2 days ago
Wednesday, 5 May 2010
The Giaconda Dining Room, Covent Garden
Seemingly universally liked, The Giaconda Dining Room, a dinky restaurant on a Soho side-street otherwise devoted to guitars, is, as has been noted, a gem of place: cosy and welcoming, with an audible, beating heart.
The room is tiny and slightly suburban; the plain wooden tables are crammed closely together and wine bottles line the back wall on either side of the entrance to the kitchen. We were the first ones in - though the place quickly filled up – and, given a choice of where to sit, we chose to nestle in the corner by the coat hooks. A carafe of sparkling water, a small bowl of olives and a basket of average bread arrived at our table along with our menus.
There are a number of intriguing vegetarian dishes on the menu, though all are listed among the starters. There’s crevelle de canut - a Lyonnaise creamy, cheesy dippy thing – roast field mushrooms with garlic puree and baked eggs with spinach. The risotto of the day was broccoli and wild garlic. Though there was no fresh fish following the bank holiday weekend we were told that the chef, Paul Merrony, had made up a brandade of salt cod as the fishy dish of the day.
Amongst the list of specials I heard one of my favourite words. The asparagus it had to be. What arrived at the table was truly beautiful: a plate of glorious, gleaming green spears, perfectly cooked. This was served with a small bowl of sea salt and - the kicker – a silky scoop of red wine mayonnaise. This was an inspired pairing: the mayonnaise was smooth yet slightly tart and good enough to make this mayonnaise agnostic see the light.
Non vegetarian mother went, disappointingly not for the much written about crispy pig’s trotter, but for the beef carpaccio (£6.50). This pleased her considerably, though she thought it would have benefited from the kitchen being less giving with the parmesan.
To follow I chose the crumble of creamed shallots and wild mushrooms (£7). This was an intense and wintery dish, rich and sweet – that blob on top that looks a lot like chantilly cream was laced with horseradish. A more sensible person would have gone for some form of salad as an accompaniment, but I went for a side order of chips (£2.75). These came skin-on (which I like) and were, we were told, cooked in rapeseed oil; though they could’ve benefited from being a smidge crispier, they disappeared quickly, though it took an effort of will to finish the last few off – it was a generous (like everything here) portion.
Non vegetarian mother was in an offally mood and vacillated between the braised tripe with chorizo and butter beans and the sautéed veal kidneys with carrots, eventually opting for the latter (£11.75). These were incredibly good, she said, meltingly soft. The accompanying bowl of macaroni was declared unnecessary and shoved in my direction.
Dessert was perhaps overkill at this stage but we decided to share the chocolate mousse cake (£6). This looked to be, like all the best chocolate desserts, on the decadent side but a small puddle of orange caramel sauce helped counter the richness and it wasn’t nearly as heavy as it might have been. A smooth, superior cup of coffee rounded up what had been a superb meal.
Including a bottle of Cotes du Ventoux and a £1 per person cover charge we paid just over £70, not including service, which was friendly and helpful thoughout: brilliant value for what was one of the best meals I’ve had so far this year. This is the kind of place I could – and hopefully will – happily return to again and again. My mother is already talking about going for the pig’s trotter next time...
The Giaconda Dining Room, 9 Denmark Street, London WC2H 8LS 020 7240 3334