Eating Around: The Montcalm, Marble Arch, London

Afternoon tea is a classy affair, so if elegance is what you’re hunting for, then The Montcalm Hotel should be your final destination. Situated in London’s Marble Arch, this white pillar framed building sits proudly behind a personal crescent road, appearing both elusive yet intriguing all at once.

The interior simply oozed decadence and a sleek opulence that radiated luxury, polish and a lot of TLC. Gleaming marble floors echoed the sound of my heels as I clicked across the reception area, sidestepping impressive decorative glass tables and imposingly tall floral displays that were reaching up to brush dripping chandeliers. My work colleagues and I were booked in for a champagne afternoon tea as a treat for recent industry successes, so we bypassed the immaculate entranceway to head to the restaurant area at the back of the hotel, the air con a welcome and cooling blast against the oppressive heat burning away outside.

The restaurant was gorgeous and I felt ten times more classy just for sitting there. White marble floors gave a fantastic sensation of space, while dark blue accents and bushels of purple flowers added an intoxicating colour contrast, highlighted by interesting art pieces on the wall. Attending on a weekday lunch time, there was hardly anyone in there so it felt quiet, peaceful and far, far away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby London rush.

Tea wise, I decided to steer clear of my usual breakfast variety and instead pick something different. The tea menu was wonderfully extensive with plenty of choices under lots of different categories, so there really was something for everyone. I chose an almond flavoured black tea which I drank without milk. The black tea was a familiar and favoured taste however the almond element was brand new to me, and it was really lovely to enjoy the subtle hues of almond accompanying the tea taste. It was a gentle flavouring so not too in my face or too distant from my favoured breakfast classic. A couple of my colleagues also went for black tea but they chose one with a cherry accent, while my editor opted for a green flowering tea with fresh lychee undertones.

With our teas chosen and steeping in matching white individual teapots, and our chilled champagne fizzing merrily in our flutes, it was time for the afternoon tea itself to be brought out, with one three-tiered stand to be shared between a pair of people. Wow, it looked divine. The sandwich layer alone unusually caught my eye as each bread was a different colour, and showcased a slightly different flavour. For example, a deep salmon pink coloured bread was flavoured with beetroot, a vibrant sunshine yellow bread was corn bread, while a dark chocolate brown bread was a form of rye bread. We also had the typical white bread to boot. The fillings were also gloriously colourful and very moreish, with egg mayonnaise snuggling in the rye bread for example, salmon layered in the white bread, chicken sat in the beetroot bread, while good old fashioned cucumber decorated the corn bread. We had one finger of each sandwich.

Next up was the scone layer, with both a fruit scone and a plain scone each. Each scone was dusted with a delicate sprinkle of icing sugar, the plate also carrying white ramekins of strawberry jam and a scoop of clotted cream, again to share between two. The fruit scones were a little flat, which made them more difficult to cut, however on the whole the scones were simply lovely, with just the right amount of crumble to them as well as that trademark buttery-ness that simply melts in the mouth. There was plenty of jam and cream to share too, which is an advantage for sure. My stand partner and I opted for one of each type of scone and we managed to share the accompaniments easily with no arguments over the sweet toppings. The cream was thick and shiny, landing with a satisfying dollop on top of my neatly spread jam. Very yummy indeed.

The top cake layer was very impressive with a really excellent variety of flavours and textures. Reassuringly, each nugget of sweetness was also a very decent portion so there was certainly no scrimping, especially as we all got to try every cake as we were provided with one each. The chocolate brownie style cake was calling to me, so I dove into that one first. The underneath cake layer had a full on chocolate flavour, the sponge itself being moist. A very thick ganache style topping formed the top half of the chocolate square, and although it was a tall topping and incredibly dense, it was also wonderful as it stuck in your teeth and hit you full on with a blast of chocolate brilliance. We also received a decent slab of a light apple and cinnamon pastry, as well as an angle layer cake, which consisted of multi-coloured layers of vanilla sponge separating baby pink coloured strawberry mousse and buttercream frosting. There was a certain level of childlike glee in eating such a colourful concoction. The final layer also had a cube of amoretti style biscuits, that crumbled as you bit into it. It had awesome chunks of different nuts and dried fruits, such as apricots, studded within in which gave it a really lovely almost festive flavour. The cube was topped with traditional thick white icing which I also liked. The last piece of the cake puzzle was a chocolate cupcake case that was filled with a stodgy vanilla cream pierced with blueberries. A small white and milk chocolate straw stuck happily out of the cream, which also balanced a strawberry half precariously on top. All in all, every cake was sheer perfection to munch on, and I devoured each and every one with gusto as I explored all of the available taste combinations and texture explosions. The chocolate cupcake case and vanilla cream was probably my least favourite as there wasn’t really much about it compared to the other exciting morsels, which all excelled. My favourite sweet treats were the chocolate cake and the festive biscuit cube; the flavours just really ticked my boxes but for very different reasons.

The champagne was absolutely delightful and certain needed on such a hot day as we had when we visited The Montcalm. It wasn’t too dry as to have me puckering, however it was refreshing and light with a welcome soothing chill. The service was prompt and polite, while the price was in the mid £30s, so what you would expect for an afternoon tea in the city. It was a very classy affair and certainly one I would be keen to repeat if I had the opportunity.

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Eating Around: The Mug House, London Bridge, London

Quintessentially British, The Mug House is a pub restaurant within the popular Davy’s chain that smacks of good old fashioned Englishness from centuries ago whilst also being bang up to date with a gourmet menu of classic dishes. Hidden in the domed alcoves of London Bridge, opposite the tourist-trap of the London Dungeons, this hideaway is a real treasure trove.

Bursting at the seams with character, I adored the atmosphere as soon as I stepped foot in the place. I felt as if I had gone back in time thanks to the classically whitewashed walls, multitude of dark wooden beams clustering the ceiling, and large polished beer barrels acting as quirky drinks tables by the entryway bar area.

Already impressed by The Mug House’s traditional yet polished take on a London ale house, my family and I walked around to the restaurant part of the pub, where we would be enjoying our dinner. Luxury labelled wine bottles sat proudly on each table, white taper candles speared into the makeshift holders and wax decadently dribbling down the side of the bottles. The blush red toned walls were in keeping with the abundance of wooden furniture, while more wine bottles lined shelves along the walls. Due to its location, natural sunlight is a no go; however the candlelight and numerous wall fixture lights maintained a lovely ambience under the rounded ceilings, creating an intimate and cosy vibe. Blackboards listed specials for both food and drink options, adding to the traditional feel of the place. Having a soft spot for this style of décor that has a nod to times gone by meant that my first impressions were gleeful to say the least. Now all that was left was to see whether the food and drink matched the opening standards set by this impressively presented pub.

We ordered the house red to share with our meal and very nice it was too. A deep blood red in colour, it was surprisingly fruity and medium weighted, making it very easy to drink throughout our meal. To start, my husband Dan and I shared, opting for the lemon and herb flavoured hummus, which was served with sliced up and grilled flatbreads. As hummus fans in general, it was great to get such a citrus and fresh twist on a classic, with the lemon adding a vibrant zing to the luxuriously thick and smooth dipping sauce. The flatbread was soft to bite yet held its shape when dunking and catching the hummus, which as we all know, is of vital importance. It was easily enough for one person, but the portion size was still generous enough to accommodate two so that we could have a graze before our main meal to whet the appetite.

For my main course, I decided to have a ploughman’s. I thoroughly enjoy a good British ploughman’s; however they very rarely feature on restaurant menus, despite being a pub classic in my mind. The Mug House’s version however had certainly been given the gastro pub makeover as it was a classy and sophisticated offering, presented on a round wooden cheeseboard. The slices of ham were cut generously thick, the meat both lean and light. Two long triangles of yellow cheddar came up next, balanced on top of each other, while a small pile of salad leaves acted as a bed for a black pudding scotch egg. A recent convert to black pudding, this scotch egg was dreamy. The egg was soft boiled so had that wonderfully opulent gooey and oozy centre that pools everywhere with each bite. The crust of the egg was perfectly cooked for crunch factor, while the black pudding element really enhanced the flavoursome meat within to give a richer and deeper taste. Armed with four decent sized triangles of chargrilled white bread, I tucked in with gusto, making sure to sample the caramelised onion chutney and sunset orange relish that sat in small white ramekins next to my little butter dish. Every component was simple, yet simply delicious, and I could tell the ingredients were of a high quality. Pairing the separate elements together is part of the fun of a ploughman’s, so I wrapped salad in my ham before dunking it in relish, piled the bread with cheese and chutney. Fun food at its finest.

Dessert also left me a happy bunny as I chose the traditional sticky toffee pudding for my afters. Served with a large jug of wonderful custard, there was even enough for me to drench my pudding just how I like it. The sauce had a fiery whiskey kick that was great soaked up into the caramel toned cake, with the dessert being moist, soft and full of flavour all round.

All in all, I was very impressed with The Mug House. Granted we went at a quiet time for our family meal; 5.30pm on a Saturday, so it was a lot quieter and more peaceful than I imagine it would be later on in the evening. I really loved both the décor and the atmosphere, and it presented the perfect environment for us to have a tasty family catch up. Due to its location, it is going to be more costly all round, however the quality of our meals is testament that it was worth every penny, and I would certainly eat there again.

Academy Town House Hotel, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Academy Town House Hotel, 21 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 6HG (nearest tube stations are Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road)
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 2nd April
  • Time of Table: 2pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £25 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This afternoon tea deal includes:

  • Selection of sandwiches
  • Scones with jam and cream
  • Selection of cakes
  • Unlimited tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What we drank…

  • English Breakfast tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What did we think?

When spring is attempting to make itself known, with peeks of sunshine and a glimmer of warmer weather, it appears to me to be the ideal time for a civilised afternoon tea. When my sister and I spotted an offer on Groupon for an afternoon tea with a glass of Prosecco for two people, for a mere £25 all in, we just had to snap it up; especially as the location was a simple 10 minute walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station, so really central and convenient location too.

When we stumbled across the Academy Town House Hotel, it wasn’t at all what we had envisioned. It was a terraced building, with a stone pillar framed doorway, leading to a small and classically decorated reception area. A brown leather sofa snuggled by a bay window while pale peach walls detracted from a busy patterned carpet. Glancing down the hall, it was clear to see the building was a traditional London townhouse, complete with poky narrow stairwells, lots of floors to navigate, and the slight dizzy feeling of being in a rabbit warren. It reminded me of Mary Poppins for some reason, feeling traditional and old school elegant.

Announcing ourselves at reception, we were shown downstairs into a basement restaurant after a short wait. It was a bit disappointing to be shoved in the deepest, darkest part of the hotel on such a beautiful day, especially as the décor was really nothing special. A brown, white and red colour theme did its best not to look worn, faded and tired as a TV blurted in the background playing, granted, some very decent tunes. As the only ones in the restaurant, we got our pick of the tables, so we picked one for two people that was near to a curtained window as possible in an attempt to catch some rays. The table was dressed very simply with a white linen tablecloth and a white dish of white and brown sugar lumps.

Our afternoon tea experience started with the waiter bringing over our starting glass of chilled Prosecco – light, bubbly and refreshing in every sip. He also poured us some iced tap water too from a jug he then left on the table – unusual for an afternoon tea but nice to have as we were pretty thirsty. Weirdly, we had no choice of tea whatsoever. Our waiter simply said did we want English Breakfast tea, without mentioning any alternatives or even if there were any. We both like English Breakfast – and I probably would have chosen that anyway – so it wasn’t a problem, but I know Jess is sometimes more adventurous in her tea tastes, and she will occasionally opt for a fruit or green tea instead. When the tea arrived at the table, it was in a large, plain white teapot, with matching plain white teacups sitting in their partnering saucers. The teapot was a very good size and we easily got three cups of tea each from it before the waiter refilled it for us.

The afternoon tea itself was brought on a standard tiered set-up, with sandwiches fanning out across the largest bottom plate; one plain and one fruit scone each stacked up neatly on the middle plate, while the top plate housed an array of miniature desserts in bite-sized morsels. We started at the bottom with the finger sandwiches, naturally crustless and featuring an array of, slightly dry, white and brown bread. We munched on cheddar paired with tomato, salmon spread with cream cheese, ham layered over mustard, and a new personal favourite, the egg mayonnaise. We were allowed one finger of each flavour. The sandwiches were very basic and bog standard, a tad dry and nothing to write home about.

The scone layer was next. The scones were still warm which was a very pleasant surprise, and there was a plain scone and then a sultana studded fruit scone each as well. Two scones each is always a bonus, and I was also pleased that we got variety in the type of scone and that the scones were full sized. Mini scones are just sheer disappointing in my opinion. It was also so refreshing to get jam and clotted cream dishes that contained enough of each condiment to actually complete your scones. Dressing your scones can be a battle with thin layers and patchy coverage as you are hardly ever given enough toppings. We luckily didn’t have this problem here, so we could top our scones perfectly. The jam was strawberry, so very classic there, and the clotted cream was lovely – very silky and smooth with the rustic top too. The scones were probably my favourite bit of the whole tea. They weren’t the best scones I’ve ever had or anything, but it was tasty.

Last up came our cake layer. We had a selection of absolutely tiny mouthfuls, and since they were all different items, we had to try and cut them in half so we could each try each one. It would have been more useful to have two of each mini cake, or larger cakes that could be more easily divided. The cakes themselves however were really lovely. I chowed down on a chocolate macaroon while Jess ate the raspberry one. Mine was gooey and dense like a brownie in a crunchy yet chewy meringue shell, whilst Jess’s had an interesting layer of jam hidden within. One was a mini custard tart topped with a jewelled segment of peach, whilst another mini portion had a eggy set custard in the middle, bookended by a slightly soggy bottom cake layer and an icing drizzled finish on top, the custard itself home to a few stray sultanas.  A hexagon shaped mini layer cake had a chocolate orange vibe going on with its flavourings, which was very tasty, however out favourite munchie was covered in cocoa powder, and turned out to be a chocolate and hazelnut concoction featuring cake yet also decadent chocolate mousse and crispy nut like sections too. It tasted a bit like a cakey Ferrero Rocher and really hit our spot.

One thing I really did not like about the afternoon tea however was how a service charge was thrust upon us. As we were finishing our treats, the waiter arrived at our table with an envelope on a small silver dish, which he left on our table. As we opened it, we were shocked to see a note about how much service charge we owed. At the end of the day, the hotel composed the deal that was to go on Groupon and we paid our due for it, so to slyly add a charge in that manner felt wrong. Ironically, we most likely would have left a tip on our own accord as the waiter was a nice chap, however the manner of presenting the service charge in this staged way really grinded my gears and I felt it was rude to be honest.

At the end of the day, I would say that this was an average afternoon tea. It was nothing special, however the price point of £25 for two people made it a cheap afternoon treat that we could enjoy together while having a natter and a catch up. The food wasn’t top notch or anything, but it was edible with a few hidden gems among the sad looking finger sandwiches. The décor of the location needs a serious spruce up, as the basement restaurant looks fusty and old fashioned, however the bubbles of the glass of Prosecco was a nice added extra. It was a good deal, however I think to achieve the price you are compromising on the scenery and dazzle of the location.

Eating Around: Shane’s On Canalside, Stratford, London

Shane’s On Canalside is one of those restaurants that just oozes East London cool, a sort of thrumming undercurrent of pure trendy that instantly makes me feel partly out of place yet also like I’ve finally made it. When my sister landed her dream medical training post, it was only natural that a dinner would ensue as a celebration, and since she lives in the equally cool East Village, it made sense that our culinary treat would also be Stratford based. A short 15 minute walk from her flat alongside the scenic canal I didn’t even know was there, and we had arrived.

All industrial grey, twinkling fairy lights and squashed in seating, Shane’s On Canalside was an unusual hodgepodge of belongings wedged into a fairly roomy restaurant; the open kitchen emitting glorious smells that was making my tummy gurgle in appreciation. Interestingly, we happened to be visiting on ‘hygge night’ in celebration of a Nordic artist whose work was being displayed in the restaurant as if it were a gallery. Our kindly waiter informed us the pieces were available to buy from £500 and the artist was about if we wanted to ask any questions.

As a nod to the restaurant’s dual purpose that evening, the menu was also slightly adjusted to reflect Swedish-style specialties, so it wasn’t the menu I had been pouring over online all day. However the restaurant was maintaining its usual Thursday steak night, so that was still a feature.

We were sat on a rectangular table, four of us really rather squashed onto a bench style seat, with three places set opposite us with dining chairs. As a couple of people ordered soft drinks, we also got two bottles of white wine for the alcohol drinkers among us. The wine was drier than I perhaps would have ordered, with a more pungent flavour, however it was still rather refreshing and went down a treat after a long day at work and the pre-meal Prosecco Jess had already provided at her flat.

To start, we decided to go tapas style, and share a few small plates among all of us. Granted, the plates were very small portions indeed so you could only have a couple of bites each, if that, but at least it ensured that you were still hungry for your main course. My pick for starters was the venison stew with potato dumplings, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed when it arrived. The meat was literally falling apart it was so tender, yet the sauce of the stew was rich and vibrant, enhancing the game flavour of the meat. The potato dumplings were small squishes of tastiness that soaked up the sauce a dream. The salt pork cheek we ordered was also impossibly tender with quite a steak like taste that I rather enjoyed. I skipped the goat’s cheese as I’m really not a lover, however I did spear a forkful of the ham hock croquettes, which were soft and cheesy, although I couldn’t hugely taste the ham. All the plates were presented very prettily, so definitely good for the Instagrammers.

We polished those off pretty quickly to get to the main course. I had decided to forgo Thursday’s steak speciality and instead go for something not usually featured on local menus; rabbit. You know the meat quality is good when the waiter warns you that bullet remains may still be in your food, however it didn’t deter me in the slightest from getting stuck in. My rabbit didn’t come up as I expected; it was more in the style of a terrine of flaked meat chunks rather that say a breast of rabbit meat, however it had that typical game flavour and was well, if simply, cooked. The carrot puree it was served with was deliciously sweet and the wine based sauce was great for lapping up the meat and really enriching the flavour. My main meal also came with a side dish of new potatoes and these were probably some of the best new potatoes I have ever experienced. I think they were roasted with some herb mixture or garlic, but they were light and fluffy on the inside with a nice, wrinkly crunch on the outside. I did get sneered at for asking for tomato sauce to have with them, but I don’t care. All food connoisseurs have their guilty pleasure.

Dessert, to me, seemed like a challenge when I spotted something that had been labelled ‘the best cake in the world’. Really? Was it really? I just had to find out. An added plus point was that this was one of the speciality Nordic dishes of the evening, so something a bit different which I always like, even if I couldn’t pronounce the name of the dish. Although I wouldn’t call it a cake, it was certainly a pretty amazing dessert. The base was a dense almond crumb, packed together to form a hard square. On top of these was a generous swash of sweet and sugary meringue, topped with shards of flaked and toasted almonds. In addition, it was served with a satisfying splodge of thick custard that had a lovely vanilla tone and yellow colour. A thoroughly lovely dessert.

A few members of the group paid less due to not drinking alcohol, however the majority of us paid around £33 each, so not too extortionate in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes I think Stratford can be a bit more affordable then central London, yet still have some great hotspots. The waiter was very informative and friendly, and they even brought us over two card machines when we were paying for extra efficiency and time-saving. The atmosphere was chatty yet relaxed and the food was classy yet not pretentious, despite the weird and wonderful menu items. It made a very suitable venue for a celebratory night out.

Eating Around: The Real Greek, Soho, London

A decent pre-theatre dinner can help to make or break a night in the capital, so when my friend Gemma and I were excitedly planning our evening to see Jersey Boys, I thought carefully about where we should dine beforehand. With a work colleague recommending the nearby The Real Greek restaurant, I was quite keen to give it a go, and since it was also a short 10 minute walk to the theatre, it seemed an ideal solution to our dining dilemma.

The Real Greek, a roomy blue and white tiled rectangular spaced restaurant, had what I would call a ‘kitchen table’ vibe. An abundance of pale wood formed the majority of the rectangular tables, with a long wooden bench style seat occupying one entire length of the restaurant, other seating being made up of basic metal and wooden dining chairs. Black wrought iron candle holders and chandeliers contrasted the clean cut Greek tiling, although the dusty blue coloured pewter water jugs made you reminisce about beach-fronted taverns, especially as tea lights flickered inside large square glass holders.

Ordering a double gin and tonic – it had been a busy Wednesday – I began to peruse the menu. Trying to save my purse strings meant I was trying to be cost savvy and not as extravagant as usual, so I decided to try and skip anything starter-like and just focus on getting a main dish followed by a dessert, as I cannot deny my sweet tooth anything when in a restaurant. The menu was divided into hot and cold mezze and then grilled mezze, so I assumed the hot and cold mezze formed starter options while the grilled mezze was more main course stuff. I settled on the lamb meatballs, which were grilled and covered in a Greek yoghurt and tomato sauce, onions and a sprinkling of paprika. I opted for some saffron rice as a side and Gemma and I also decided to share some aegean slaw, which was made with both red and white cabbage, sultanas, lemon mayo and dill.

I was astounded when the food arrived at the table in what I would call a tiered afternoon tea stand, my meatballs occupying the top plate, Gemma’s chicken skewer underneath, and our slaw slobbing out at the bottom. It was then that I realised there was no segregation between starters and main course, and in fact the only food available was mezze, picky style bits, and that the aim of the game was to pick an abundance of plates to share and dish out. Looking at the prices though, this was certainly sure to add up pretty promptly to make an expensive meal, so I’m a bit undecided about what I think about this approach. The meatballs and rice that I had was enough as a main course, as my meatballs was quite a large plate, however Gemma’s skewers came up a lot smaller so if you decide to try and create a main meal from mezze, it could be a bit pot luck. We were given small plates so stacking my rice and meatballs on it was strange to say the least, but at least now I know for next time what to expect!

The meatballs were not as I expected but still utterly delicious. I was expecting the Greek yoghurt to be more of a feature, but I barely found any at all among my meatballs, although the tomato based sauce was drenching the dish – which is exactly how I like things – and the onions and paprika worked really nicely with the rich and thick sauce. The meatballs themselves were moist and tasty, so a thumbs up all round for those.

The saffron rice, which came in a cylinder shaped ceramic dish, was yellow in colour, dressed with herbs, olive oil, Greek honey and saffron. I really enjoyed the rice, and it was nice and soft too. I couldn’t massively taste the additional flavours that had been added, although I did think the rice was slightly sweeter than the norm due to the honey. The slaw was really yummy and I loved the juicy sultanas smuggled among the shards of sharp and crunchy cabbage. This worked really well for me and I’m glad I got to try this.

As an acclaimed custard lover, dessert was a complete no-brainer as soon as spotted item number one: the Greek filo custard pie. Made using light and flaky filo pastry, the square shaped dessert is filled with a very runny custard come cream concoction. Served warm, a scoop of vanilla ice cream plum in the centre of the pastry completes this dessert. Moreish and weirdly decadent for something without chocolate, this dessert is hearty and delicious. The custard can get lost in the melting ice cream sat on top of it, as the custard is only situated in the centre of the dessert, however when you do find it, it is really rather lovely. The sweet filo pastry is really tasty, dusted with cinnamon, and I personally found that the ice cream finished it all off nicely. I’m glad I left space for this!

Since we didn’t go overboard with the food and I only had one alcoholic drink, and Gemma only had a juice, we ended up paying £22 each for our meal, which was great for being cost-efficient. However, I feel The Real Greek can be a dangerous pit in which money can easily go wondering, as its mezze style format will quickly add up in the same tapas can, especially if you end up ordering a couple of dips, and then want flatbread to go with it. The food was really tasty and I am rather keen to try their wraps one lunchtime – they look divine! – however I am wary that it’s far too easy to spend money here, so maybe The Real Greek would be better suited to larger parties or when you are feeling flush, or maybe just as a lunch time treat. Will I go back? I’m not sure. The food was lovely so definitely worth a visit if you are passing by.

Il Castelletto, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Il Castelletto, 17 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JB (nearest tube station is Holborn)
  • Date of Visit: Thursday 23rd February 2017
  • Time of Table:30pm
  • Deal Bought From: Living Social
  • Deal Price: £19 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Two Starters
  • Two Main Courses
  • Two Desserts
  • For Two People

What we ate…

Katie:

  • Starter: Insalata Caprese
  • Main: Risotto Vegetariano
  • Dessert: Tiramisu

Jess:

  • Starter: Minestrone Soup
  • Main: Tagliatelle Mare E Monti
  • Dessert: Tiramisu

What we drank…

  • Bottle of Costal upo Illuminati (not included)

What did we think?

With a love of all things Italian, when I spied this fantastic Living Social deal, just a mere 10 minute walk from the front door of my office, I couldn’t resist snapping it up and inviting my fellow foodie and twin sister to share the experience with me. Located down a peaceful side street off the main concourse of Tottenham Court Road, Il Castelletto has a real ‘hidden gem’ style vibe. Its exterior was all prim and neatness with a lick of deep forest green paint and tidy awning ballooning over the front door. Traditional checkered tablecloths adorned outdoor tables; however it was the inviting, large arch style windows showcasing a beckoning interior that had us licking our lips in anticipation.

Upon entering, you are enveloped by a sense of warmth, family and comfort, the atmosphere a pure invitation to simply unwind after a hard day, glass of wine in hand. With flickering candlelight gently illuminating the very small, yet strangely not poky, restaurant, we were placed at an intimate table for two. As I sat down, I admired the yellow brick decorated walls, checking out the impressively golden gilded mirror opposite my seat. Spinning around in the wooden dining chair, I cast my eye over the traditional and well-stocked bar opposite the main entrance. Above the bar, neatly decorated blackboards detailed the wine list, while further blackboards on the walls explained the daily specials, including some very well priced lunch deals. To me, Il Castelletto felt as if you were visiting an old friend that you hadn’t seen in a while, merely slotting in where you left off and instantly relaxing into something comfortable and well-loved.

Our deal was a complete bargain at £19 for two people, so I was expecting a set menu. The restrictiveness of the menu however took me aback briefly, with many of the items being incredibly similar, so although the menu looked extensive from afar, the choice itself was much more limited. Getting over my initial disappointment, I began to look at what I was actually going to order. With a love of mozzarella, the insalata caprese seemed like a good start, due to doorstep slices of the pale, creamy white cheese, colourfully layered against equally thick rounds of bright red tomato. Further decorated with little piles of rocket, for me it was the balsamic dressing that really made the dish. I love balsamic at the best of times, but it works exceptionally well with the soft mozzarella, the zing of the vinegar a pure juxtaposition to the dense creaminess of the cheese. Nice and light, this simple yet winning starter whet the appetite very nicely.

I did struggle to pick a main course, as nothing immediately grabbed my fancy. I decided to have risotto, as it’s something I don’t usually have at home because my husband isn’t a huge fan of this gooey rice-based dish. If I’m going to have a risotto, it may as well be done by the experts. I chose the vegetarian one, and boy was this good. Firstly, the portion size was lovely. I am normally fearful of selecting a risotto when at chain Italian restaurants, as often two tablespoons later you’ve finished your dinner before everyone else; however this was not the case at Il Castelletto, and I was able to enjoy a really brilliant and full bowl. My risotto featured a great mix of vegetables, such as peppers, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots, all steeped in a fantastic tomato sauce that inundated both the vegetables and rice. The sauce had a real garlic heat to it, which massively enhanced the flavour. The rice was perfectly cooked and soft, the vegetables also cooked to tender and therefore to my liking; I’m not really an al dente kinda girl. Ensuring to get lashings of grated Parmesan on top, I really enjoyed this risotto, even if it wasn’t something I would ordinarily pick. Stealing a bite of my sister’s pasta however has me gagging to return just to order a pasta dish, as her tagliatelle was melt in the mouth in true Italian fashion.

For dessert, when in an Italian restaurant, there is simply only one option – the famed coffee-soaked and cream laden speciality tiramisu. Now I have eaten a lot of tiramisu in my time (please don’t judge), and no two restaurants ever serve it the same; it’s one of those things! To me, that makes the dessert even more special and unexpected. Il Castelletto’s version of this dessert was much more cake like, served in a rectangular slab, again with a generous portion. The mascarpone was thick set and unctuous, the chocolate drizzle sauce a nice added touch, and the coffee flavour spot on. All in all, a lovely take on tiramisu.

To accompany our meal, we went for a mid-price bottle of white wine. Usefully, the wine menu features flavour descriptions, so we were able to better select something that we would like. The wine was light, fruity and very drinkable. At under £20 for the bottle, it was also very affordable.

Although our food came quickly, I wouldn’t say the service was spot on. Some of the other tables seemed to be having difficulty in getting their food. The servers tended to clear your plates and give you the next course at the same time, which is unusual, but it didn’t really matter as we were still getting our food. Our meal was delivered pretty promptly so I have no complaints there. Staff were polite but not over warm or chatty.

I have to confess, I fell in love with Il Castelletto. I adored its relaxed atmosphere, the really delicious food, and the whole package really. Copping a glance at the full price menu, it still seems like a very affordable venue, although on this occasion we just paid a tenner each to cover the wine, as our £19 vouchers covered the price for our three course meal each. I can’t wait to go back and try a few more menu items…any volunteers?