13 Albemarle Street,
London, W1S 4HJ.
Tel. 020 74091011
Food type: Modern Italian
Food rating: 6/10
Nearest tube: Green Park
I am finally back reviewing London restaurants. This month I aim to review some niche restaurants which has not received as much publicity as they should have ie. non-Michelin starred restaurants which serve up decent food. First up is Dol@da (which I will henceforth refer to as Dolada to save my short fingers severe cramps from reaching out towards the ‘Shift’ key). Never heard of it? Neither had I until I was reading some random news on caterersearch.com informing me that another foreign Michelin starred chef is plying his trade in London.
There was very little fanfare with the appointment of Riccardo de Pra as head chef at Dolada. The restaurant itself was formerly Mosaico but was renamed after the ristorante of the same name located in Pieve d’Alpago where de Pra’s family have plyed their trade for four generations. Despite the changes, the owners remains the same.
The de Pra family have a proud tradition with the Michelin man – Riccardo holds one star; his father, two and his grandfather, three. What impressed me though was not the number of stars they held but the passion they had for food. Here we are not talking about Gordon Ramsay style incessant harping about ‘local sourcing’ but producing their own cheese, smokes and cured meat. When a diner beside me asked a simple question about the provenence of the salami he was eating, they were not only able to tell him the exact place it was produced, but also the type of pig and impressively enough the DATE the salami was produced. Riccardo marries great produce with his inventive style of cooking. This is a man who invented ‘Tiramiglu’, a Tiramisu inspired drink that comes with its specially designed bottle containing the different layers of flavours that are the essence of the well known dessert.
The location of Dolada is pretty obscure – at the basement off Albermarle street, beneath DKNY. The sign posting for the restaurant is not large either so you need to have a keen eye or know about the restaurant in the first place. The restaurant proper which received a slight makeover, it is now clean and simple with shinny wooden flooring, red leathered sofas and white clothed tables amidst a cream coloured background. There is a long mirror strip at eye level when seated so you can discretely spy on what other people are eating if you so choose to.
Prices here are what you would expect from a restaurant at Mayfair. Items are individually priced with starters £8-28 (mostly £18), mains £17-£28 (mainly £26) and desserts £7.50. There is a tasting menu at £55 for 6 courses which is probably much better value and this was what I tried. Ingredients here are top grade – for example the fish of the day was fresh wild salmon. Lunch is much cheaper with 2 courses at £27 and 3 courses £37 and impressively includes many of the items from the dinner menu (albeit with less trimmings) if you are trying this restaurant for the first time.
Bread is made on the premises but served cold, with a choice of plain white or brown. These were served with either butter or Dolada’s very own olive oil (produced by their farm in Italy). The malted brown was clearly superior with a treacle like taste and good seasoning while the white unfortunately tasted like ordinary brought in bread. (4/10)
Scampi Carpaccio with Violet Caviar
First course was a picturesque carpaccio of scampi (langoustine) presented as a jig-saw piece with some violet caviar and finished off with a few drops of high quality extra virgin olive oil. What made this dish unique was implementation of the highly interesting violet caviar which I had no knowledge of. My serveur told me that this was eggs from a rare species of trout (from Italy) which has been cured with beetroot for the purpose of taste rather than colour.Its effect is to take away some of the fishy aftertaste which is omnipresent in trout eggs while also adding a touch of sweetness. The dish itself was a triumph with the natural sweetness of the scampi being highlighted by the saltiness of the caviar. (7/10)
Crispy Lobster Risotto
Served in a mug, the crispy lobster risotto is one of the chef’s signature dishes. The crispy element in this dish is derived from a few thin slivers of potato crisps as well as a deep fried squat lobster head. The head itself is of course edible if you are daring enough to try. (The idea of eating a deep fried crustacean head is not alarming as it is a bit of a delicacy in Japanese cuisine). I must admit that I never have high hopes when it comes to eating risotto in a restaurant since restaurants get it horribly wrong. You see, the preparation of risotto itself is a time consuming painstaking process. In terms of prep work, restaurants can either partially cook the rice by a third or cook it until it is nearly done. Most restaurants use the latter method since it saves them time during a busy dinner service and as a result the risotto tends to show up overcooked and mushy. I was thus impressed then the rice was a perfect al dente with just that little bite left in the rice, creamy without the starch being overworked. The addition of cheese to the risotto probably breaks the cardinal rule of Italian cooking (ie never to pair cheese with seafood) but that idea doesn’t seem all that far-fetched when you take into consideration that lobster itself is a pretty good vehicle for cheese (e.g. Lobster Thermidore). Little chunks of sauteed lobster tail sat on top of the rice and finished off with some intense lobster bisque to add even more flavour to the risotto. This was seriously good cooking and I would honestly go back and be happy to eat a big mug of the lobster risotto alone. (9/10)
Survival Kit: ‘Polenta, Tocio, Vin Brule’
Next up was a bit of humour in the form of a survival kit! Here you have a few polenta cakes shaped into little round discs, a jar of veal and beef ragu and a tiny cup of mulled wine. The idea here is to spread the wholesome, melt in your mouth, ragu onto the polenta and then to cleanse the palate with the clove, cinnamon and star anise flavoured mulled wine. While intriguing, and despite the ragu being very good, I felt this dish was a bit gimmicky. (5/10)
‘New’ Spaghetti Carbonara
Riccardo de Pra was in the kitchen and offered me a complementary course of one of his signatures. The ‘New’ spaghetti carbonara is his modern take on the classic pasta dish. The dish is characterized by its omission of cream as much as it is by its slow cooked, 60 degrees C poached egg, crisp home-cured pancetta, freshly made taglioni and oodles of pecorino cheese. Diners are invited to toss the pasta by themselves or if you were George Bush and had a very low IQ one of the staff would be more than happy to do it for you. The idea worked very well with the runny yolk having the perfect consistency to coat and cling on to the pasta. It is worth mentioning the outrageous quality of the pancetta – soft, crisp without being over-salted. (7/10)
Veal Cheek Cooked in Tiglio Wood with Potatoes
My first main course was a generous haunch of veal cheeks slowly cooked in a specially customize tiglio (lime) wood container, with the steamed potatoes added at the last moment. As would be expected from slow cooking, the veal cheek was melting tender and utterly unctious although I felt the braising gravy itself was a touch under-seasoned to really stand out. (4/10)
Pot-roasted Wild Pigeon, Marsala Braised Shallots
Pigeon was served in a copper pot, with a bottom layer of polenta ‘mash’ with a few different spring vegetables added at the last minute to preserve the natural flavour of the vegetables, with a few slices of pan seared foie gras allowed to melt over the dish. The bird was correctly cooked with a perfect pink finish, its gamey flavour a winning combination with the foie gras married with the sweet, sticky and slightly spicy marsala sauce. (6/10)
Panna Cotta with Pineapple Salad
After a huge meat feast it was just nice to tuck in to a comforting dessert. The panna cotta was flawlessly executed (as it should be) with the slight wobble and trembling jelly, topped with a thin pineapple crisp and sweet, almost honey like, finely diced pineapple salad. This was a perfectly capable dessert. (6/10)
Venetian Caramelized Fruit
Petit Fours – Shortbreads, Milk Ice Cream & Chopped Hazlenuts, Pistachio cookie, Chocolate Biscoti, ‘Hobnobs’
More sweets were on the way – a whole array of caramelized fruit featuring a whole garden load of fruits crystalized in caramel (which I shamefully enough was only able to eat half of) and another plate of petit fours (which I at least managed to devour). I was pretty impressed with the amount of effort (not to mention the quality) put into the after dinner sweets especially during a time when many restaurants are cutting back on them or omitting them altogether. (6/10)
Coming to Dolada, I had relatively very low expectations but I was pleasantly surprised. The service was pleasant, friendly and attentive while Riccardo de Pra did pop out from time to time to chat with diners.
Often, chefs tend to be too clever for their own good, sacrificing flavour in the quest to invent something new. What impressed me the most was the level of cooking which was interesting, inventive but more importantly delivered in terms of flavour. During a time where celebrity chefs are churning out robotic food it is refreshing to see a chef so passionate with his produce. It is just a shame that such cooking has not received more publicity with the chef’s appointment without much fanfare – the dining room was half empty on the Monday night that I visited.