Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Il Baretto and Purl

The other week my boyfriend and I met up with some work friends of his for dinner at Il Baretto, a smart Italian restaurant on Blandford Street in Marylebone.

At first glance, the restaurant appears to be very small: the street level is home only to a snug-but-sultry bar; decked out with a fancy chandelier and plenty of polished black surfaces, but showing no signs of being somewhere you could hope to get a hearty meal. However, step down the flight of stairs in the corner and you find yourself in an expansive basement dining area...

Time for a quick drink in the bar before everyone arrived...

Our long table was set back into a slight enclave in the wall, which provided a pleasant sense of privacy without making us feel too excluded from the rest of the diners, and the service was efficient and friendly.

To begin, we chose a variety of antipasti and starters which we shared between us. Creamy burrata, served with wide ribbons of shaved courgette, was excellent; while the parma ham with melon, sliced into the same delicate strands as the zucchini, was a lovely take on the classic ham and melon starter. We also had octopus salad (tender pieces of octopus mingled with sweet cherry tomatoes, potatoes and crunchy celery), and a plate of enormous oven-baked scallops, served in their shells. And alongside all of this, a very varied bread basket containing crispy discs of flat-bread, bread sticks and doughy squares of focaccia.

We each ordered our own main, along with a pizza for the middle of the table (so that we could all have a taste). I went for the spicy roast poussin, which was excellent - not too spicy, with a flavourful, cripsy skin and moist flesh, it paired perfectly with asparagus I ordered on the side. My boyfriend opted for the pan-fried monkfish, which was delicious in its 'Mediterranean sauce'. And (pretty full from all the antipasti at this point) the miniscule sliver of the pizza I managed to squeeze in was very good too: thin-based, topped with a lovely fresh-tasting tomato sauce and big melting globs of creamy fiordilatte mozzarella.

To finish we ordered the "dessert duluxe", a gluttonous assortment of Il Baretto's best sweet dishes. This arrived on a long white platter decorated prettily with clusters of berries, and included a sumptuously gooey chocolate fondant pudding, a colouful fruit salad, tiramisu (served in a little coffee cup), and pastry swirls filled with creme anglaise. As well as being beautifully presented,  it was a lovely and very social way to enjoy dessert (and it was nice to get a little taste of everything!).

We drank some fantastic wine that evening, although I'm not sure whether this was a function of an excellent wine list or if it had more to do with the selection skills of my boyfriend's wine-buff colleague, who kept us topped up with a variety of full-bodied reds and (later) with some gorgeous dessert wine.

After coffee and the (aforementioned) excellent dessert wine, we headed over the road to Purl. Marleybone is a great place to go for  drinks, but while there are plenty of trendy bars in the area, Purl is definitely one of the coolest.

They are really strict about the number of people they let in and the venue is pleasantly subdued: Purl is not a place to go for a rave, but rather for good conversation and innovative cocktails, to be enjoyed on the comfortable sofas hidden away in little enclaves throughout the bar.

Purl serves 'proper' cocktails, which sadly meant that I didn't really like them (I'm more of a raspberry mojito girl myself, much to my shame).  I chose the Ketel One Nitrizzle (described as "ketel one swizzled with triple sec, white tea, mandarin bitters, lemon and Nitro Smashed fruit") and found it too strong to be truly enjoyable. The same was true for the friend who ordered the Jewish Champagne ("Bombay sapphire, pineapple, and Purl's flaming Celery Tonic"): it was served in style, with the drink burning impressively in the dimly lit room, but the overwhelming flavours of gin and celery made for slow drinking...

Still, it was all pretty cool - the atmosphere was amazing, we could hear each other speak, the service was great, and the drinks were presented with ganache (for example the Cinder Whisky Old Fashioned, for four to share, arrived in a glass barrel and dripped from four silver taps to seep through the slabs of "burnt toffee honeycomb" suspended above each individual glass). And really, if you do like your drinks strong, this is a great place to come.

Square MealIl Baretto on Urbanspoon