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hotel entrance to Locanda Locatelli

It’s Friday, and we’re talking to our friends about where to meet for dinner on Saturday.  They feel like having Italian food.  “Good luck with that,” I think.  I can count on one hand the reliably-good Italian restaurants in London, and they’re always fully booked on Saturday night.

Well, the last laugh’s on me, because our friends worked some magic:   Saturday night dinner reservations at Locanda Locatelli at 9:30 pm.  I’ve never been to Locanda, but I know it’s expensive, and the food is supposed to be good.   So off we go.

First impressions are good.  The room is large, but the layout allows for lots of inviting nooks and crannies.  Our table has a nice, curved banquette.  I love banquettes.

beef carpaccio (£15)

Pork sausage, Savoy cabbage and saffron risotto starter (£13.50)

Generally, the menu offerings sound pedestrian, but most of them are well executed.  Take, for example, the beef carpaccio and platter of cured meats.  There’s a generous serving of both and the ingredients are fresh and delicious.  Still, they seem more a reflection of top-notch sourcing than of top-notch cooking.

Sadly, the one starter we ordered that was served in an unexpected way (i.e., the pork sausage and risotto) wasn’t especially tasty.  I wasn’t expecting the risotto to be a fritter, and while I am normally a lover of all things fried, having a crispy wedge of fried risotto to accompany a massive ball of sausage, all drizzled in a rich sauce, was just unrelentingly heavy.

And an artichoke salad with rocket and Parmigiano Reggiano was a total disappointment, especially for £15.  There was no interesting blending of flavors or textures.  It was as if it were a plate with three separate ingredients on it, which just reinforced my impression that it’s tough to get a decent salad in London.

We did much better with mains, which I’d say were the highlight of our dinner:

lobster linguine (£24.50)

Thanks to ingenious use of lobster stock, the lobster linguine was packed with lobster flavor despite a very stingy portion of lobster meat.  I greatly enjoyed this one, though the presentation was a little scary.  What’s with the random lobster leg jutting out like that?

Potato and mushroom gnocchi with black truffle (£19.50)

Potato-and-mushroom gnocchi with black truffle was my second-fave pasta course of the evening.  Pillowy-soft gnocchi perfumed with truffle.  Perfect.  Presentation is what you’d call rustic if you were being generous, though.

orecchiete with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies (£18)

Orecchiete was the low point of our pastas.  It was a giant plate of mush, really.  The pasta tasted as if it’d been sitting around a while, and again, the flavors didn’t blend at all.  Jon and I make a much better version of this dish at home.

braised lamb neck with polenta (£27.50)

The braised lamb neck with buttery polenta ticked all the boxes for a good braise:  fork tender, lots of rich fatty bits and a strong sauce for you to mop up.  A little more polenta to accompany the enormous portion of meat would’ve been ideal.

Contorni were a very mixed bag.  The fried artichoke (£6) was masterful, with each artichoke leaf perfectly battered and crisped, but the rest of the contorni were skippable.  Fried potatoes (£4.50) were just crispy cubes of potatoes – dressed up chips, really.  Regular ol’ broccoli and chili was £4.75 and lacking both kick and flavor.  Sauteed spinach (£4.75) was satisfying, but it’s garlic and spinach, yes?

terribly un-tasty tiramisu (£6.50)

Worst menu moment was the tiramisu.  A total crime.  Stale ladyfingers doused in a runny mascarpone and drowned in amoretto.  Despite sharing one portion among four people, we didn’t come close to finishing it, and I was mildly disappointed none of our servers bothered to ask why a little martini glass of tiramisu went only half-eaten.

With extras like a £77 bottle of a very tasty Sicilian red wine and a couple glasses of digestifs, our total for four came to £300 (£75 a person).  It was a fun evening out with friends, but given the generally-pedestrian and unven food, I wouldn’t recommend a visit.  And I definitely can’t help comparing our dinner at Locanda with my repeat dinner at Trullo just this past Monday night.

At Trullo, I paid £26 a person for a starter, an excellent pasta, a shared main of braised lamb neck, and a shared dessert (i.e., the tastiest caramel pannacotta, ever).  Service at Trullo was friendly and helpful, so the only thing that was superior about Locanda was its comfortable seating and dining room, and that’s not worth the price premium, I reckon.

Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Place, W1H 7JZ; 0207 935 9088; closest Tube station:  Marble Arch

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Trullo restaurant

One of my favorite things about keeping a blog is to read the comments left by readers. Last week, I blogged about Palmers, an ambitious restaurant near Victoria Park, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In the comments section of that blog post, one reader, Mike, recommended that I check out Trullo, an Italian restaurant with River Cafe connections that recently opened close to where I live. I did some googling, and this glowing Dos Hermanos review turned up, so I made a booking asap.

pigeon radicchio salad (£6.50)

Late last Friday evening, Trullo was packed and buzzy. Jon and I were offered the only available two-person table, which was wedged near the kitchen, but the maitre d’ offered to move us to more spacious quarters once tables opened up. We appreciated the offer, but our table was fine once our neighbors left. (Otherwise, the tables do seem very close together).

I started with a pigeon and radicchio salad with Moscatel dressing, which was exactly what I expected and more. The pigeon was rare and tender, and the bitter crunch of the radicchio was balanced by the sweet dressing. I was reminded of some of the outstanding radicchio dishes at Baita Pie’ Tofana in Cortina. Even better than this walk down memory lane was the toast topped with creamy chicken liver. It hadn’t been included in the menu description, so I considered it a bonus. A well-executed and generous portion for £6.50.

tagliarini with brown shrimp and courgettes (£8)

My main course pasta was deliciously simple, as the best pasta tends to be. Tagliarini were silky and delicate, matched perfectly with a giant portion of flavorsome brown shrimp, crunchy courgette slices. The glutton in me wished it had been a larger portion, but actually, it was good that we saved room for a cheese plate and dessert.

scallops grilled on a skewer with Padron peppers and borlotti beans (£16.50)

Jon chose scallops from the “charcoal grill” section of the menu and was rewarded with sweet, raw-on-the-inside, smoky-with-char-on-the-outside scallops. Creamy, firm borlotti beans were a nice, neutral accompaniment.

cheese plate (£7)

By the time we reached the cheese plate and outstanding strawberry-almond tart (£4.50), it was dark outside, so my ability to take photos disappeared.

Trullo is a *very* welcome addition to the neighborhood, and I’m looking forward to bringing friends there. The food’s good, the service is helpful, and the prices are reasonable. I have a feeling I may never get to Zucca now that I have Trullo within walking distance of my house. Actually, even if you live further afield, Trullo is worth a visit.

For two starters, two mains, cheese, dessert and a half bottle of wine for £12, our tab was £60.50.

Trullo Restaurant, 300-302 St. Paul’s Road, N1 2LH; 0207 226 2733; closest tube station: Highbury & Islington
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