Tom declines gnocchi at Spiga

After several free proseccos kindly bestowed on us by The Cricketers at Kew Green (re-opening bash – very nice pub), our unruly trio had worked up a healthy appetite and headed back to NW6 for some well-deserved pasta in Spiga.

Despite gnocchi with Gorgonzola and wild mushrooms being on the menu (I’m getting so hungry just typing this), I decided on the more subtle, ravioli dish; a ricotta and spinach combination, something that always works, with nutmeg, in a sage butter. Absolutely delightful! I accompanied this with a rocket and shaved Parmesan salad – I know I order this frequently, but again, it’s a tried and tested union of flavours that just seems to go so well with so many dishes, especially when the Parmesan is good. I also ordered some broccoli; a generous portion, respectfully cooked. I love green veg in general, I find the more you eat, the more your body kind of asks for more, perhaps in my case to replenish a few nutrients lost to excessive wine consumption.

When you eat out and have pasta, you really want to be impressed, and every time I have pasta in Spiga, it’s delicious. A bit silly of me to get carried away drinking brandy to finish the evening though; woke up gasping for water and needing pies and things on the way to work. I’ll never learn!

Tom gets into the Spiga seasonal spirit

Nice little gathering to try Spiga’s Christmas menu the other day. As ever, appetising, with lots of their usual favourites on show. The pasta and gnocchi proved popular starters for some, but I tried the baked goats cheese on grilled aubergine and peppers, with balsamic. I’m not usually overly keen on the latter, but this was great! Excellent texture to the cheese, and the sweetness of the dressing worked well with the tanginess of the dish. The smoked salmon looked nice too, with asparagus (which – *important newsflash* – I have just heard is great for avoiding hangovers!) and a poached egg.

Mains were a hit too; there was turkey, a “bang-on” cod (marinated with herbs, in ginger, garlic and chilli sauce), and a baked, layered aubergine dish with tomato and basil sauce, mozarella and rocket, which looked superb – always impressive when a restaurant makes the effort to create really good veggie dishes. I had the sun-dried tomato crusted salmon with a saffron and prosecco sauce – the crust added a subtle extra dimension and the sauce packed lots of flavour. Lovely!

Chocolate tart with strawbs to finish – rather greedily I had one and a half of those, but don’t tell anyone. Don’t want to get a reputation as a glutton. What? Too late you say??

Wine of the evening was a Côtes du Rhône which seemed to impress all who tried it – excellent drop of festive medicine. I’ve been drinking a lot of these throughout 2012, and will probably manage one or two more before the year’s out.

Off to the North London Tavern tonight; must pick up a decent handful of asparagus on my way home…

Have a fantastic, food-festive new year! 

Tom dives into Spiga’s new menu

With a fair degree of enthusiasm, three of us rolled up at Spiga (via a quick one in The Gallery), in order to check out their recently revised menu – the first overhaul since it opened just over a year ago.

I’ve actually been meaning to grab a pizza at Sarracino next door for a while, but it’s nice that there’s variation in Italian food in town, and indeed within Broadhurst Gardens. I love Spiga’s food; by my own admission I have a healthy appetite, and so it was to my taste that the latest menu seemed to emphasize big, hearty dishes. Is it getting too clichéd to say “rustic” too?

Starters arrived, and I enjoyed the freshness and well-judged cooking of my fritto misto; clearly quality seafood, and something I’d eat as a main (which was an available option). Next to me, the caprino al forno was going down well; oven-baked goat’s cheese in sesame seed crust, grilled veggies, plus a sweet and sour balsamic reduction. We all agreed the sesame seed crust was an interesting, and successful idea.

Cacciucco alla livornese was perhaps the standout at this stage; a “traditional Tuscan soup with a variety of fish, fresh tomato, wine, chilli and parsley, served with toasted garlic bread” – enticing. I’m glancing at the menu now (hence able to name the dishes verbatim) and note this is not offered as a main – perhaps would be a nice option? It’s the type of thing I actually bother to cook at home, though toast and Marmite perhaps better reflects my natural skills set in the kitchen; I’m better with a corkscrew than an an oven.

Now well into the swing of things, helped along by an excellent Chianti, the three of us shared two pastas. The tortelloni of chicken, veal and herbs in a porcini mushroom sauce was as rich and flavoursome as one would expect, accompanied by a non-meat option: ricotta, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and nutmeg, tossed in butter and sage – delicious. (Also pleased to note that the gorgonzola and wild mushroom gnocchi is still on the menu, and that the peas poached in stock remain as a welcome and enjoyable freebie – they seem to go well with everything).

We were perhaps a little full once mains arrived, but my pan-fried salmon with prawns and capers in a Prosecco wine sauce, with sautéed spinach was, quite simply, the sort of food I want to eat – again and again. Bold flavours, yet the salmon was not overpowered.

Fillet of beef, wild mushrooms and porcini sauce, with gnocchi tossed in butter and sage was also a hit – as was the roast corn-fed chicken breast filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce provençale and rice.

Spiga remains very good value; somehow they combine quality of ingredients, a high degree of both skill and flair in the kitchen (and clearly a lot of passion too) – with generous portions that will challenge the hungriest of diners (me, basically).

It’s not hard to see why a certain friend of mine practically lives there, and if a spare room to let becomes available, perhaps I’ll be following suit! 

Tom does the maths at Spiga and Small & Beautiful

E=MC2. No – I’ve never really understood it either. And anyway, eating and drinking is much more fun than algebra. With that in mind, it’s time for a couple of shout-outs to two NW6 eateries which seem to consistently get their calculations right. First off, Spiga. We’re lucky with Italian food here; we have La Smorfia, Hidden Treasure and Sarracino, all offering a different vibe and style, whether pizza, pasta, or something else. There’s “J” and Pizza Express too, come to think of it, and La Brocca also does a mean pizza.

At my recent outing to Spiga I dived straight in with the bresaola to start with. I had a feeling this would be a winner and indeed it was. A vibrant and appetising crimson colour, generous portion size, and the blend of wild mushrooms, Parmesan shavings and rocket it was served on really made for an enticing starter. Continuing the theme, I rather greedily had a main of gnocchi with more wild mushrooms, and a Gorgonzola sauce. Here we go, my kind of food! Big, satisfying, bold….so much going on! The warmest of service (as ever), and plenty of good wine, added to my now jovial frame of mind. It’s not difficult to see why Spiga has quickly become such a success, especially when you find it’s not as expensive as you might have expected.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the good value experienced at Spiga left me with some loose change with which to pop into Small & Beautiful in Kilburn, for a nice, relaxing late dinner. My favourite seat by the window was free, and I browsed the menu whilst chortling at the usual comedy that is the Kilburn High Road. Or maybe that was my reflection in the window. From the “3 courses for £6” option (I’m not joking), I tried broccoli soup (decent), and added a salad which included pleasing feta and great olives. The main was the standout: Vietnamese fish (can’t remember which – I did ask – perhaps that Cobbler thing but under its more scientific name) with a pesto coating, a potato side and spinach. Really, surprisingly delicious! With enthusiasm I tackled (as if it were a challenge – ha!) the Tiramisu, which was sponge-based rather than matching the menu’s “biscuit and cream” description. Guzzling a Shiraz, I had the rare experience of looking at a bill and being genuinely amazed at how little it had all come to.

E=MC2. Whatever! Pour me another glass someone…all this maths is making my head spin! Enjoyable food, wine and ambience – all at friendly prices – that’s more the sort of equation I want to puzzle over.

Spiga pulls out all the stops

On Thursday, 24 of us took over Broadhurst Gardens’ newest restaurant Osteria Spiga in the latest (and largest) edition of #whampreview.

With so many of us, we staggered the tables over the evening and Tom and I had selected a slightly shorter menu than Spiga’s full offering although there was still plenty of choice.

We received a generous complimentary glass of prosecco on arrival, and there was bread and olives on the table. Starter portions were sizeable – Anna was sceptical as to whether we were receiving “critics portions”, but from my previous experiences at Spiga I think we were getting the usual dishes. Over the course of the evening, despite a few errors and inconsistencies, it was obvious that there was skill and flair in the kitchen, and the evening was a great success with the vast majority of food receiving glowing praise.

The wild mushroom and poached egg starter (£4.50), especially popular on my table, was certainly a whole lot of mushrooms on a plate. It was “lovely and garlicky” according to Nathan, if “very rich” as Adrian and I both thought. June “thoroughly enjoyed it”, but Alex wasn’t sure whether the poached egg really went with the mushrooms – both parts cooked well, but did they merge together successfully?

Poached egg featured with the asparagus starter too (£5.50), which was the most popular dish on Tom’s table although there seemed to be a few egg issues with Tom’s and Doron’s a little undercooked while Rajiv and Ryan’s was perfect – everyone loved the asparagus though.

Those who opted for the cold meats platter (£5.90) were presented with an enormous wooden board of hams and salamis along with smoked mozzarella (“amazing” said Lauren) and Will cleared his board proclaiming it “excellent”. Eugene thought it was well presented and agreed the portions were generous. In fact, this is really large enough to be a sharing plate.

Claire T loved her smoked salmon salad (£6.30) “a delicious combination of smoky oily fish with creamy mascarpone” and Tom, who tried a bite, reckoned he’d happily have it as a main course with some bread.

The fried goat’s cheese (£5.20) was also a potential main course. Rahki said hers was “very tasty” and Amy said it was “substantial and rich, but it could benefit from more balsamic to balance the flavours”, while Mark looked on enviously.

Matt and Emily (perhaps ambitiously) opted for risotto (£5.50) as a starter. Matt liked the “delicate flavours” and said the “asparagus really shone through”, but admitted it was “too big for a starter”. Emily liked the “creamy texture”, but would have liked a grating of parmesan on top.

After starters came a complimentary pasta course – perhaps a course too many for some of us. It was a pumpkin and amaretti ravioli (two pieces) and an accomapnying ladleful of gnocchi in a tomato sauce. The ravioli divided opinion – it was on the sweet side for most people, but the almond flavour came through. “It tastes like Bakewell tart” said Mark and Anna, while Alex and Stefanie thought it a “bit too marzipanny”. The gnocchi was more of a hit – I’m not a great fan of gnocchi but I could have happily eaten a bowl of this for a main. All in all, a mixed success, although the generosity was definitely appreciated.

Already quite full, the main courses started appearing. The duck in orange sauce (£9.80) was a popular choice although several people thought their’s slightly overcooked – in Claire T’s case, enough to send it back although she raved about her replacement calling it “sweet and fruity” and she said the duck leg croquette was “amazing”. Matt and I found the sauce a little too sweet, but Claire J said it was perfect and Phil enjoyed his, while Ryan liked the “top notch presentation”. The croquette divided opinion – I felt mine lacked depth of flavour and perhaps was underseasoned. June was pleased with her rare duck – cooked as she wanted.

Nathan went for the vegetarian version of the Fagotini (£8.00), which did have to go back to the kitchen after a misunderstanding led to the first attempt having bacon in it. When he got the right one he thought it was “quite nice, but slightly bland”.

Rakhi and Tom went for the gnocchi – Rakhi sensibly opting for the starter size (£5.80). She found it “tasty”. Tom’s main course portion (£7.80) was a “nice wholesome dish with delicate flavours”, atlhough both of them thought it needed more salt.

The sea bass (£12.50) looked excellent – two large fillets on a bed of ratatouille. Rajiv reckoned it was “one of the best sea bass fillets I’ve ever had. Juicy, flaky and simply excellent”. Will gave it “top marks”, while Emily thought it was “very generous, but the ratatouille is too strong”.

The steak (£14.50) was a hit, although Stefanie realised she’d now doubled up on the mushrooms after the funghi starter. It was “excellent and well presented” according to Eugene, who also liked the peas and stock side dish that comes with all mains at Spiga (and is delicious – you don’t need to order sides here!).

Nathalie loved her veal chop (£14.90) although found the size overwhelming. Adrian enjoyed it but found it quite rich and would have preferred the potatoes as a side dish rather than on the plate. Doron’s was overcooked and was sent back – the replacement was still slightly over for him, but he thought it was “very tasty”. Tom’s table, who had all three of the returned dishes, got wine on the house as compensation.

Alex gave his chicken (£9.30) 8/10, and was very happy with it, although he thought his orange juice disappointing.

Dessert menus were generally waved away – everyone was very full by this stage. Will did find room for a crème brûlée (£4.20), which looked lovely and was “really good”. Matt’s table shared a tarte tatin (£4.30) and a chocolate torte (£4.60). The tarte tatin was more popular although Anna thought it too bitter and Claire J suggested the addition of salted caramel! Matt thought the torte “unadventurous”, but as Phil enigmatically pointed out “if you order a chocolate torte you’ll get a chocolate torte”.

A couple of grappas, coffess and a vin santo with cantuccine made their way to my table, and of course complimentary limoncellos all round.

Matt’s table hit the Chianti Classico (£21), which they preferred to the house red. My table was on nothing but the house red (a Merlot/Sangiovese blend from Umbria), which we all thought was excellent value at £12.95, and Tom’s table also enjoyed it, while Claire T upgraded her white wine having been unconvinced by the house white. Claire J simply liked the size and shape of the wine glasses!

So that’s the food – but what about the service. It was, simply, excellent. This was a big ask for the two waitresses helped by Sandra (whose chef husband Sokol was responsible for about 75 plates of food that night), and they rose to the occasion. Tom praised the “outstanding and very warm” service and his table wholeheartedly agreed – remembering that they had the most problems. He particularly mentioned how hard Sandra worked to rectify the problems.

With so much food and plenty of wine, I think most people were surprised at the final bill. Matt’s table (drinking pricier wine) came to £33 each, my table averaged at £30 each with a bit of juggling for Alex who wasn’t knocking back the wine like the rest of us, and Tom’s table was £28.

The all important scores:
Tom’s table: 8.1
Jonathan’s table: 7.6
Matt’s table: 8.0

The bottom line seemed to be that even with very minor quibbles people enjoyed it very much and were very keen to come again. The warmth of hospitality is very genuine and that comes across. I’ll leave the last word to Eugene: “fantastic service, well-run, good value – a strong example of what a neighbourhood restaurant is”.

Osteria Spiga
182 Broadhurst Gardens
T: 020 7372 8188

Photos by Lauren / Jonathan

No sign of first night nerves at Spiga

Last night Tom and I decided it was Our Duty to check out Broadhurst Garden’s newest restaurant, Spiga. It was opening night so I wasn’t really expecting to review it as there were bound to be first night issues and it’s not really fair to give a definitive verdict on such an occasion.

As it was, our meal was verging on faultless. From a friendly welcome from front-of-house manager Marcello through to the cheery goodbyes a couple of hours later, it was refreshingly hard to find much room for improvement. The menu looks appealing, and there’s a set menu tucked away on the back page that has an early bird price option before 7pm. An interesting selection of bread appeared swiftly and we were assured it was made on the premises. While we struggled to choose from the tempting menu we ordered some stop-gap olives, which were not the usual dull overly-marinated selection beloved of so many restaurants, but a nice handful of vibrant green and black juicy monsters.

Tom will, no doubt, post his own review, so I’ll focus on my meal. I had carpaccio di polipo (octopus) as a starter. This was good, although not as good as I’ve had in Italy. I like the slices even thinner and a slightly spikier dressing, although that’s not to say this wasn’t enjoyable. It was served with a few more olives, and a rocket and potato salad. A good start.

Main course was rack of lamb. This was a very generous portion – a rack and a half of perfectly cooked meat. I’ve had lamb with more flavour before, but rarely as well cooked – certainly not in restaurants at this price level. The lamb had a Grissini crust, and this was the only element of the dish I was less keen on – too thick for me and I could see no benefit in it compared to a traditional herbed breadcrumb crust. It’s not on the menu, but main courses are all served with a pea and onion side – sort of like a stew and perhaps cooked in ham stock (vegetarians would want to check)? Sounds odd, tasted great – and again very generous portions.

We’d merrily drunk our way through a bottle of house red – a Sangiovese/Merlot blend that was better than I expected for £12.95. The wine list isn’t that extensive, but does befit the vibe of the restaurant. Those that remember the Green Room will recall the rather glossy boudoir look it had. Spiga has gone for a slightly retro 70s look, but it feels modern and welcoming. No red & white checked trattoria tablecloths to be found. I do think the lighting could be dimmer if it’s looking to create a more romantic atmosphere.

At this point, Sandra Royer, the French wife of one of the two Albanian brothers who own Spiga and are the chefs, came over to say hello and we felt it was only reasonable to reveal who we were. It turned out she was already an avid reader and fan of Tom’s Diner. That boy will go far! She explained that they’d hoped to open a bit sooner but some admin issues, delivery hold-ups, and a minor flood downstairs had pushed them back. It was good to see that we weren’t the only diners that evening, and although some punters clearly knew the owners there were others like us checking the place out (and we all stared intently at each other’s food).

Sandra told us that most of the food is sourced from Italy, so it is clearly going for the authentic angle. I was surprised to hear this was their first restaurant venture, although her husband has been a chef elsewhere – this was certainly no novice in the kitchen.

Tom grappled manfully with a large slice of chocolate torte and we both indulged in a grappa. We were joined by @moyasarner who saw us as she walked past and was immediately offered a basket of bread and a drink.

I was impressed with the service – friendly and professional throughout, even though the junior waitress was clearly a little nervous and made a couple of minor mistakes, which I heard Marcello pick her up on quietly afterwards.

The mark of a good restaurant is consistency. If Spiga can keep delivering the sort of food and experience that we enjoyed then it will do well. In ambience and menu it has kept itself suitably different from very close neighbour Sarracino and while I always found the Green Room to be style over substance, I think Spiga marries the two rather well.

182 Broadhurst Gardens
020 7372 8188
(website still under development!)

If you go, do leave comments below.

Tom roadtests Spiga

I was pleased to have an opportunity to check out Spiga, the new Italian restaurant on Broadhurst Gardens, especially having drunkenly glanced at the menu in advance via Jonathan’s pre-opening photo exclusive, and seen various things I immediately felt an urgent, pressing need to eat.

In terms of “barometers of quality”, bread, olives, and house wine are all good indicators, and we got off to a flying start on all three counts. There was a standard white bread, a rosemary focaccia, and two varieties of “giant crisps” – one pleasingly oily, the other drier, like a poppadom. And big, proud triangles of butter too! The olives were wonderful, in a garlicy oil, the green ones vibrant in colour – luminous almost (v. useful in a power cut).

The house red, a Sangiovese and Merlot blend, went down very easily indeed, earthy soft tannins and not lacking a finish. In hindsight we should have ordered a second bottle, to test its hangover rating. Next time.

To start off the fun I tried the asparagus with poached organic egg and parmesan shavings. Here, I do think a touch of first night nerves were in evidence, with the egg being rather too…errm…soft – the yolk not quite turning from watery to oozing yellowy. However the asparagus was marvellous; giant-size spears and cooked delicately. The dish perhaps needed a pinch of salt, but very enjoyable.

Somehow managing not to overdose on the aforementioned bread, next up was my grilled tuna steak on rocket and mixed peppers, with a sweet and sour balsamic. It’s a combination I’ve had at Base on Baker Street in the past, and was very well executed. The tuna respectfully done; not overcooked, and the balsamic (something I’m not usually mad about) tastefully judged. Just from a personal angle, I’d prefer something a little less sweet, and firmer in texture than the slithery little peppers; perhaps some semi-dried tomatoes? Accompanying my generous tuna was a side of hand-cut chips, and in another pointer to a chef who knows what he’s doing, these were excellent; old-style in size (i.e. not big, fat wedges – not that I dislike those, obviously!) and with a pleasing exterior and a dash of salt. Overall then, a splendid, satisfying main course.

I’m babbling on a bit more than usual (and this is without a drink in hand), but dessert warrants a few details too; a chocolate torte with mascarpone and strawberries – a very generous slice – was delicious. The texture of the pastry was bang-on, with a thick, gooey swamp of dark chocolate on top.

As Jonathan reported, the charming Sandra was all too pleased to chat and tell us a little about their venture, and there was a feeling of combined warmth and confidence in the service, which added to the occasion.

All in all then, a very welcome addition to the local selection of eateries, and I won’t be leaving it too long before heading back there to try the gnocchi… and another slice of the chocolate torte too no doubt.

Welcome, Spiga!