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19 July 2005

Refettorio ****

Much has been written about Giorgio Locatelli's City outpost and from what I can see all of it is positive.  Having had lunch there last week I can see why.

The restaurant is in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, just by Blackfriars.  It is a widely known fact that hotel restaurants are not usually the homes of good food.  What's interesting about the Crowne Plaza is that the management team have accepted this fact and decided to outsource the food to others.  Outsourcing is a dreaded word when it comes to food, think about nasty school dinners, but it works well here.  Apart from Refettorio, the hotel's coffee bar is run by up-market sandwich company Benugo.  All of this bodes very well.

This is the place to eat if you want excellent quality Italian food with good service.  I didn't experience any of the service niggles that others have complained about and the food arrived pretty quickly.  The maitre d' recommended we started with two antipasti plates, one was carne, the other formaggi.  Luckily my guest wasn't too keen on the cheese and wanted to focus on the meat, which suited my purposes down to the ground.  There was a selection of four or five cheeses, laid out on brown wax paper, sitting on a wooden board.  The meat came similarly served.  There's no point in me trying to guess what each of the cheeses was but they ran the full gamut of Italian cheesemaking, from the soft to the hard, the pungent to the delicate. 

Sitting on the cheese board was a saucer of translucent liquid.  Having no idea what it was I dipped some bread in and tasted the most amazing honey.  It had virtually no colour to it but the flavour was fantastic - sweet and rich but not cloying.  The clean meat board indicated to me the meats were just as good as the cheese.  I also ordered a side dish of marinated artichoke hearts and my guest ordered a side of marinated beetroot.  Each dish was simple and played to the strengths of the respective vegetables.  The beetroot had that zingyiness to it that you want and the fantastic olive oil/vinegar marinade of the artichoke hearts meant they were so tender, they yielded to a fork.

Being a rather hot summer's day I decided I couldn't face anything too heavy for main course so went for the freshly made gnocchi with pesto.  Again, it was beautiful.  All too often gnocchi can be stodgy and unremarkable.  These were soft and light - like little potato pillows.  The pesto itself was nothing special, frankly I can't remember much about it.  My guest's steak looked fantastic, although a bit on the rarer side than the medium rare he requested.  Our side dish of fried zuchinni were so thinly sliced they looked more like hay than courgettes.  Deeply fried, but not oily or greasy they too were fantastic.

I can't recall the wine we had but I do remember it was a Pugliese white.  Served ice cold it was perfect for a day that was in excess of 30°.

We didn't have space for dessert but the amuse bouche of lemon custard cornetti with the espressos were fantastic and of themselves worth returning for. 

Refettorio, Crowne Plaza Hotel, 19 New Bridge Street, London, EC4V 6DB, UK
Tel: 020 7438 8052
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What others think
The Observer - Proof that you don't need an oven
The Times - The missing link is found


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