Massimo at the Corinthia Hotel:
I’ve enjoyed afternoon tea at the Corinthia a few times now, an elegant affair in the stunning atrium lobby of the hotel, for people-watching while sipping on exquisite champagne and indulging in beautiful pastries. But, I’d never visited Massimo, other than for a fleeting and rather unsuccessful Cicchetti as part of the London Restaurant Festival trail a few years ago. It didn’t seem like the right kind of venue for a ‘restaurant crawl’ though, rather somewhere to enjoy a relaxing evening.
It’s an impressive space. Like other buildings on Northumberland Avenue, the Corinthia has a stunning Victorian interior, dating back to its heritage as the Metropole Hotel. The Corinthia itself was remodelled for the hotel opening in 2011, by David Collins. A perfect precursor to my trip to Genoa the next day, the result is something along the lines of an Italian Palazzo, with mirrors, fantastic lighting and a wealth of marble and alabaster.
I sat waiting for The-Hedonist with a plateful of aperitivo and a glass of glass of Franciacorta DOCG Cuvee Prestige, Ca’ Del Bosco. It is priced just under a glass of house champagne, at £15, and if you arrive between 6pm and 8pm aperitivo is free of charge It’s probably the third time I’ve been treated to Franciacorta – the most recent at a tasting run by Honest Grape in conjunction with the consortium. This glassful was particularly good – a blend of two traditional champagne grapes (75% chardonnay and 15% pinot noir) with the addition of 10% Pinot Bianco. Like all Franciacorta (but unlike prosecco) it is made using the ‘methode champenoise’. It would have been all too easy to sit there for the rest of the evening drinking Franciacorta and eating the nibbles, but the main restaurant looked very inviting.
It was quite hard to resist the basket of delicious bread. I did succumb to a mouthful or two of light as a feather focaccia while we waited for our starters to arrive. I’d decided to share a Pescatarian dinner with The-Hedonist, partly so we could both taste all the food and partly in the interests of diet. So, while I feasted on Pesce Spada Marinato al Pompelmo, Pepe Rosa e Finocchi – Marinated Swordfish with Pink Peppercorn, Grapefruit and Fennel, my companion enjoyed Capesante allo Zafferano, Insalata di Mele e Sedano Rapa Scallops with Saffron Dressing, Apple and Celeriac Salad. I loved the swordfish. A beautiful dish with just enough grapefruit to add a bitter citrus taste and with crunchy fennel for texture.
Meanwhile, The-Hedonist was looking more than happy with his dish. I got to taste a mouthful or two of beautifully cooked scallop and a light, delicate celeriac puree.
We were both impressed. I’d struggled a bit with a choice of main courses and ended up picking a classic dish of Fritto Misto di Pesce. I could so easily have lapsed back toward the meat section and chosen Ischia-style Rabbit with Truffle Polenta or Pork Fillet with Spiced Apple and Chestnuts for example. But, I have something of a love of zuccini fritters and I was sold on the promise that the fritto misto came topped with a good helping.
It did indeed – along with a whole range of fish. It looked stunning and somewhat intimidating, but somehow, with the help of The-Hedonist, I managed to finish it all. It was beautifully prepared, the lightest of batter protecting the shellfish, calamari, zucchini and chunks of white fish. I could happily eat a good fritto misto every day of the week and this one was one of the best I’ve tried.
Meanwhile, he had ordered Turbot poached in ‘Acqua Pazza’ (crazy water). A pretty bowl of fresh tomato broth with herbs, wilted lettuce and lemon topped with a very generous portion of perfectly cooked turbot. I tried a mouthful or two and would have been just as happy had this been my own choice.
I might have skipped dessert, but The-Hedonist spotted a ‘not to be missed’ option. He does have something of a chestnut fetish and the promise of ‘Mont Blanc’ was just too tempting. The mixture of chestnut puree, meringue and chantilly cream was hidden under a remarkable pink sugar globe. It looked stunning – if I’m honest I tasted a teaspoonful at most though and was far too full to appreciate the dish properly.
Meanwhile, Head Chef Andrea Cirino had desserted the kitchen to greet us. We learnt from him that he trained with Giorgio Locatelli and had been sent into the restaurant to take charge when Locatelli was brought in.
What is currently on offer is a relatively simple menu, but one done exceptionally well. Everything, from bread to pasta is made in-house and, at least when we dined, everything cooked and presented beautifully. It’s the kind of place I’ll happily return to and the kind of place I’ll be recommending to my friends.
10 Northumberland Avenue,
London WC2N 5AE