DonQui puts Gordon Ramsay to the test

DonQui is rather pleased to hear that Gordon Ramsay has recently opened a new hostelry in his old stomping ground of Battersea.

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London House opened last year in Battersea Square. With Duchess joining him in London for a few days, DonQui thinks that they should try it out.

Various reviewers have complained that the decor is naff “a bit like Travelodge gone to heaven,” proclaims the Evening Standard, while Time Out says it is like “a trip back to the ’90s.”

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Well, DonQui quite enjoyed the 90s. He appreciates the way the restaurant is laid out with comfy, distressed leather sofas at one end of the room for relaxing with a drink before or after dinner — or both. The decor may be a little fin de siècle but DonQui likes the spacious, open feel and the refined yet casual atmosphere.

The youngish, well-dressed staff are friendly, knowledgeable and the service is faultless. When DonQui does not need them they are nowhere to be seen. Then when he does want something they seem to magically appear just at the right moment.

So what about the food?

Utterly superb.

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As is the wine – after a pinot noir and a grey goose vodka cocktail as aperitifs DonQui orders a very tasty Chinon.

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DonQui finds the light reds from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil, are the perfect accompaniment to a meal with a mix of dishes. In his view they go equally well with rich red meat as well as lighter foods. He wonders why they are not that well known outside France.

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To start DonQui has wild mushroom scotch egg. The egg (probably a quail’s given the size) has a perfectly runny yolk and solid white — just as it should be. The outside is crispy and full of gorgeous mushroom flavour. It is served on a bed of finely shredded pickled Japanese artichoke, a root vegetable that DonQui has not encountered before. It reminds him slightly of sauerkraut but with a more delicate taste and it goes very well with the scotch egg.

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Duchess has goat’s cheese curds with honey which is served with a bundle of thin homemade grissini. The waiter warns that it is just a small nibble but it is what Duchess wants. She is after something that has flavour without being too filling and it does the job very nicely indeed.

Then there is the bread. The most gorgeous crusty sourdough — so good that it is devoured before DonQui can think of taking any photographs. The waiter asks if he would like more and although he does, he thinks it best to pass as otherwise he will have no room for anything else.

The two main courses are wild fallow deer with a nutty herb crust served on a bed of pearl barley with caramelised swede and curly kale; and chicken breast with sweet potatoes and polenta.

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Readers will probably guess that DonQui goes for the venison. It is tender, juicy and rich without being gamey.

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The look on Duchess’s face tells him that he should try her chicken breast. Now chicken breast is not something DonQui normally would go for as he prefers his meat dark and juicy. However this is without a doubt the best chicken breast he has ever tasted. With crispy skin it is moist and full of flavour that DonQui would not normally expect to find in a relatively simply cooked piece of chicken.

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Feeling slightly greedy extra polenta sticks and savoy cabbage are ordered to go along side. The savoy cabbage does not quite live up to DonQui’s expectations. Poached in milk with bits of bacon the taste is fine, however the two big lumps of cabbage cut in half do not really appeal to his senses.

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For desert DonQui has passion fruit posset which is delectable. Duchess goes for the chocolate eclair which is a disappointment. The pastry is rock hard. The waiter is most apologetic and produces two glasses of the most glorious Muscat in compensation which more than makes up for it.

Mistakes can happen but if they are dealt with graciously then everyone remains happy.

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After a little espresso and a fine calvados to finish off DonQui is feeling very happy indeed. This is dining as it should be, he thinks — unstuffy, cheerful and thoroughly enjoyable.

DonQui and Duchess opted to go a la carte which was not cheap, but neither was it outrageously expensive by London standards. However one does not have to spend a fortune to dine at London House. There is an excellent set menu offering two courses for £22.50 or three for £28.00. Given the quality of the food and ambiance of the restaurant this is very good value indeed.

A favourite neighbourhood restaurant

DonQui likes this unpretentious, family run, neighbourhood restaurant.

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Antipasto has been serving up traditional Italian food in Battersea for over 25 years and DonQui has been eating it for nearly a decade. Whenever he finds himself in SW11 he likes to try to manage at least one visit, and that is what he does this evening. Arriving at around 7pm the restaurant is still fairly empty but it fills up fast and by 8pm most tables are full.

The specials on the blackboard look very good and DonQui is tempted. However, he has a favourite staple which he is glad to see still on the menu since he has been looking forward to it for quite some time. Every so often he will order something else but he usually keeps coming back to his favourite — calf’s liver with butter and sage.

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It is simply prepared— the liver slightly pink as DonQui likes it, with the lovely rich tastes of butter and sage permeating the dish. The accompanying vegetables are also unfussy but perfectly cooked, still retaining come crunch. The roast potatoes are crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, just as they should be.

DonQui is quite hungry so before getting to the liver he decides to order the mackerel fillet starter from the specials board.

Antipasto 3.jpgThree lovely fresh tasting grilled filets are served with a balsamic glaze, lemon and small green salad. It is a pretty substantial portion for a starter and DonQui thinks it would have been enough to share between 2 or 3 people. He has frequently shared starters at Antipasto in the past as they do tend to be on the generous size. He once made the mistake of ordering garlic bread as well and by the time his main course arrived he was pretty well full up.

DonQui glances over to a nearby table where a man is being presented with the ‘Italian charcuterie’ starter which is a long wooden board filled with various cold cuts and bread — practically a meal in itself.

Antipasto 4.jpgHowever he still has room for a desert and is in the mood for some ice-cream — in this case a tartufo with zabaione centre, gianduia outer and sprinkled with cocoa and chopped hazelnuts. Just the ticket, DonQui thinks as he tucks in.

Rounding off with a proper Italian-strength espresso at the end, DonQui leaves feeling quite satisfied.

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His wallet is not lightened too much thanks to Antipasto’s rather odd pricing system. Not so long ago they used to offer 50% off all food three days a week. This made it a real bargain on those days and tended to leave the place relatively empty on the others. Now they offer 40% off food (excepting deserts) every day of the week. This does make DonQui wonder why they don’t just reduce the base prices by 40%. Presumably the prospect of 40% off draws in more people than if the prices were lower. Whatever the logic, the end result is that a meal here is very good value for money indeed.

The understated service is friendly and efficient and the courses come quite quickly. Sometimes if he wants to linger over a meal here DonQui will order one course and wait to order a second once he has finished it. This is something he learned to do in Italy where it seems quite common to order your meal as you go along.

A Corner of Italy in London

By now readers will be well aware of the large role breakfast plays in DonQui’s life. When he is in London, his breakfast of choice is often a croissant with fresh pressed orange juice and a large milky coffee at Il Molino on Battersea Park Rd.

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With the world being colonised by identikit coffee shops DonQui is very happy whenever he finds a good independent. The furnishings are a delightful mishmash of distressed wood tables (none of them matching) with a bar under the window covered with newspapers and a few seats outside. Various Italian food stuffs are stacked on shelves around the walls both for decoration and purchase.
The staff are young, friendly, and mostly Italian. They approach their work and customer service with that typical southern European insouciance which DonQui rather likes. There is none of this ghastly American: ‘how may I help you’ or ‘have a nice day’ — or worst of all when the servers tell DonQui their name in hope of getting a better tip. Not likely – it only makes him more curmudgeonly!

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Il Molino, therefore, is not a place to come if you are in a rush — there are plenty other places for those who prefer cold efficiency or saccharine over-exaggerated friendliness. Il Molino is a place to come and have something to eat and drink, read the paper, watch the world go by or maybe get the laptop or pad out to do a little work. Just like in France or Italy, for the price of a single coffee you can stay all day.
The coffee is excellent as are the various pastries. They also have a deli counter with items more suitable for a light lunch. These look good but as DonQui has not yet sampled any, he cannot vouch for them. There is music in the background but not too loud. With the likes of the Who, Pink Floyd, and Rolling Stones on the play list last time he was there, it is the kind of music DonQui approves of.
Although it has a youngish, slightly trendy vibe the customer base is as eclectic as the furniture. They may be an old man sitting in the corner with a paper, a couple of yummy mummies with tots in tow, an urban professional playing with his iphone, and workers dropping in from a nearby building site. No bearded hipsters, however — after all, this is Battersea not Shoreditch.