A visit to Spaghetti House
When there are a number of restaurants bearing the same name, people tend to refer to them as a chain, often in a less than complimentary sense. A restaurant chain in the routine sense of the word, can be off putting , churning out predictable dishes of average quality, served up by unmotivated staff.
This is not the the case with Spaghetti House, which proudly states that this is a group of family-run restaurants. The Lavarini family that opened the first Spaghetti House in Goodge Street nearly 60 years ago in 1955, are still at the helm today. There are now 12 SH restaurants in prime London locations and the hands-on commitment of the second generation was evident at the recent food bloggers’ event, where we were served simple, honest, great-tasting food in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. This was food which was carefully sourced, lovingly prepared and shared with guests, evoking the informal hospitality enjoyed at family tables throughout Italy. We experienced the happiness around good food. Conversation flowed easily as we helped ourselves, talked about the love of food and how it enriches our lives. Honest, unpretentious food made for instant friendships.
I can’t wait to share the food blog posts via my London Food and Drink magazine. I know they will go into lots of detail, approach the evening from individual angles and provide some terrific pictures of this atmospheric food event. So I’ll just chat about the asparagus dishes.
The evening started with a demonstration on the art of preparing asparagus risotto, with executive chef Chris O’Neill showing us how the focus is always on intensifying the flavour of the main ingredient. Thus, asparagus stock using up even those woody stems (roasted, then pulverised) is added to the risotto rice ( Carnaroli, not Arborio, in keeping with the family’s Piedmontese roots) and towards the end of cooking, as the still a bit sloppy rice is resting, asparagus flavoured butter is added along with Padano cheese. It’s the hard fat to soft fat that solidifies the dish. As told to SH chefs, the risotto should always collapse under its own weight. Only then are the chunkier chopped asparagus stems and tips added. Finished off with olive oil and a squirt of lemon, this was, this is a truly unctuous flavoursome risotto with an al dente bright green crunchy asparagus providing contrasting colour and texture. Finished off with shaved Padano, but of course. Masterclass, Chris, thank you , we learnt a lot.
The other great asparagus dish we tasted was asparagus fettuccine, again showcasing fresh green new season asparagus from Norfolk, beautifully cooked, with a hint of salty anchovy and creamy marscapone lifting a simple dish to taste perfection.
It is worth noting that SH dishes rarely use salt and pepper during the cooking process allowing natural flavours and ingredients to season a dish. They don’t use anything frozen either so it’s all about fresh food, cooked to order.
Simply delicious dishes. I will definitely be going back to SH during May when British Asparagus will be the highlight on the menu. It’ll just be me and the better half, but this would be a splendid choice for a large group. You can even have your own chef on the second floor which is a perfect open space for parties gathered around a communal table.
Important footnote: the food here is very reasonably priced, as are the very drinkable house red and white.
This welcoming house has integrity . It’s going to be a regular haunt for me, from now on, when I need the culinary equivalent of a warm hug.