in a good way, I mean a very good way.

Zucchini fritte
We had some fried courgettes on the side. Perhaps the veg was sliced too thinly so it was a lot of batter and not much courgette. I think Granger & Co in Notting Hill does it better.

Given we started dinner at 10, it was way past midnight by the time we finished our mains, we passed on desserts. I will come back to check it out on my next visit though.

Think I have always been quite harsh with Chef Ramsay's establishments. It's definitely not personal, as I adore and am still addicted to Chef's TV shows. Perhaps it's just his newer restaurants that, in my humble opinion, are lacking in surprises and the modern touch. Union Street Cafe, on the other hand,  really delivered.

It's Italian, and Italian is all about top quality produce and fresh (and unheard of) ingredients, be it seemingly poisonous mushrooms, ridiculously looking cheese or unpronounceable pasta. And these are all on the menu. So simply and perfectly cooked to bring out the best of the ingredients - Chef Davide Degiovanni nailed it. 

47-51 Great Suffolk Street
London
SE1 0BS
Tel: 0207 592 7977

Union Street Cafe on Urbanspoon
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