This week I try Enoteca Turi and 11 Abingdon Road

Saturday, November 01st , 2008

hibiscus 1824 front-crop-v3.JPG
Enoteca Turi is that rare thing, an authentic family run Italian restaurant. I was impressed in particular by the pasta, with fine spaghetti and very good gnocchi, which few places do well. Desserts were also better than I was expecting. The place seemed to be thriving, and there is an absolutely superb Italian wine list in terms of selection, though without obvious bargains. The only real quibble is the price: £40 a head for the food element only on a 3 course Italian meal seems pretty high, just a whisker cheaper than the Michelin star cooking at Locatelli or Zafferano, but the full restaurant suggests that the locals are happy enough to pay this. Certainly the welcome from the owner was very genuine, which at least makes you feel better as you key in your pin number.
By contrast 11 Abingdon Road was rather disappointing. Only desserts (and excellent service from our Spanish waitress) saved the day from what otherwise was a careless cooking performance.  This is the sister restaurant to the Phoenix and Sonnys, which had declined markedly when I last visited it in August. Sonnys is an infuriating restaurant, with standards swinging up and down like a yo-yo over the years, and seemingly terminally incapable of holding on to a chef for more than year. At its best it was an excellent local, but is just sad now. Perhaps 11 Abingdon Road was similarly better in the past, but all I know is that it is under-delivering now. In the same Kensington road is the superior The Abingdon, so why bother with this?
At Tangawizi I had another terrific, reasonably priced meal. Particularly impressive was a tender chicken tikka flavoured with coriander, while the black dhal here (cooked by a chef from Bhukara in Delhi) is simply superb. This is also a place that knows how to cook naan bread properly, being firm yet still pliable, when so often it is either too doughy or too hard. This is as good Indian food as you will find anywhere in London. 
I had an excellent third visit to Hibiscus (pictured), which I have found rather inconsistent (an excellent dinner initially, then a below par 6/10 level experience on my second visit). This time we tried the tasting menu, and the kitchen seems to have settled into a better groove. A scallop starter dusted with sharon fruit to provide a little acidity was excellent, the scallop of particularly high calibre and perfectly cooked. Veal sweetbreads from Brittany, roasted in salted butter with an English mustard crust, with a wood sorrel dressing and autumn truffle salad and “lemon caviar” was even better. The crust gave a nice texture balance, the mustard a well-controlled element of heat. Who can resist a perfect sausage roll, with perfect pastry and superbly sourced and tasty pork? The other savoury dishes were also very good, the meal only unravelling at the sweet stage. I am not fond of most modern desserts, and at the end of a meal the last thing I am looking for is a sweet cep tart, however well made it is.  However overall this was a very good meal indeed, more 8/10 than 7/10, and I hope this is a sign that the kitchen has overcome its early mood swings.
The BBC TV series The Restaurant finally finished this week. I found it quite compelling TV, and it does show how really difficult running a restaurant is. I have to say that if I was Raymond Bland I would have been checking the contract to see if I could chose none of the finalists, since based on what was shown on TV I would not have been happy putting my own money into any of them. The couple that won last year went bust just a few months after opening, and that is with all the free publicity plus the backing and expertise of Raymond Blanc. I hope this couple fare better, but I would not bet on it.
The blog next week will be a few days late as I will be travelling, but I will have some interesting restaurant experiences to share when I return.