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Friday 5 December 2014

Venetian Small Eats at Cicchetti Restaurant

Name: Cicchetti

Where: 30 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7BD, http://www.sancarlocicchetti.co.uk/

Cost: Small plates start from about £3 to around £12, average price is about £8-£10 for each of the cicchetti.

About: The 3rd branch of the San Carlo Group of restaurants (after Manchester and London Piccadilly), the new Cicchetti Covent Garden follows a similar look and feel - parquet floors, walls covered in white and grey marble, slightly dubious-looking lampshades resembling inverted silk parasols hanging from the ceiling, and huge bouquets of crimson flowers.  

I am not sure I am huge fan of Venetian chic, but with a flaming wood oven by the bar, distressed mirrors, and a discrete smattering of hanging hams and salami, the restaurant felt warm and welcoming on a cold, wet winter’s evening.

The restaurant serves cicchetti: Italian small eats, served as they are ready. The menu is comprehensive but seasonal featuring a few classics as well as many regional, less known Italian specialties.

A total of two to three plates per person is the suggested for a meal. There is a range of dishes made for sharing between two - such as antipasti, seafood fritto misto, as well a range of pasta dishes, meats, fish, vegetables dishes and cheeses. There is also a regularly changing selection of specials, priced from £6.95 to £25.

What We Ate: We kicked off with a small Pizza Margherita (£5.95), with tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil - this had a delicious base, cooked until crisp but not crunchy, and with a heady fragrance from the three simple but flavoursome ingredients.

The main event started with a Fritto Portofino (£18.20). With deep fried prawns, scallops and calamari, served with garlic aioli and a spicy Calabrian dip (made from Nduja sausage), and accompanied with a wedge of deep fried lemon, rosemary and seaweed this was well very made and beautifully presented.

Next came Lobster Tagliolini Lobster (£15.95) - fresh pasta served with half a lobster tail on the shell, a rich and fragrant tomato and basil sauce that got us scraping our plates.

The Baccala Gratinato (£7.95), a gratin of finest Italian Ragno salt cod with Parmesan cheese, onion and cream came next. Comfort food at its best, this was a rich dish with plenty of umami flavours.

Accompanying the baccala, we shared a Pumpkin Risotto (£11.95) – this was one of the star dishes of the evening, gorgeously presented in a small Italian pumpkin, it had saffron, peppers, crispy parmesan and black truffles.

The Burrata with Parma Ham and marinated black truffle (£9.95) was also magnificently rich and creamy, served with wafer thin Parma ham and a generous scattering of black truffles.

For dessert, we shared a Cannoli Siciliani (£4.50), a pastry filled with fresh ricotta (but no candied fruit sadly) and swirls of Nutella, wafer thin slices of apple and fresh pistachios.

What We Drank: The wine list is 100% Italian, with entry level wines around £25. We shared a bottle of Falanghina del Beneventano from Campania (£27.45), which was clean, crisp, and had a refreshing green apple finish very appropriate for our fish dishes. 

Likes: I am a huge fan of small eats (dim sum, tapas, pintxos etc), and love the idea of sampling lots of dishes, textures and flavours without over indulging, so this place really appeals. Added to that, it serves great quality authentic Italian produce, in a central Covent Garden location. It has a welcoming atmosphere and decor, friendly and well-informed waiters. I think it is excellent value considering the quality of the produce, service and location.  

Dislikes: This branch is a long, windowless corridor and noise levels can be quite high. Tables are set quite close together.

Verdict: Great quality, authentic Italian ingredients at very reasonable prices. I enjoyed seeing some classics as well as a handful of regional Italian dishes. At an average of £10 per plate, a meal for 2 will cost around £50 to £60. Cicchetti is excellent value considering the quality of the produce and cooking, the location and service. Highly recommended.

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