Housewife’s choice: Assaje
When in Rome…. try to fit in as many restaurants as possible! But if you only have time for one, make it Assaje at the Aldrovandi Villa Borghese hotel. Situated a little out of the city centre, close to the beautiful Villa Borghese gardens, this is a truly magnificent hotel reminiscent of Italian glamour of yesteryear.
The restaurant, however, is sumptuously modern, a gleaming white space with a few stylish touches of grey in the shiny marble floor and the (wonderfully comfortable) upholstered chairs.
I knew we were in for a treat when they brought a matching upholstered stool for my handbag!
We eschewed the five/six/seven-course tasting menus in favour of the à la carte, but the little extras they brought to amuse our bouches extended our three courses into six anyway.
We oohed, ahhed and delightedly worked our way through dish after dish of magnificence, with the most artistic culinary presentation I have ever seen.
The surprisingly young – but exceptionally talented – chef, Claudio Mengoni, trained under Andrea Migliaccio at the famed L’Olivo at the Capri Palace. He astounded us with a trilogy of aubergine, courgette and artichokes parmigiana-style and tomato soup with buffalo ricotta and basil pesto, followed by seared wild sea bass with chicory and lemon-scented mayonnaise, and duck breast with spinach, red onions and mustard sauce, cooked at a low temperature to preserve the flavour and tenderness.
We had no room for ‘dolci’ – but how could we not try Il Cioccolato – chocolate cake, creamy chocolate and vanilla crème brûlée, and Dolcezza al Caffè – a liquorice coated ball of coffee ’sweetness’ with hazelnut crumble.
And still there was more – a tea trolley with 20 infusions to choose from, served with a plate of eight not-so-petit fours.
Wines were advised upon, sampled, poured with aplomb and replenished. The table was at nine. We collapsed into a cab at 12. Three hours of foodie heaven.
Aldrovandi Villa Borghese
15 Via Ulisse Aldrovandi, Rome
T: 0039 06 322 3993; W: Aldrovandi.com
New Place in Town: Ember Yard
Ember Yard isn’t a yard or even an outside space. But the name evokes a dusty, faraway location with exotic overtones. It’s a secret gem in Soho, immediately atmospheric, drawing you into its dimly lit, romantic ambience.
I went with a painter who looks at things more carefully. She liked the earthy, rustic décor, low hanging lights and bold ochre colour scheme.
The charming French manageress seated us in the window and recommended a quixotic wine from Puglia – Come d’Incanto – white and yet made from a red grape. The slight sherry bouquet and gooseberry taste were the perfect accompaniment to tapas.
The focus here is on smoking and cooking with fire, so the dishes carry a faint whiff of smoke, adding to their dimension. It’s one of those breezy, effervescent places where the evening just flows.
The diverse menu makes it easy for pescatarians like me, or vegetarians, and dishes arrive scattergun fashion so you’re constantly rearranging the space, ordering more, mixing tastes, filling up your glass, and it’s all so flavoursome and delicious, smoky and fragrant, that it’s very difficult to call a halt.
I loved the chargrilled salmon with caramelised cauliflower; the painter was partial to hot smoked butternut squash with ricotta, lemon and grape jam.
And then there were the six other dishes – including caramelised pears with hazelnut crumble, yoghurt and star anise for dessert.
Full of happy people enjoying their dinner, Ember Yard is the kind of place to which you want to return again and again.
Ember Yard and sister restaurant Dehesa, also in Soho, have launched weekend breakfast menus with dishes including grilled sardines on toast with tomato and fresh basil, and avocado and grilled spring onions on flatbread with poached egg.
Ember Yard, 60 Berwick St, London W1F 8SU
T: 020 7439 8057; W: emberyard.co.uk
On the side
Restaurant Ours is the new venture from Tom Sellers [pictured], the culinary genius behind Michelin-starred Restaurant Story. The Knightsbridge brasserie is set to make an impact with its fabulous triple-height space accessed by a 30-metre ‘catwalk’. The menu flags up tuna with ginger, kale with goats’ cheese and shallots, steak tartare, sea bass with asparagus & chervil and black truffle tagliatelle. I might have to try the white peach soufflé with champagne and elderflower sorbet and cinnamon doughnuts with salted caramel and apple. Sellers says he wants Restaurant Ours to be one of London’s hottest places.
Amay-zing way to spread a smile
As part of its A-May-zing May month of fundraising, children’s charity Spread a Smile has teamed up with Lola’s Cupcakes, which has produced a special Spread a Smile cupcake that will be sold at its Brent Cross branch throughout May. Proceeds will go towards helping the charity entertain seriously ill children and teenagers in hospital.
Fancy dinner and a movie? The Crouch End Picturehouse fits the bill perfectly. The restaurant has just launched a new menu – smoked mackerel croquetas, cauliflower and parmesan soup, slow-cooked Moroccan lamb tagine and a side order of sweet potato wedges. It’s a fab, bright, sunny space, and worth considering for lunch or dinner even if you’re not seeing a film. If you’re looking for something a bit different for a special celebration, there’s a 22-seater cinema with dining room attached available for private hire.
Coast with the most
The team behind The Palomar are opening another restaurant. The Barbary hits Neal’s Yard in London next month and is described as showcasing grilling and baking from the Barbary Coast to Jerusalem. It’s a no-booking, 24-cover venue and, true to the new wave of thinking, prices will include ‘hospitality’, so there will be no additional service charges.
•Restaurants not kosher unless stated
The Restaurant Club
The Restaurant Club is a vibrant Facebook group with 9,000 members.
Last week, one member was disappointed to turn up at a restaurant she’d booked to find that her table had been cancelled. The restaurant had called to confirm the reservation, but the person who took the call had limited English, didn’t really understand and didn’t pass on the message. Based on not being able to get hold of the diners, the restaurant cancelled the booking. Surely there’s a better way for restaurants to confirm tables?
Liz said: ‘Many restaurants do still call to confirm, but if I don’t hear from
a restaurant, I usually call them the evening before or on the morning
I’m going, just to confirm. However I shouldn’t be the one doing the chasing!’
The Restaurant Club is a new loyalty scheme that connects discerning diners with independent restaurants, giving exclusive offers to members. Nearly 100 restaurants in and around London are on the scheme, with more signing up every day.
** Special offer for Jewish News readers **
Visit www.therestaurantclub.com to join the club and enter code JN5 to get £5 off your membership card. This code is valid until midnight on Thursday, 19 May.