I try Sweetings and compare Semplice and Zafferano

Saturday, June 14th , 2008

sweetings 3648 haddock-crop-v3.JPG
The benefits of high quality ingredients showed up in two meals in particular this week. Semplice gets many of its ingredients imported from Bologna 9twice a week), both beans and shredded mange tout having stunning flavour that you virtually never see in UK vegetables. Risotto was also nicely made with good chicken stock, even if the sausage with it was a little tasteless. The cooking technique shows minor blemishes at times e.g. scallops that were of good quality but cooked a little too long, but mostly the kitchen was on song and with such excellent ingredients it is a pleasure to eat here.
Zafferano was on form as usual, even if the increased wine prices continue to grate. Tonight I had a simple but superb salad of summer vegetables (the ingredients flown in from a market in southern Italy three times weekly) tasting glorious, with a well-balanced dressing. Tagliolini had lovely soft texture, with crab, courgette and chilli. As ever, service was superb. 
Cambio de Tercio has that London rarity, a fairly priced wine list (or perhaps I was just in shock from the list at the Capital last week). The terrific Torres Mas La Plana is just a fraction over twice its retail price for example. The tapas food continues to be consistently good, with the spicy patatas bravas, good garlic prawns and tasty quail some highlights.  
Maze continues to please with its tapas style take on modern British cooking. I particularly enjoyed the “sandwiches”,  which recently won the starter section of the Great British Menu TV Series. The modern take BLT in particular tasted great, and was a rare example of modern cooking that still remembers that the dish actually should taste good at the end of the day, not just show off the latest kitchen technology. This is a very enjoyable restaurant indeed. 
The tapas theme continued with Brindisa, a very pleasant cafe in Borough Market. The strength here is high grade produce; in the market itself is the Brindisa shop, selling top quality Iberian food, including the best pata negra that you can buy in the UK. The tapas bar does not try anything ambitious, but just serves up its excellent produce simply. 
There are not too many restaurants in London dating back to the 1970s, never mind one which started trading in the nineteenth century. Sweetings is a simple but rather charming fish restaurant on the edge of the City, open just at lunch time and with service mostly at wooden counters. The food (pictured) is, as one might expect, pretty old fashioned, but used good quality produce and was pleasant enough. It is objectively a little costly but certainly a fun place to go.
Agni is an Indian restaurant in Hammersmith that has a lot going for it: an ex Zaika chef and a bib gourmand rating from Michelin. This is my third visit and it seems to me that standards are slipping. They chef (from Hyderabad) still makes a good biriaini, but what was a vegetable masala doing with tinned carrots and broccoli in it? Naan bread was rather hard and the popadoms (hardly a major culinary challenge) were very poor, being distinctly soggy in texture. I have reduced the score on the web site form 2/10 to 1/1o to reflect this experience.
Next week – Brittany.