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Capricci on Bankside – Perfect Pre-Theatre Dining:
Less than a minute’s walk from Tate Modern on London’s Bankside, Capricci is both a deli and a restaurant. At lunch and dinner time it is a restaurant in a deli. It is particularly chic in the evenings when the lights are low and the surrounding glass-fronted office blocks are illuminated.
I arrived invigorated by a walk along the Thames at sunset – one of London’s great showpieces – and had built up my appetite for a fine Italian dinner. My companion and I were shown to a marble-topped table with white Eiffel tower chairs, a simple and stylish look contrasting with the dark wooden floor. Capricci is on the ground floor of one of the uber-modern apartment buildings erected alongside Tate, and the décor blends in well. Lucky apartment dwellers can nip downstairs for their meals.
A small, silver-plated vase arrived filled with long, crisp grissini. Bags of these handmade breadsticks lined the shelf at my shoulder. Rather than artworks adorning the walls, Capricci has rows of black shelving on which, artfully placed, are attractive bottles of oils, balsamic vinegar, passata, cherry tomatoes, packets of pasta and a good selection of Italian wines. Capricci imports high-quality products from small artisanal producers and promotes the concept ‘from the shelves to the kitchen’. I like to be surrounded by the ingredients I am about to eat. It is reassuring to see the quality of what will soon appear on my plate.
The waiter informed us that the menu is changed twice daily according to what is freshly available – no mean feat for a small restaurant with a small kitchen like Capricci. The starters usually remain the same – burratina with tomatoes and rocket, bruschetta, salt cod, goat cheese, beef tartare and soup. There are also three regular sharing platters – meats, cheese or a mixture. What changes are the five Primi and the three Secondi. I suspect the four desserts remain standard.
Our friendly waiter was very helpful not only in advising how many dishes to order but also in assisting us to navigate the wine list which contains many regional varieties. He recommended two reds and brought the bottles to the table so that we could taste both and decide which we preferred. We both selected a glass of a delicious Montepulciano, Marina Cvetiv from Abruzzo, which was a rich red with deliciously fruity and spicy notes. Not being a big drinker, I do appreciate a fine wine by the glass and Capricci certainly offers a good selection of these. Throughout the evening, guests arrived to drink a glass of wine at the marble-topped bar, ate a snack and departed. The seated area kept refilling – clearly, Capricci is popular.
To start we opted to share the Tagliere Capricci. This is a selection of Italian cheeses and cured meats served with rustic bread. Having enjoyed such a platter earlier in the year in Pompei, I was forewarned about the size of the helpings. The waiter acknowledged that the sharing platter was enough for three people and agreed to ask the chef to prepare a smaller version for us.
Soon a wooden board arrived filled with four types of cheese – gorgonzola, two pecorinos and a toma. The meats included mortadella studded with pistachios and culatello (similar to prosciutto). Baby pepperoni were filled with anchovies. Three tiny dishes contained a fabulously grassy olive oil, caramelised onions and yellow diamonds of mostarda, the wonderful Italian treat of candied pumpkin in a mustard flavoured syrup. I wish I had remembered to buy a bottle from Capricci when I left for home.
For our main course, we both chose a pasta dish from the Primi section. I chose paccheri con granchio e datterino which translated as a large tubular-shaped pasta with a white crab and tomato sauce topped with halved, Sicilian baby plum tomatoes. The pasta was perfectly al dente and there was a generous helping of both crab meat and tomatoes.
My companion chose tonnarelli all’ amatriciana which was thick linguine with braised pork cheek in a chilli tomato sauce. A most deliciously tender and mildly spicy dish.
The secondi selection included baked seabass with caponata, duck breast with orange sauce, or beef stew with peas. While in Italy diners often enjoy antipasti, primi and secondi, with the generous portions served at Capricci one would need a seriously large appetite to work right through the menu.
We really had no space for dessert but decided to press on for review purposes. Four options vied to attention – including a chocolate mousse and a vanilla custard cream. Our choices, tiramisu and wild berry pannacotta, were served in glasses. Both desserts were underwhelming and rather bland which was the only dull note of the meal.
Our dinner at Capricci presented authentic cooking with generous portions, the type of food one would be very happy to find on a trip to Italy. I was even happier to find it next door to Tate Modern which I visit regularly. If you are in the vicinity of Tate Modern, the Globe theatre, or just taking a walk along the Thames, you will be well fed if you stop in for a meal. The atmosphere is chic and convivial, the service is excellent and the food is mostly very good. The ongoing development of the south bank of the Thames over the past decades has seen a plethora of uninteresting chain restaurants taking root along the river. Capricci is a cut above and a welcome oasis of good food in a cheerful atmosphere. At the back of the menu, I noticed a note to diners that Christmas hampers can be ordered at Capricci. I know what I hope to find under the tree this year!
NEO Bankside Unit C South
72 Holland Street, SE1 9NX, London
Phone: 020 7021 0703
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