Italy is my favourite place to go on holiday, on the basis that holidays should be all about good eating and sampling – extensively – the local liquor. This summer, we went to Sicily for arancine and gelato-stuffed brioche, and last year we visited Amalfi for its limoncello – in fact, all things limon – and dreamy plates of pudgy gnocchi, served simply with basil and fresh-as-fuck tomato sauce. Yes, Italy is a tried-and-tested destination, and with so many distinct regions, we won’t be getting bored of it any time soon. (I’ve got my eye on Puglia for 2017.)
So it’s nice that Diciannove specialises in specialties, and lists all its dishes next to the bit of the big boot they come from. It’s a hotel restaurant in Blackfriars, an area known for little else than the occasional nasty traffic accident, but don’t let that put you off; there’s some surprisingly assured cooking going on here. And it does a pretty good job of helping you forget that you’re in a hotel, too – the lighting is low and atmospheric, and the staff are actually Italian. It is a shame the lavs are a three-minute walk away through soulless hotel corridors, but you can’t have everything.
We were invited to visit at the tail end of November, White Truffle Month, so I could indulge my insatiable appetite for all things expensive and fungal. I bloody love truffles; my sister bought me a gift box for Christmas last year (from Truffle Hunter, if you’re interested) so I had truffled everything for months. Eggs, pizzas, toast…I was an unstoppable truffle-guzzling monster. And I still want MOARRRR.
With this in mind, I was a little underwhelmed by the beef carpacchio with truffle dressing and white truffle. It was a good dish, overall, with tissue-thin slices of beautiful meat, but for the £25 price tag I was expecting to be aggressively smacked in the gob by that intense funkiness that makes truffle such a sought-after delicacy. As it was, I’d rather have taken the non-truffled version for half the price.
But the main course, a fist of beef fillet with mash and veal jus, feather-white petals of shaved white truffle cascading over it, was more than fabulous enough to make up for it. The mains are huge here and I struggled to finish mine, but damned if I was going to waste any. (The dish costs £38, but you can get it all year round without truffles for £32.)
That there in the background is Mike’s main course: twin hunks of immaculately rendered slow-cooked pork belly with shards of crispy bacon and a slick of apple and celeriac puree (£19.00), from Lazio, apparently. Pork and apple is one of gastronomy’s most fabled romances and the flavours naturally worked well together, but the pureed texture reminded me too much of baby food, so it wasn’t my favourite. (Though it turns out Mike quite likes baby food; he practically licked the plate clean.)
This was preceded by a simple Calabrian conchiglie pasta dish – made fresh that morning – with spicy nduja, burrata, tomatoes and basil (£10.50). We never ever do pasta at home, on the grounds that there is absolutely no point if you’re not going to make it fresh (and I’m not), so Mike always orders it in restaurants when he knows it’s going to be good.
A shared pudding came in a coffee mug that would have been flirting with naff had its contents not been so utterly breathtaking. The advertised ‘chocolate salami’ was like a pressed truffle, peppered with nuts, and the mousse so fudgey and dense it was nearly a cake.
Prices, overall, are a little high for everyday dining, but if you have a Taste Card you can get 50% off food most of the year, which makes it somewhat of a bargain. That said, one must take into account the cost of the inevitable subsequent mini-break to Italy – we’re already making plans to visit Lazio for some more of that pork belly.
Diciannove, 19 New Bridge Street, London, EC4V 6DB
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.