This September, why not celebrate the best of Italy with a festival of food and music? The historic Devonshire Square in the City of London is hosting the ‘Italia, Amore Mio’ festival from 26 – 30 September 2016. As well as giving visitors the chance to sample delicious Italian food and have their ears delighted by the country’s music, there will also be the opportunity to donate to the Italian Red Cross’ Earthquake appeal.
The festival will bring together the rich gastronomical treats from eight Italian regions, with authentic delicacies rarely found outside the country. Inside the inflatable, pop-up Duomo delle Delicatezze (Dome of delicacies) will be a variety of dishes from Sardinia, Sicily, Campania, Liguria, Apulia, Calabria, Tuscany and Lazio. Visitors will have the choice of 20 different kinds of homemade lasagna, specialty chocolate, liquors made from lemons, the finest caught tuna, and organic cheeses, among many others.
Meanwhile, Italian music will fill the air during lunchtime concerts. Artists include internationally acclaimed tenor Yuri Sabatini, swing singer Chris Vinante with the Tony P. Riccio Trio, dramatic tenor Yannis Hadjopulos, and a tribute to the iconic Italian singer Mina by vocalist Laura Araldo.
Patrizia Sechi, Events Manager at Devonshire Square, said: ‘We have a unique opportunity to celebrate the vibrant Italian culture through its foods and arts, with a wide array of delicacies under the Duomo delle Delicatezze. Italy has such a diverse range of traditional foods from pastas to cheeses to local beverages, it is a great opportunity to house them under one roof in the heart of London in Devonshire Square’s historic setting. We are also humbled to be in a position to use this event to raise money to give a charitable donation to those in Italy who were affected by the recent earthquake.’
- The Italia, Amore Mio festival takes place from 26 – 30 September 2016, daily from 11am-8pm. At Devonshire Square, City of London, EC2M. Nearest stations: Liverpool Street or Aldgate. For more information, visit the Devonshire Square website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in September, click here.
Park Lane is one of the most exclusive addresses in London and is home to some of the capital’s grandest hotels. Over the years, I’ve gradually been stepping inside these hotels to sample their bars or restaurants. For my mother’s birthday, we booked a table for six one Saturday evening. Although the restaurant was fairly busy on the night in question, we were fortunate enough to be placed in the private dining room – which had folding doors separating it from the rest of the restaurant (which were open so we weren’t quite ‘private’). It was nice to have a bit of intimacy within our group and we felt like it had elevated our experience. I personally loved the contemporary interiors – the restaurant was a mix of red and black, very sleek and Asian-influenced design. Although the night in question was a bit chilly, there is also an outdoor terrace for up to 20 diners for warmer days and nights.
After ordering a bottle of champagne to kick off proceedings, we then ordered from our set menu. I opted for the Sfogliatina Fior di Latte – Semi-Soft Cheese and Courgette Tart. The presentation was brilliant, but being pastry, that soon went out the window as I tucked in and my plate was soon a mess thanks to the flakes. The tart was light and fluffy and the cheese was lovely and creamy, making it a nice way to ease myself into the three-course meal.
For my main course, I decided on the Roasted Halibut with Fennel Marmalade and Sauce Rouille. The presentation was very good, with some raw cabbage sticking up giving the dish a quirky injection. The halibut was cooked well, with its mild flavours well complemented by the marmalade and sauce. We’d ordered spinach and broccoli on the side, which really completed the dishes.
Finally, I was in a very indulgent mood when it came to dessert and ordering the Chocolate Soup. Presented a mousse-looking pudding in a bowl featuring brownie chunks, lemon compote, grapefruit segments and chocolate swirls, the waiter then poured hot chocolate sauce over the top, giving a sense of theatre as I watched part of the pudding collapse as it melted. It was very creamy and rich – tasting gorgeous. Meanwhile, my sister ordered a lighter but zesty Orange Tartlet with Vanilla Sauce and Milk Ice Cream, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
Overall, the food, ambiance and service were brilliant. Our wine and water glasses were always topped up, with the waiters happy to give rounded and enthusiastic explanations to any menu questions we had.
- Amaranto, Four Seasons Hotel, Hamilton Place, Park Lane, Mayfair, W1J 7DR. Tel: 020 7499 0888. Nearest station: Hyde Park Corner. For more information and booking, visit the Amaranto website.
For more of Metro Girl’s restaurant reviews, click here.
There’s a new style of dining standing out amongst the chain restaurants, posh eateries and greasy spoons in Soho. Having already won over many fans in mainland Europe, Vapiano has set up shop in Wardour Street providing a relaxed and speedy dining experience. Italian is one of my favourite foods and is responsible for my genuine love of carbs. However, when it comes to eating the cuisine, I find many venues can be overpriced so was pleased to discover Vapiano is serving good quality Italian fare at reasonable prices.
Vapiano is an expansive venue covering two levels with different open kitchens lining the back wall. While it doesn’t take reservations, the high turnover of diners just looking to eat and go means there won’t be a long wait at peak times. Upon arrival, you are given an electronic card which you swipe Oyster-style at the various counters when you order your dishes or the waiters use when serving drinks at your table. You then present the card at the exit to settle your bill. I found this system easy and convenient and makes splitting the bill with your friends simple.
The venue is light and airy with contemporary furnishings and artworks. The street-art style design above the different pasta, pizza and salad counters certainly caught the eye. After one of the hostesses on the door explained the concept to us, we headed to a table to check over the menu before deciding what to order. Although you essentially carry your own food to the table, there are also waiters taking orders for drinks. One thing that immediately struck my friend and I was the wide range of wines, beers and cocktails for sale and what good value they were. I ended up treating myself to a Strawberry Bellini for only £5.
The open kitchens feature different sections for pasta, pizza and salad so you can order directly from the chef cooking it and specify exactly what you want and how you like it. While my friend opted for pizza, I headed to the pasta kitchen and chatted to the friendly and speedy chef as he made my dish. The freshness of the ingredients before me were clear to see and I was impressed with my choice of 11 types of fresh pasta. It only took a few minutes before my dish Scampi E Spinaci (King prawns, basil pesto, cherry tomatoes, spinach, light cream sauce on fusilli) was ready and needless to say, it wasn’t long before I had eaten it. The pasta was cooked to perfection and the rich flavour of the ingredients really came through. I’m hungry for another one just now writing about it! Meanwhile, my friend opted for the Verdure pizza (Roasted vegetables, mushrooms, tomato sauce, mozzarella) which she praised as one of the best pizzas she’d had in a long time. She also accompanied her meal with a salad with the choice to design your own if you want to go off menu. The open dialogue directly with the chefs mean you have the option to go off piste from the typical salad recipes.
Finally, we just about had room for dessert. These are pre-prepared and very good value with most around £2.25 to £4. I opted for a small Panna Cotta (Blend of vanilla and cream topped with strawberry sauce) which was delicious and a perfect size after stuffing myself with carbs, while my companion opted for the very naughty Death By Chocolate cake, which was creamy, but not too rich.
While the concept may sound like a food court, it certainly doesn’t feel like one. The low lighting, contemporary interiors and friendly staff make for a relaxing environment. I loved the idea of being so involved in the preparation of your meal. Every dish we had was tasty, fresh and rich in flavour, while the brilliant value of drinks were an added appeal. Whether you need a quick lunch or catch up with friends over dinner, I would highly recommend Vapiano. I think this place will be my new Soho hotspot.
- Vapiano Soho, 84 Wardour Street, Soho, W1F 0TQ. Nearest stations: Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus or Tottenham Court Road. There are two further branches in Great Portland Street and Bankside. For more information, visit the Vapiano website.
For more of Metro Girl’s restaurant and bar reviews, click here.
A few months ago, I was surprised to find a gem of Tapas restaurant in the unlikely location of Honor Oak. The suburb is a halfway spot between one of my best friend and my homes so we are gradually working our way through the bars and restaurants in the area. As I cook Italian so often at home, I don’t often eat it when I go out, so I’m always looking for that extra ‘something’ when I seek out Italian restaurants to frequent. A few weeks ago, we paid an impromptu visit to Le Querce on Brockley Rise in the Honor Oak/Forest Hill area. The restaurant covers two shop fronts – one longer with tables dotted around the centrepiece bar, while a shallower group of tables in the adjoining section next door. The night in question we arrived, it was pretty busy, but as we were a party of two, they were able to accommodate us straight away. The interiors were fairly simple: wooden tables, comfortable chairs and the sort of photos you’d see on a wall in someone’s home, giving it a laidback feel and leaving the focus on the food.
Le Querce was opened by Italian chef Antonello Serra in 2006, who previously worked at the Michelin-starred Il Faro in Sardinia and Assaggi in the city of London. The concept seems to be recreating the essential Italian dining experience – great food and wine and sharing the experience with friends and family. The restaurant prides itself on using fresh ingredients, which are locally sourced, which was evident in our dishes. Having looked at neighbouring tables’ generous portions, my friend and I decided to avoid the starters so we had room for our mains. We were celebrating my friend’s recent engagement so ordered a bottle of Prosecco and some fresh bread to keep hunger at bay while we waited for our food to be cooked. The staff were friendly and attentive, and if you happen to speak any Italian, it would be well received too. One thing of note is the restaurant also caters to people on a gluten-free diet.
The menu is an authentic Italian set-up, comprising of Antipasti, Primi and Secondi piatti or pizza. Mains range from £7 to £14, with an extensive specials menu daily. I ordered Prawn Pasta off the specials, while my friend opted for Costata di Manzo Inglese (English Striploin Steak with diced Aubergines all’agrodolce). I’m happy to say the prawns in my dish were of a hearty size, and plentiful as I’ve often found other restaurant have ‘shrimped’… I mean scrimped on how many they’ve doled out. The tomato sauce was subtle in flavour and didn’t overpower the prawns, which were cooked perfectly. The thick pasta was a lot easier to eat than spaghetti and had the density I prefer. My friend really enjoyed her steak, which was juicy and succulent. Overall, I really enjoyed the meal. The food was delicious, the service was friendly and you felt like you were at an Italian family’s (albeit a large family!) home. After eating our meal, there was no pressure for us to leave as we sat chatting over the remainders of our Prosecco. I would highly recommend Le Querce for an experience of authentic Italian dining and at a reasonable price too.
- Le Querce, 68 Brockley Rise, SE23 1LN. Tel: 02086903761. Nearest train/overground: Honor Oak. For more information, visit the Le Querce website.
To read more Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Bounce is a unique London night out – combining drinking, eating and Ping Pong. Having opened in late 2012, I had the Holborn venue on my wish list for a while, so recently I finally got round to going with a friend for meal, drinks and a catch-up. For those who want to play Ping Pong, I highly recommend booking a slot on a table in advance. We only decided to go Bounce a few hours before our meal there on a busy Saturday night and weren’t fortunate enough to get a Ping Pong table booking.
Located a short walk from Chancery Lane tube station, Bounce is an expansive underground venue, featuring a restaurant at the back, 40 foot cocktail bar and 17 Ping Pong tables. Although subterranean, the large space and high ceilings mean the space feels far from claustrophobic or gloomy, in fact, quite the opposite. Upon arrival, we headed straight to our table and ordered one of the original cocktails from the menu. I opted for a Hatton Garden Spritz – named after the nearby road famous for its jewellers – a fruity, long drink consisting of Vodka, elderflower cordial, fresh raspberry and rhubarb, lemon topped with Prosecco, which was refreshing and light. My friend was in the mood for something a bit harder – and definitely not for the faint hearted – a Daddy Mac – a concoction of Chivas 12 year Scotch whisky, Stones ginger wine, Havana seven-year rum, agave syrup, fresh lemon and mint. The Daddy Mac has a sub-heading ‘not for girls’, which obviously gave my (female) friend a challenge, who managed to finish the drink, while admitting it packed a punch!
Although there was a selection of pizza breads, antipasti and other starters, we went straight for the pizzas. I ordered a Mozzarella, spinach, egg, parmesan, nutmeg and black pepper pizza. Cooked in proper Italian style with a crisp, thin base. The pizza was nicely floury and tasty and swiftly vanished from my plate, a good sign! After a whole pizza each, we felt pretty full and decided against a dessert and headed to the bar for some cocktails. Being a Saturday night, the bar and Ping Pong tables were packed. It made for quite humorous scenes when the odd Ping Pong ball bounced off your leg as you stood drinking. As the night wore on, we went off the cocktail menu and ordered simple spirits and mixers and cider from the extensive bar selection. The service both at the restaurant and bar was friendly and swift, despite the busy night. I am looking forward to returning and getting a game in next time! Bounce is a great place for a bit of mid-week fun, or a Friday or Saturday venue to unwind after a long week at work.
To find out about Bounce’s New Year’s Eve party and other ‘welcome 2014’ events in the capital, click here.
- Bounce, 121 Holborn, EC1N 2TD. Tel: 020 3657 6525. Nearest tube: Chancery Lane. The Ping Pong tables are bookable in 30 or 60 minute slots, starting from £10-£18. For more information and booking, visit the Bounce website.
To read Metro Girl’s other restaurant and pub reviews, click here.
When choosing a cuisine for an evening outing, I rarely opt for Italian as I like to think I can cook pasta and pizza dishes quite well myself. However, when meeting up with a friend for a girlie catch-up, she suggested Locale in East Dulwich. The branch is one of a small chain of five (Fulham, Blackheath, County Hall and Balham) and after Googling the restaurant, found it had overwhelming positive reviews.
As we were a party of two, we took a risk and turned up on a Friday night without a reservation and were fortunately able to be accommodated. Entering the building, there is a nice, welcoming bar area to walk through before entering the restaurant at the back. The tables were accompanied by comfortable leather chairs and booths with exposed brick and antique mirrors giving a contemporary feel. There is also a terrace for alfresco dining, although maybe not at this time of year!
We started off ordering a bottle of Prosecco Villa Armellina Spumante from the extensive bar menu, which also included reasonably priced cocktails and a long wine list. The prosecco was dry and refreshing and the perfect accompaniment for a hearty carb fest.
For a starter, I opted for the Cozze Locale – sautéed mussels in garlic , chilli, white wine and Locale tomato sauce served with homemade focaccia. Unlike other restaurants I’ve been to where I find there is either too many or too little mussels for a starter, this serving included a manageable 10-12. The sauce was delicious and the focaccia came in handy for soaking it up after I had seen off the mussels.
For my main course, I decided to steer away from my usual Italian favourites like seafood spaghetti or gnocchi and chose the Pasticcio Vegetariano – a vegetarian pasticcio made with mixed grilled seasonal vegetables in layers of crepes, tomato sauce and a light béchamel sauce. Served straight out of the oven, it was piping hot so I had to wait a while for it to cool down. It was very filling, but without being too heavy and tasted delicious. My friend ordered the grated beetroot and goat’s cheese risotto with Arborio rice, parsley and parmesan cheese and really enjoyed her dish too.
Locale pride themselves on offering seasonal menus and each branch has its own specific menu, with all food being prepared on site. We found the food delicious and hearty and the service friendly and attentive. The atmosphere was relaxed and it was an easy location to wile away a few hours with a friend over good food and wine. I’m looking forward to returning and also trying some of the other branches.
- Locale, East Dulwich, 58-60 East Dulwich Road, SE22 9AX. Tel: 020 7732 7575. Nearest train: East Dulwich. For more information, visit the Locale website.
For contents of all Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Despite their international reputations, many celebrity chefs don’t spend too much time at their namesake restaurant. Fortunately, for the world-renowned Theo Randall, this does not apply. At his restaurant at the Intercontinental Hotel on Hyde Park Corner, Theo is very much present, making sure the food lives up to his name.
For my recent birthday, I decided to book a TopTable deal at Theo Randall for five people on a Thursday night. Italian is one of my favourite cuisines which I cook often at home, but rarely dine at Italian restaurants because I like to be cooked something I can’t make at home. Well, I can say for sure I would not have dared cook my delicious main course I ended up eating – I doubt it would have come out well at all!
Arriving at Theo Randall through the hotel lobby, we were directed to a light, airy room with low lighting giving a relaxed feel. Given that after a big plate of pasta you may feel in a bit of a food coma, this lighting set the mood perfectly. After being shown to our large table and comfortable chairs, we were greeted by our friendly waiter, who gave us lots of information about the menu, specials and wine list.
We all opted for the TopTable deal, which although limited, has a contrasting variety of choices. For £27, you had 2 courses, a glass of prosecco and a dessert platter to share, which included slices of cheesecake, chocolate cake and Amalfi lemon tart. To start I opted for a green bean salad with lashings of parmesan, which was delicious and I felt super healthy eating so many greens. For my main, I chose a risotto with monkfish, salmon and squid, which really worked well together and was very tasty indeed.
Unlike many restaurants of this standard, the portions were incredibly generous. I personally struggled to finish my risotto. We all have sweet tooths, but found it quite funny that between the five of us we could barely manage the dessert platter. All three desserts were delicious, but we were way too full.
Although it was my birthday, I hadn’t mentioned this to the restaurant at all as I don’t like a fuss with singing, etc, but after seeing me opening presents and cards from family members, it was pretty obvious it was my special day. Sensing my desire for a low-key birthday, the waiter simply brought a plate of truffles for me with ‘happy birthday’ written in chocolate sauce which was a very sweet thing to do.
Theo said is his mission statement for the restaurant that he hates ‘formality and pretence’ and he certainly avoided both at his restaurant. While evidently a higher class of restaurant, the ambiance was relaxed and friendly and you felt comfortable chatting over the leisurely meal. While the TopTable deal was very good, those who want to order straight off the menu will be pleasantly surprised to see the prices a lot lower than you would expect on Park Lane.
- Theo Randall at The Intercontinental. 1 Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7QY. Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner.
For contents of all Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, visit our reviews page.