ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Footballfish

So, England's chances of advancing beyond the group stages in Brazil suffered a predictable setback at the hands of Italy, but nobody seems to be particularly disheartened by the result.

Maybe it's because everyone blithely expects Uruguay and Costa Rica to bend over for us so we can continue the ancient English custom of squeaking through to the quarters and losing on penalties.

But maybe it's just because it was Italy. And people don't really mind losing to Italy. Because they don't mind Italy?

I've long thought that the reason that England struggle in World Cup finals is that while they may be consistently good enough to dispatch the weaker nations, there exists a core of national teams that, for various reasons, are more or less invincible to us, even on their bad days.

And Italy are one of those teams that we're simply incapable of beating. Along with Germany, Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain and Portugal. A somewhat lengthy list, which in itself pretty much explains why we never fucking win anything.

The thing is, if it had been Germany or Argentina or one of those other teams that we never beat no matter how well we play, we'd all be right, royally fucked off about it, but because it's Italy, we just, well, sort of accept it. Così è la vita.


The least disliked nation in the world?


I don't think I've ever actually met anybody who really dislikes Italy - even though, on paper at least, there's a lot to dislike: Facist regimes during the war. Having to use the sodding Euro. Corrupt governments in bed with organised crime. Overrated operatic tenors. Roman Catholics (indeed Romans in general). Getting shot at by Mafiosi. The fact that we can't beat them at football...
Whatever your personal prejudices, there should be something for every true-born Englishman to despise right there. And yet, we don't.

(Even I quite like Italy. I've been there a couple of times, and have a short break in Rome booked for next month. And, when I eventually get to the fucking point you'll discover that this is a review is of an Italian restaurant.)

You don't have to look far to find somebody who loathes the French or the Germans, so why does our collective xenophobia timidly subside when it comes to our more limb-shaped Euro-neighbours?

Does anybody not love pasta?

Could it possibly be the food? As a nation we love our pizza and pasta. We enjoy espresso and cappuccino and Italian desserts, even if they're not properly Italian. (Gino Ginelli ice-cream wouldn't have defined our childhoods in the way it did, if the brand had been named after Helmut Schmidt, would it?)

Italian restaurants are popular with everyone. There's always some difficult twat who 'doesn't like curry' or 'can't stomach Chinese', but I've never known a single person turn their nose up at an Italian meal.

Fish restaurants, on the other hand, can be incredibly divisive. Lots of people find petty excuses not to want to eat seafood. But what about an Italian fish restaurant?!?

Fishful thinking


Located on Charlotte street, in an area of central London not lacking plenty of eating choices, Pescatori doesn't exactly stand out to passers-by, with a clean but extremely plain decor that gives no hint that it is either Italian or a fish restaurant.

Inside it's all very generic too, though there are some dishes on the menu that set the place apart from your average Italian, which is why it's been on the BV hitlist for some time.

I start off with the cold degustation platter - served on a mound of ice with twiggy sprigs of samphire, it's an impressive sight, though for £19.95 there's not actually a lot of food there.

Degustazione - looks bigger than it is
The rock oysters go down a treat, smooth as silk with no trace of grittiness, and the sweet chilli sauce is a fine accompaniment, though I'd have quite liked the opportunity to drink a pint of stout with the buggers.

A basket of bread would've been nice too - the only nibbles on the table were a tiny vine of cherry tomatoes, though these were rather nice.

The only thing on the degustation plate that's actually been cooked is a pair of vicious looking langoustines - nice enough with the lemon mayonnaise, but I can't be doing with cracking crustecean carapaces and using finger bowls all the time.

Perhaps the most interesting component is the ceviche scallops - uncooked, but cured in citrus juice, I'd never tried scallops prepared in this way before, and it's fair to say that it achieves a depth and penetration of flavour that you don't normally expect from a scallop.

We also tried a hot starter, the Calamari alla griglia, which is a tried and tested combination - grilled squid and strong, smoky sausage - executed really well.


Crabby main courses

Onto the mains, and one of the signature Pescatori dishes is the Aragosta Hamburger, featuring lobster and crab. And after a starter that amounted to a few scant mouthfuls, I wanted something big and hearty.

To be honest, I was really expecting a big hunk of buttery lobster in a bun, so when the wooden board arrived containing what was, essentially, a fishcake, I was a little underwhelmed.

It had a good crabby flavour, and the flaky texture indicated high quality, fresh ingredients with minimal processing - it wasn't shiphams crab paste in a bap.

The fries were golden and crispy, the brioche bun was top quality, and the seafood sauce, with delicious tangy chunks of gherkin and onion couldn't be faulted... but, and it's an important but, this is the sort of thing you'd expect to order as the Friday special at a decent burger joint, not a fairly high-end Italian fish restaurant that aims to 'harness the best produce from land and sea'.

It would've been molto sciocco to dine Italian and not check out the pasta, so we tried the Panciotti, stuffed with prawns, crab and scallops, in a buttery, winey sauce with fresh red chillis.

The pasta was beautiful, melt'in't'mouth stuff, as you'd expect from a good Italian, but the 'prawns, crab and scallops' filling turned out to be a sort of crabby paste that didn't taste all that dissimilar to my burger. Not unpleasant, by any means, but not life-changing either.


Whose side are you on?

But there were some treats to be found amongst the side orders, at £3.50 apiece, rather reasonably priced compared to the rest of the menu.

Zuccini fritti is usually good bet for some crunchy veggie goodness, and these were particularly excellent, with the al dente courgette inside a light, almost tempura-like batter. (And they went fantastically with the seafood sauce that came with the burger).

Dolce, dolce...
The tomato and basil salad threw us a bit of a curveball, doing exactly as it said on the tin, but with a mix of red, orange and white tomatoes. All yummy stuff, but they maybe missed a trick by not including some green ones and arranging it like the Italian flag.

The wine list is almost all Italian. We went for a Pinot Grigio which was fine on its own, but a little too plump and figgy for what we were eating, and certainly not worth £42 a bottle.


There's plenty of choice on the dessert menu (all £6.50) which does an admiral job of avoiding the usual 'tiramisu, zabaglione or gelato' stereotypes.

We tried the baked blueberry cheesecake - perfectly decent and ideal if you don't like your sweets too, err, sweet - and the Chocolate pot, which was superb.

The amaretti biscuits and caramel sauce on top were nice enough, but beyond the initial mining operation lay the payload of rich, chocolately deliciousness with more than a hint of coffee too.

One of the great things about Italian cuisine is the sheer variety and with London dominated by standard pizza and pasta houses, some of them good, some of them appalling, Pescatori does a fine job of plucking the other strings on the Italian bow. Which doesn't even make sense, except in the context in which it does, obviously.

There is one sister branch, in Mayfair, which suggests lofty aspirations, though in all honesty they are really pitching to the upper end of the mainstream market - three courses with wine will cost around £50-75 a head.

Pescatori offers something a little different, but I feel it's a tad overpriced for what you get. If you want the true taste of Italy, you'd be better off at a humble, rustic pizzeria where you'll pay a third of the price for something a bit more substantial.

But it's Italian, so we can't criticize it too much. It just wouldn't be cricket. Or football.


Where to find it...

Pescatori Fitzrovia
57 Charlotte street,
Fitzrovia
W1T 4PD (map)

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