Friday, April 4, 2014

21 Covent Garden, 24th March

There has been quite the furore about 'bloggers vs blaggers' and whether you can trust a blog's review if they've been treated to the meal/event/whatever.

To be honest, the number of places I get invited to are minimal, what I write about almost always comes out of my pocket and I've never really had to worry about how much I've been influenced by the 'free' aspect as I've always objectively liked the thing anyway. Plus I do always say when it's been comped and will freely admit that something free always is a bit better than something you've paid for...

To throw my two cents in, I think there is a big difference between bloggers who are invited to something and those who solicit the invitations and try to wangle, literally, a free lunch. I definitely don't do the latter, but I will take up an invitation now and again. This was one of those times.

I don't think I'm doing 21 Covent Garden a disservice when I say it's an 'everyday' restaurant. It's not the kind of place you'd go for a special occasion, although its setting and decor are perfect for a romantic rendezvous. Every table feels like it is its own private enclave and we were really impressed by what they had done with the place (apparently the cellar was previously disused and it was a pretty terrible touristy bar upstairs). The food is all Italian with the pasta all made in-house.

It's the kind of place that is good for Covent Garden - somewhere that a Londoner can go and know they'll have a decent meal, not some swill being served because the place is full of tourists, and they won't get ripped off.

I was particularly impressed by the cheese/meat board. Special mention has to go to the chutney. I don't know exactly what was in it but it definitely had apples – it was like eating the inside of a spot-on apple pie and I could have scoffed this on its own. It was a delightful accompaniment to the cheeses. Please, can all restaurants serve apple chutney from now on?

There was one cheese on there I hadn't had before and swiftly became a favourite (a creamy yet firm, pale cheese – the one at the back), and we were particularly taken by the peppery finnochiona sausage. We ordered a bread basket to go with our platter – some lovely thin crispbreads, a couple of slices of baguette and some well made focaccia.

I must admit, I'd been out for lunch and after sharing this was already teetering towards being full. I had ordered a fish pasta dish to keep it light, not expecting the ridiculously generous portion that I was served. I enjoyed this dish - I thought the pasta was of good quality and found the buttery sauce unhealthily delicious. I actually just loved the pasta and veggies and sauce on their own – it didn't even need the fish, which wasn't quite as flaky as I would have liked.

Stephen had the lamb ragu which came with some focaccia on the side and also some new potatoes. Given that there were potatoes in the ragu this seemed carb overload and we barely touched the side dish. Stephen wasn't as happy with his dish as I was with mine. The lamb varied quite a lot in size so it wasn't all cooked to the same consistency – some of it was still a bit tough. The taste wasn't as light and tomatoey as we expected, reminding him of a thick tomato-based curry! More of a winter dish this one.

We didn't have any pizza but must admit the stuff we saw coming out looked good – the bases looked pretty thin and crispy anyway!

I really was utterly stuffed after my pasta but our waiter suggested we take a moment and then see if we couldn't fit something else in. Stephen and I decided to share some gelato. We had a scoop each of pineapple, orange and raspberry. These were a good, refreshing choice to end our meal with but not the best gelato I've ever had. The taste to all three was strong – no complaints there – but the texture varied; the raspberry was wonderfully smooth, the orange was the least light, with a consistency that made you feel you were cutting it, and the pineapple was somewhere in between. 

All in all I liked the place. The staff were very friendly and even though we might have had special treatment it seemed like the other customers were also getting a lot of attention. If you find yourself in Covent Garden and hungry, don't despair. 21 Covent Garden with its Italian comfort/home cooking is here for you, with a lovely, cosy and warm setting. 

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