"It's not much but it's ours"

Thursday, July 24, 2008


If it feels right
Just drive for the light

Denmark Street in W1 is London town’s very own Tin Pan Alley. When Saturday comes long-haired kids with rock star dreams and Dads whose dreams died long ago press their noses up against the windows of the guitar shops while somebody, somewhere is always playing Stairway To Heaven. Short but fascinating it’s a must-visit for any lover of modern popular music. It’s now, somewhat incongruously, home to a dinky little bistro from Australian chef Paul Merrony. But first a drink.

In olden times, well twenty-plus years ago, HS was a hard-working rep for Penguin and this was his ‘patch’. One of the places he went to drown his sorrows was The Phoenix Artist Club just off the Charing Cross Road. Of course this being London it has plenty of history: Noel Coward made his stage debut upstairs in the theatre. It’s one of those places, like say The Cork and Bottle, that unless you’re actually going there you would never go there. If that makes any sense (probably not). Anyway, it’s a convenient place to meet for a drink and it’s blissfully free of tourists or annoying twenty-somethings, although worryingly HS informs me that it’s becoming so hip you might spot Kate Moss having a pint of lager there…whoever she is.

After a pleasant glass of White Rioja we went in search of The Giaconda Dining Room. I use the word ‘search’ advisedly. On the first sashay down Denmark Street we missed the restaurant completely. Only after carefully retracing our steps did we find it. Mind you, it is tiny, more akin to something you might find in France or Spain than London. The latter which seems to have given up the small scale, in the centre, at least. Mr Merrony also appears to have brought all his fans from Sydney with him - the majority of diners sounded Antipodean. Not a problem – I can learn to forgive and forget (the last drubbing we got in The Ashes).

The menu is what one probably calls Modern European with specific biases towards the Latin although the odd English dish or component creeps in there. So to start we were somewhere in France chowing down on a lovely de-boned trotter which was flattened and the skin crisped to a thing of beauty. Underneath was a fatty, messy and, goddamit, unctuous layer of the trotter flesh. Lurking under all this porcine loveliness was some egg mayonnaise and some of those leaves that look like they came out of a bag. Neither of the latter two items were needed but I suppose their presence was indicative of the kitchen’s generosity and its inclination to please the punter. Homemade Foie Gras au Torchon was predictably lovely and rich as only FG can be but there was also a nice little gelee that was by no means the lesser partner.

HS stayed En France for “Grill of the Day” which was announced as Bavette although having just cooked such a cut I didn’t recognise it as such – this one being a small fist of meat rather than the flatter shape of the Bavette. But who knows, it won’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about something. Probably about the fifth. HS would have been more than happy with just his steak but again the kitchen wanted to add something more, this time in the form of a sliced tomato. Ok, but hardly essential. The Beef was accurately cooked and although not the finest piece of beef I’ve ever tasted was some way from being the worst.

The chips divided us like Tom and Rudy Jordache. HS thought they were good - though tellingly we didn’t finish them off - whereas I found them a bit mealy in texture and not crisp enough. Their taste reminded me, for some reason, of a chippy which may have been down to the cooking medium (dripping ?).

I really lucked out with my Pork Chop. The big lump of pork (not me) had been cooked medium and although the fat could have been crisped up a bit more still delivered the requisite porky hit. Even better though was a beautifully judged Risotto Milanese on which the Pork Chop sat. Rich, creamy and morerish with just the right amount of bite to the rice, it had both of us battling it out to get yet another mouthful in. Impressive stuff.

Of course, after this little lot we could never give the desserts the attention they probably deserved. My Iced Nougat was good although the Raspberries that surrounded it were the star for me. HS’s Apple Compote with Whipped Cream Walnuts was a nice enough combination but perhaps something more seasonal like gooseberries would have been more interesting and apt.

In any case, the criticisms we had had were pretty minor in view of the fact we just had a very good time. Everything is attractively priced, especially given the location, the Wine List had a good mix – it’s always nice to see bottles of Txacoli and Bierzo - at reasonable prices and service from a French lass working by herself was friendly and generally on the ball.

Quite unlike the impression its name may convey there’s nothing remotely enigmatic about The Giaconda Dining Room: it’s just an honest and enjoyable place to have a meal in Central London. We’d go back – which is really all you need to know.

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