Since I was taking the afternoon off work to help my sister celebrate getting her final year university results, I knew that nothing but a full-on; swanky London lunch would cut the bill after six years of medical study. After toying with a few possibilities, I finally settled on family-run Italian establishment Demartino, situated on the thriving hub of Great Portland Street in central London. Offering an array of wholesome Italian fodder from all regions of La Italia, we would have our pick of pasta, fish and meat dishes, as well as the carefully created daily specials menu.
Managed by head honcho Bebbe, you can instantly tell that Demartino is well-loved. Not only by the proud, smiling faces of relatives peering out of black and white photographs adorning the walls, but also by the amount of regular customers who casually stroll in and are welcomed like long lost sons to their usual table. The family album decking out the walls takes centre stage against the plain white background, with furniture in a deep, dark wood and bright cherry red adding vibrant pops of personality to further enhance the warmth and humanity that this venue oozes in spades. A long mirrored wall along the back of the restaurant cleverly gives the impression that it has eons more space than it really does, while a well-stocked wine rack in the corner is a sight for sore eyes. The 60 seat restaurant has a wonderfully intimate and personal feel, putting you at ease immediately in the cosy calm atmosphere.
The staff were full of smiles as they showed us to our table, booked for 12.15pm. With my sister and my mum in tow, we were showed to a welcoming round table for four, draped elegantly in a heavy white linen table cloth, bejewelled in classic Italian condiments such as olive oil and balsamic, which soon came in handy when the wire bread basket was brought along. Provided with handy small white side dishes for just this purpose, we splattered splashes of the green-tinged oil topped with bubbles of black balsamic to dunk our bread in, feeling completely continental. The bread was marvellous and some of the best I have tasted. The crust had a satisfying crunch yet avoided that annoying chew of really crunchy bread, while the bouncy white slice of the bread was so soft and light I could have happily eaten it all day. I wondered if the flour dusted offerings were freshly made at the restaurant, and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised.
While we mulled over our menu choices, as naturally only three courses would suffice for a celebratory meal, we let our mum pick the wine. Not usually a wine drinker at all, she took her time before settling on a New Zealand white wine, the Mussell Bay Marlborough. It was an absolutely ideal choice, as the wine was wonderfully sweet with soft fruity tones and hints yet enough flavour to have a medium taste and body. More than satisfied with slurping our wine, we went on to order our starters.
I decided to have the prosciutto e mozzarella di bufala, which is basically a molehill of rocket salad, laced through with plump strips of green and red roasted peppers, with small white golf balls of buffalo mozzarella hiding futilely amongst the greenery. The whole dome was completely covered with cured layers of parma ham, which I love. The first thing to note was that the portion size was huge. In many restaurants, the size of that starter would have been deemed as completely adequate for the main course. Clearly, this was my kind of restaurant. The salad was really fresh and peppery, and I loved the contrast in textures as well as the similarities. The parma ham was perfect paired with the chewy cheese and the flavourful peppers, all the tastes marrying together so nicely. I tucked in with gusto and had no problems polishing off my plate. I also managed to swipe a sample of Jess’s baked aubergines which were to die for – the tomato sauce was full of sunshine that was ideal with some leftover bread she had saved. Mum had opted for the special which was chicken liver pate, and boy did she get a brick of the stuff with numerous char-grilled slices of white bread forming an angular circle around the contours of her plate.
For main course, I went adventurous and did something I have never done in a restaurant before, and probably won’t do again in a while. I ordered fish. The menu is brilliant and narrowing down the options to pick something was almost like playing whack-a-mole as I kept changing my mind and bouncing from each section of the menu. In the end, I decided to try something I wouldn’t usually have and now seemed as good a time as any to branch into some fishy flavours. I chose the pan fired cod fillet that was served with chorizo, tomatoes, basil and olive oil. For my side dish, I selected the rosemary sautéed potatoes – I can never resist these crispy crunchy beauties.
The fish didn’t come up entirely as I was expecting, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless. The actual fillet was again big in size providing a more than decent portion. The fish was cooked to perfection, flaking nervously off in large, tender chunks as soon as my fork merely hovered in its direction. The cod had quite a meaty taste really, although not as intense or deep as actual meat, as it had a much lighter and more delicate texture and taste to it. Beautifully soft and succulent, the fish really was melt in the mouth. It also had a great barbequed style smoky taste, undoubtedly from the expert pan frying going on by the young chefs in the kitchen. I was expecting more chorizo with the dish since it is included in the title, but what I was given were a few thin slivers of the cured meat, which had also been fried, and then laid delicately on top of the juicy fish. Also atop the white fillet were large rounds of fresh tomato which added some extra bite and zing. The basil and olive oil appeared to be more a style of dressing that lurked unobtrusively at the bottom of the fish, not really doing much (which suited me to be honest, as I am not a big fan of the pungent basil). Although the quality of the produce and the combination of flavours was lovely, I’m not entirely sure if I would order fish out again, as it doesn’t quite pack the same taste punch that a piece of meat does. However, I did enjoy the excellent execution and flavour of my meal, although I wish there had been more of the spicy salami scattered on the plate.
My side dish of the rosemary sautéed potatoes were perfect with the airy fish, as they added a bit more sustenance, again on a very generously sized side dish, piled with golden hand cut potato pieces. They were fluffy and oh so soft on the inside, the added rosemary and sea salt giving them an added boost that made them impossible to refuse despite the fact I was getting absolutely stuffed. Jess had also gone for a main course off the usual mark with a swordfish steak, which was really meaty in both appearance and taste, also opting for the healthy side salad, which arrived at the table in an absolute fruit bowl of a dish. Mum went for the more classic escallops, served with parmesan mash.
If there is one thing us Garners do well, it is fine dining, so onwards to our third and final course – dessert. Since we were in an Italian, I deemed it cruel not to try the tiramisu. Jess settled on the cheesecake of the day, which happened to be strawberry, and we decided that we would share our desserts. Mum also went for the cheesecake. The creamy concoction of layers in the tiramisu were lovely to eat, with a mild coffee flavour and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The squidgy sponge acted as a good base for the cream within and although this was yummy, I wouldn’t say it was any better or worse than any other ones I have had. The cheesecake on the other hand, is an entirely different story. This strawberry cheesecake was the best slice of cheesecake I have ever sampled, and was so richly decadent and opulently thick and creamy, we just couldn’t get enough of the divine dessert. It seemed to me to be more like a summer berry cheesecake than strawberry, but I don’t view that as a bad thing at all. The beautifully buttery biscuit base clung to the gooey moussey middle, which was then topped with a blackberry coloured jelly like layer that housed speckles of summer fruits. Despite being so luxurious in both texture and consistency, this really juxtaposed with the wonderful light and fruity flavour. It was just pure perfection on a plate, such a soft and creamy centre. We all could have done seconds of the cheesecake despite exclaiming just moments before how utterly and entirely stuffed we were.
Demartino is fantastic. The quality of the food is simply superb and you cannot find a single fault with the imaginatively organised plates, creatively planned menu and the exceptionally well executed cooking. I adored everything about this venue and I honestly can’t sing it’s praises high enough – especially with regards to that sinfully moreish cheesecake. The only slight downer is the price – you can’t expect such perfection on a budget. My starter alone cost over £10, and it worked out being approximately £40 per person, which is not your cheap, or even your average meal out. However, the portion sizes are gigantic, so you really do get your money’s worth, which can be rare in fancier places, so in that respect, every single penny is worth it. The menu even warns you that the pasta dishes come up large so you know what kind of pickle you are getting yourself in to! I loved everything about Demartino and I can’t wait to return.