When planning an 80th birthday treat for my Grandma this month, my sister and I thought we had really hit the nail on the head with a swanky afternoon checking out the views from the imposing glass Shard, spearing into the sky majestically. No decadent day out would be complete without some sort of food, so after getting snap happy on the 72nd floor whilst sipping our champagne, Jess and I led the way to nearby Italian restaurant Azzurro in London Bridge, where we had booked a table for 1.30pm for a tasty lunch.
Easily found on Tooley Street, opposite the London Dungeons and a stone’s throw from London Bridge tube station, Azzurro has a prime location for catching passing tourists; its attractive blood red awning decorated with jagged white lettering creating a distinct al-fresco feel as it protects a small patio area clustered with tables and chairs for outdoor diners. Working our way inside, I was hit by the casual glamour of the place, comfortably yet classy, impressive without being try too hard. The seating was arranged on a variety of staggered levels, adding interest to the eye line, the deep red and wooden colour theme continuing, old fashioned colourful poster art providing exuberant splashes of character against the stylish backdrop of mustard shaded walls. Red leather studded sofas formed some of the seating, opposite hard backed dining chairs, however our rectangular table for four used cream leather bucket seats – probably one of the most comfortable restaurant chairs I have ever sat in.
The table was simply dressed with side plates, red napkins and cutlery, chilli oil hallmarking the Italian cuisine, the orchid style flower adding a nice decorative touch. The restaurant was quite empty when we arrived since we were dining at lunch time, the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable, allowing us to sink into our seats as we perused the menu. We kicked the meal off by selecting a zesty South African chenin blanc wine, which was light to drink yet full bodied with a refreshing lemony aroma. White wine is always fabulous with Italian food so this was a good start. Deciding to skip starters to make more room for dessert, we eagerly scanned the numerous sections of the menu, which included salads, pasta, risotto, pizzas and meat dishes, so there was plenty of variety. The menu wasn’t too extensive but I thought it was incredibly well thought out and put together, offering a nice balance of tomato based dishes to those more luxuriously creamy, also providing a good combination of meat, fish or vegetables across both the pasta and pizza dishes, prepared to suit any taste buds that may cross its path. Although I was sorely tempted by the tagliatelle salsiccia, a pasta dish including spicy Italian sausage, onion, garlic, chilli and a tomato based sauce, my penchant for pizza reared up in full force and I knew that I had to have the vesuvio – a pizza that sounded like it was created for me. Featuring both pepperoni and spicy Italian sausage, the pizza was also topped with spinach and olives, enhanced with the additional heat of chilli and garlic. I ordered my main course excitedly, with all of us actually opting for pizzas since the range of toppings sounded so delicious.
I can easily say that this pizza was one of the best, if not the best, Italian pizza I have ever had the pleasure of devouring and savouring. Filling a large circular white plate, the pizza itself was an ideal size, the super thin base meaning that it wasn’t too heavy to tuck in to although it may have looked large at first. The base of the pizza was thin and soft, richly smothered in tomato sauce laced with the gentle heat of the pungent chilli paired with the musky garlic, adding a delicious depth. There was more cheese than you would expect on an Italian pizza, and this suited me just fine, as usually I find the cheese is the one area that is scrimped on. The golden and bubbly cheese was melted to perfection and it stringed attractively as you pulled your cut pieces apart. Adding a squidgy chew, the cheese was a juxtaposition to the peppy tomato base. Toppings wise, I was more than impressed. The olives looked like Kalamata olives to me, their distinctive oval shape and purple hue giving them away. The spinach was splattered sparingly but there was still enough to go round, with slices of both the pepperoni and the Italian sausage covering the pizza nicely, ensuring that every slice I cut had plenty for me to get my mouth round. The crust was again thin in keeping with Italian style and was super tasty. I can honestly say that I loved every mouthful of this pizza and could probably have eaten a second one if given the chance!
My fiancé Dan has chosen the carne gusto version which was a meat feast combination of Italian ham, chicken, salami and pepperoni. Our Grandma, Jean, kept things back to basics with the classic margherita, whilst Jess branched out with the capricciosa, a pizza that was topped with ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, artichokes and olives. We were all incredibly satisfied with our choices, reclined comfortably after our meals, feeling satisfied without being stuffed or sickly.
Since I have inherited my sweet tooth from my Grandma, it is only fair that we tucked into the dessert menu with gusto. There were so many options that caught my eye, however in the end I went for the chocolate cheesecake, something I wouldn’t usually have when out and about. The chocolate biscuit base held a chocolate truffle filling that was darkly rich like a torte, yet kind of mousse like in texture. The chocolate filling was topped with a cream layer of Italian classic mascarpone to lighten the flavour, before a generous crust style finish of amoretti biscuits to provide a contrasting crunch. The slice came up a decent slice, sitting on decorative zig zags of chocolate sauce, a speck of strawberry hiding next to the cheesecake timidly. It looked fantastic and it also tasted brilliantly – a simple idea and dish, yet it really hit my chocolate cravings yet felt wonderfully luxurious and decadent as well, which is always a plus for dessert in my book. Jess and Dan went for the same hazelnut ice cream bomb style dessert, which housed a gooey chocolate centre, whilst Grandma went fruity with a pavalova option that actually came out more like an eton mess, so I don’t know why they didn’t just call it that. The presentation for the desserts was top notch so no complaints there.
Not quite ready to head home, us girls decided to indulge in coffees, ordering our favoured cappuccinos. It took the waitress a while to get them over to us which was odd, but they were huge compared to the standard after dinner cappuccino so that seemed to make up for it, the large mugs dwarfing a small almond flavoured biscuit that had been smuggled on to the saucer. The biscuit was a great accompaniment for the frothy chocolate sprinkled top, although underneath that I soon discovered the cappuccino was in fact masquerading as a latte, the coffee one of the palest I have ever seen and weak in flavour. It wasn’t a bad coffee at all, just not what was expected as it was much closer to the milky latte than the medium cappuccino, so it settled heavier in the stomach and wasn’t such a refreshing conclusion to the meal.
The staff were polite and helpful, so no qualms there really. Where the restaurant was quiet, we received our food quite quickly and we weren’t rushed at all which was nice. Price wise, the venue is also very reasonably, especially considering the quality of the food and how much we all enjoyed our two courses and drinks. It came to approximately £26 per person for a main course and dessert each, with us three girls splitting the bottle of white wine and Dan having a pint of Beck’s to wet his whistle. Azzurro’s pizza will linger lovingly in my mind for a while and their tantalising dessert menu deserves a second visit for sure. Since this is a blossoming chain, they do have a few scattered branches around, with one in Waterloo, Woking and Portsmouth as well as the London Bridge venue that we visited. I would highly recommend Azzurro as they have a delicious and delectable menu, decent prices and a great atmosphere. A downstairs bar with laid back leather sofa seating showed Azzurro could party with the best of the them; however the elegant upstairs restaurant gave a nod to the more refined Italian tastes and passion for food. I’m looking forward to returning!