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Restaurant review: Going large at Piccolino

They can't get enough of their garlic bread in Piccolino. But this bustling joint has a lot more going for it, especially if you happen to be one of the after-work crowd, as Angie discovered

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Going large at Piccolino

There are two good reasons for taking my former neighbour Phil out to eat. One, he’s good material when the food isn’t, and two, I owe him more than a shot of hospitality. He did help me out, after all, on a good 100 of the 480 nights when I was damned to the 3am shift on our beloved morning paper. In the days before round-the-clock licences, I frequently emerged from my stint on the rota’s equivalent of the naughty corner, wired with work and craving talk. And by the time the paper was put to bed, the rest of the world would be tucked up too, except for my mate Phil, his Sinatra At The Sands CD and a couple of buckets of Tesco Chilean. Mad babble was the thing, and I’d shuffle off home only when the dawn chorus was drowning out our own warbling of You And The Night And The Music.

Phil likes Piccolino and says he has only had good experiences there. When we meet up these days it is in the clear white light of busy bars, voices jostling for sound space like evening song in a rookery. And so is the scene in Cook Street’s one and only cooking joint which is jumping with end-of-week office workers playing hard in the bar. Situated in the business area, this is an obvious rendezvous, its cluster of tall tables made for propping on with a cold Messina beer.

Piccolino has another crowd too: a curiously high proportion of Peter Kay lookalikes not just there for the garlic bread. So, if a generous girth is a compliment to the chef, like loudly belching after a Tuscan feast, Piccolino is at the top of the gastronomic heap

This place is about as authentically Italian as Lisa‘s Diner in Sinatra’s birthplace of Hoboken, although its décor is Milanese/Japanese chic: dark wood, teak blinds, panelling and palms, with luxurious crimson seating flanking the sides of the spacious, airy first floor restaurant. Glamorous images of 1950s and 1960s Hollywood style icons, either in film stills or having fun on the Riviera, adorn the walls.

“You would like drink and garlic bread,” offers the young suit who seats us.

“Er, okay,” we nod dumbly, and, whoosh, he is gone. Realising that actually olives would be a better bet, and that there’s no such thing as a free garlic bread, I give chase. Young Suit nods and smiles comprehendingly when I catch up, but the unrequited garlic bread nevertheless arrives, and the olives, too.

We couldn’t fault the food here, although it’s expensive for a chain that’s open all day, seven days a week. “All our desserts, ice creams and sorbets are made by our chefs” boasts the menu, which makes you wonder where they get the time to deal with the 18 starters and 37 main courses.

Calamari fritters (£5.75) are crisp and tender, the dipping aioli fresh and garlicky and I want them to go on forever. The field mushrooms with garlic, spinach and goats cheese (£5.95) come in for high praise, too, as does the decent bottle of 2004 Frascati (£15.95) which we are soon needing more of.

Fegato alla veneziana (£14.25), or good old liver and bacon, is meltingly good, appealingly presented and plentiful, with lots of sticky onions. But be warned: If you want your two veg and spuds, you may well have to cough up more cash and order them as side dishes. They don’t come as standard.

While Phil tells me all about the latest unwelcome nutters he’s been attracting into his not-uneventful life, he grapples approvingly with an enormous breast of the corn-fed variety served with gnocchi, wild mushrooms and garlic butter (£12.95).

The star dessert in Piccolino has to be the tiramisu (£4.75), which holds its uncommonly firm texture and is a joy to savour, especially in between sips of a lovely Santo dessert wine (£2.95), but we also have a go at the Semifreddo (£4.75), an iced hazelnut, praline mousse which would do the trick in the event of a tiramisu famine.

Phil is up for visits to several more bars by now, but I, like my grazing fellow diners, anticipate difficulty getting out of my seat, albeit for different reasons.

Do I owe it to him not to go too gently into the dark night? Or do I owe it to my kids, wired with life and craving talk, to not be an evil hungover witch in the cold light of day?

I catch sight of the Chairman of the Board on the wall with Ava Gardner. They didn't take it nice and easy.

“And One More For The Road?” I say.

Phil smirks. “OK. Just going for a quick Nelson Riddle.”

Angie Sammons
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14a Cook Street

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