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Monday, June 06, 2011

MASSIMO: WHERE'S THE SPIRIT?



























What is it about hotel restaurants that make them suck all the joy out of the dining experience? Mostly cavernous spaces with decor that tries to be tasteful but ends up being tasteless; the circuitous trek to the toilets, usually with a young female FOH (which makes you feel like you’re about 90) and where you end up at the pissoir next to a load of oiks from XYZ Widget Co having their ‘off-site’,whatever the hell that means. And don’t even get me started about finding one’s way back...especially after a few sherbets.

But there must be some advantages I hear you protest? Well, if a restaurant is backed by a big hotel group you would hope that there would be no expense spared in making your meal fabulous. In my experience though this extends only so far as having a lot of staff - at least three young lovelies at the front desk seems to be the industry norm - but you'll still pay through the nose for the food. But still I keep returning - more in hope rather than expectation.

This time it was a visit to the recently opened Massimo, an Italian Seafood restaurant in the recently opened Corinthia Hotel on Northumberland Avenue. The advance blurb promised nose-to-tail seafood and lip-to-fin cooking utilising all the fish’s funny bits but there’s many a slip twixt PR blurb and reality which in the case of Massimo meant a menu so dull I drifted off whilst reading it - narcoleptics be warned - although the prices did wake me with a start. I wasn’t expecting much but I did get a few nice surprises.

A starter of Octopus was rather good. Olly had come all the way from Spain (perhaps he was called Olé before his appointment with a speargun) and was as good as I’ve had: soft, creamy and with a slight char from the grilling. I don’t know if it’s a classic combo in Italy but the avocado seemed a bit pointless, the chilli might have been better as small dice. The aioli was unobtrusive. Still, a good (but expensive) dish.

I really enjoyed the pasta course as well. Paccheri, cooked al dente, came with chopped-up razor clams, although there probably wasn't even one in there and some slightly overcooked broad beans with a light shaving of bottarga over the dish. It was very good but I’d probably want a lobster or something in there for £17.

Unfortunately, things went a bit Pete Tong when it came to my main course. Red Mullet is one of my favourite fish but the two fillets here lacked sparkle and they'd been cooked on a plancha that hadn't been cleaned properly so there was a lingering taste of old oil. The little salad should have been a zingy addition but the oranges weren't sweet and the fennel pretty tasteless.

To be fair to them one of the more senior staff saw me struggling with the dish - it must have been my grimaces - and swapped it without any fuss for the Turbot. This was much better but the combination still lacked that certain brio that get's you licking your lips and going ever so slightly bonkers with delight.

I always order Zabaione if I see it on the menu. That combination of the warm, the smooth and the boozy tastes like the most cosseting thing ever. Massimo's version was poor - no discernible Marsala and without that luxurious mouthfeel that a good example has. The savoiardo biscuits were stale as well. Not good.

So nothing particularly interesting to see here and although I suppose it’s a valid approach to stick to the central tenet of Italian cooking and keep things simple it would have been nice to have had something a bit different.

We already have a number of tony Italian establishments in London doing the exactly the same thing, whilst at the other end there’s a growing number of places where the cooking is enthusiastic and the pricing keen. It all makes me wonder who exactly Massimo is for...apart from restaurant reviewers, well-heeled bloggers and maybe David Collins completists.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

your razor clam dish exemplifies my biggest gripe with high end italian restaurants - namely, the rip off of giving you a seafood pasta or risotto dish where somehow they think (and do) get away with giving ONE sliced up scallop or some other crustacea diced and scattered, so as to give the impression of abundance, but only serves to illustrate how meagre it is. and for £17. for shame.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 8:59:00 am  
Anonymous Flavio M. said...

Ahh, the ignorance demonstrated by the comment of anonymous !
I do not know about the Massimo restaurant's pasta, but the real work and skill in many Italian restaurants is in MAKING THE PASTA- and not the sauce.
True hand-made pasta is very labour intensive, with top quality eggs(not the bland, pale, farmed rubbish you get in UK supermarkets), special durum wheat, appropriate soft water, mixed carefully. And then the rolling and cutting process is lengthy and requires skill and knowledge.The real hand made pasta is where all the really hard work takes place, and hence the cost of it is high.The "sauce" is just there as an add-on, the real taste is in the pasta.
Unfortunately, in the UK the unknowing expect the pasta to be drowned in ladles of sauce(maybe they think pasta is like their potatoes?).This may be indeed required if you eat your supermarket made"pasta", but is contrary to real Italian cooking.
You probably also expect a "capuccino" after your lunch/dinner.

Friday, June 10, 2011 12:48:00 pm  
Blogger Foodycat said...

Flavio - bollocks. It takes about an hour to make gorgeous, silky pasta, including time to rest the dough before rolling and cutting. I'm with anonymous, £17 for a seafood pasta with hardly any seafood is extremely miserly.

And zabaione without obvious booze is pointless.

Sunday, June 12, 2011 6:39:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flavio, that's an interesting, albeit completely useless argument that you put forward.

ignoring your strange reference to ladles of sauce, we are talking about primary ingredients here. if you charge almost 20 quid for a dish that claims to have lobster or clams in it, there had better be a decent amount in there or you risk letting your customer feel that it's all about margins.

that has nothing to do with the "amazing" techinical feat of making pasta. it is about generosity. come on, who are you kidding.

Monday, June 13, 2011 9:01:00 am  

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