The Giaconda Dining Rooms is a delight

Saturday, September 06th , 2008

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There have been so many “bistros” opening in the last year or two that it is hard to keep count. However a common theme for most is that, while the food is generally OK, the prices are high for the level of cooking being delivered. A glorious exception to this is the Giaconda Dining Rooms, where not only are the food prices very fair (starters around £6, main courses around £12) but the wine list has a fixed mark-up per bottle. Yes, you read that correctly, a fixed mark up (around £12) a bottle. Hence a £10 is about £22, a £30 wine is £42 etc. So many central London restaurants now are operating on mark-ups of four or five times retail price (sometimes even more) that I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. The menu is appealing and the cooking generally very capable.
The Bingham is a boutique hotel in Richmond with a superb river view from its terrace. Chef Shay Cooper produced some very attractively presented (pictured) and well thought out dishes during our meal. The savoury dishes were strong 5/10 level, but the cooking standard plummeted when the dessert stage was reached, dragging down the overall score. If they can fix this problem then the restaurant can achieve a lot. 
The Duke of Sussex serves simple but enjoyable gastropub food, at prices that are very fair these days . Regular readers will know that I am somewhat obsessive about bread in restaurants, and the highlight of the meal here is the rustic bread, made twice a day from scratch. It is genuinely good, especially if you happen to get a batch that has just come from the oven. Remarkably, they make the bread rather than buying it in to keep costs down, but it lifts the whole meal. I’d actually be happy if they just left me in a corner with some red wine, the superb bread and a plate of cheese. 
Andaman is still in its soft opening, but I couldn’t resist another quick visit.  At this stage there is not a separate set lunch menu, though one is planned. Cooking again showed a high level of technique, and featured high class ingredients, today a very fine piece of beef, shown as a contrast to a rich oxtail dish.  A dish of poussin with prawns and julienned vegetables in a lightly spiced sauce demonstrated some imagination, and the dish was very carefully cooked and plated. Solid 7/10 cooking on the basis of the two meals I have eaten here, just let down a little by the desserts. The restaurant will open officially in early October.
Zafferano  was back on form after a rare dodgy dish last month. The recent change of ownership has not been positive, as prices have crept up (especially on the wine list), but the food standard is still pretty much as it always was. I contemplated dropping the score a notch to 6/10 after last month’s meal, but I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.
If you are following Masterchef the Professionals you will see that the quarter final stages are getting under way. Personally I find Michel Roux Junior does an excellent job of explaining exactly what the flaws are in contestant’s dishes in a constructive way: no swearing or histrionics required. Don’t forget to watch or record the episode on Friday 12th September in which (subject to the vagaries of TV schedules and editing) I will briefly feature. If you missed any episode and want to catch up you can do so via the BBC I-Player (at least, you can in the next seven days).
Next week I will be bravely venture beyond the Circle Line.