Whilst it’s been wonderful returning to restaurants, pubs and coffee shops, we’d be kidding ourselves that everything was all sweetness and light. We can (and should) be forgiving of minor mistakes, but what if your beef is not so much with the rusty service but the other customers? In my rose-tinted view of restauration I had conveniently blocked out the lottery of your fellow patrons. Having conversations in pubs ruined by everything from a stag do to a post-match hullabaloo, my curmudgeonly world-weariness came flooding back. Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather eat a broken glass sandwich with a pint of limescale remover than go back to another godforsaken lockdown. And of course, the whole point of a public house is that it’s public: a 3pm gaggle of inebriated drinkers has just as much right to be there as you. But what if they’re breaching the peace? Where does responsibility lie?
Such questions percolated in my mind again over dinner at La Goccia, where a pleasant(ish) evening was marred by one of those other people Jean-Paul Sartre probably found so hellish. The restaurant was already noisy with the hubbub of reunited friends but on top of this a recognisable TV actor (who shall remain nameless) obnoxiously held court in the otherwise handsome courtyard, bellowing boorish anecdotes loud enough to be heard in Minsk.
Now I’m not suggesting this is the restaurant’s fault. In any case, this is Theatreland: folk who project their voices go with the territory. But to some extent a restaurant can ameliorate such an aural assault, perhaps by accommodating customer requests to move seats or reminding customers to be mindful of others when launching into a tedious monologue of luvvie name-dropping. La Goccia is undoubtedly a lovely setting and will remain open along with sister restaurant The Petersham despite the closure of the Petersham Nurseries shop.
After excessive noise, my second major bugbear in any restaurant is waiting staff who try to memorise your order instead of writing it down. Unless you are a mnemonist who has perfected the method of loci, it’s not worth the risk. Sadly, our server decided now was the time to show off. He didn’t forget any of the order, thankfully, but he was, as Line of Duty’s Hastings once admonished Arnott, “skating on thin ice, son… wafer thin.”
Anyhoo, Negronis made with orange gin and orange shrub soon placated our spirits, along with the promise of cicchetti and meat cooked in a wood-fired oven.
First, Sicilian almonds to nibble on and then some coccoli. Mortadella is always great to see on any menu this side of Bologna and a must-have. To accompany this, the taleggio cream was a little stiff and over-set, whilst pillowy dough balls were pleasant but set the scene for substantial double-carbing.
Whilst there’s no obvious leaning to one Italian region or another, and indeed many of the ingredients are supplied by Haye Farm in Devon, there were inconsistencies in execution. Seasonal wild garlic risotto was decently all’onda, with the rice holding its own in the pungent, starchy broth, but the green ravioli with ricotta, burrata, butter and sage was lukewarm and insipid. I’ll forgive them for the plate going cold but would it hurt to put any of the advertised sage in it? I get that it’s a potent herb, but that doesn’t mean it should be disguised altogether. When used well it can be really rather delicious. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the best ravioli with sage butter I ever had at Ristorante Archimede near the Pantheon in Rome (it was so good there I had to order it twice).
But things picked up with the Haye Farm chicken al burro: served directly in the frying pan, it came with crisp edges and a lip-smacking reduction. On the side, delightful braised peas with guanciale and mint and gently roasted potatoes so soft they could be skewered and dunked into the chicken pan jus with zero resistance. We swerved clear of the sirloin tagliata which seemed a bridge too far at £23, but instead a couple of plump St Mary’s scallops at £6 a pop.
Desserts were mostly a tart, gelato or soft creamy affair, all around the £7 price point. A rhubarb and vanilla custard millefoglie was like its French counterpart, whilst a tiramisu in a small caveman bowl was standard issue and not particularly memorable.
All of this came to over £100 a head, which felt a lot to spend on food that was technically OK but didn’t really excite enough to compensate for the other issues encountered. But, that cost is of course reduced with more people sharing and this was just a snapshot in time. Perhaps on another evening it would be an entirely different experience. Perhaps not.
1 Floral Court
by J A Smith