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Restaurante Gaudi, EC1

Interesting restaurants are opening thick and fast in this border country between the City and the more residential area of Islington. I might have missed Gaudi if I hadn't had my eyes open as we came out of the new Novelli EC1 virtually across the road. It hides behind a French blind which belongs more to the nightclub with which it shares an entrance. Those other than wholly dedicated epicures (whose noses are finely tuned to the remotest possibility of a gastronomic discovery) might otherwise miss this rather unusual place. I'm told that Gaudi will soon have its own entrance which I think will make quite a difference. In the mean time, don't be put off, as there is much to enjoy here. The decor is truly Gaudiesque, with sprouting columns, wavy wrought ironwork and polychrome tiles, but the cusine is oriented more towards central Spain than to Catalonia, the region with which Gaudi himself was so closely linked.

Although the restaurant has not been open that long, there is a new headchef Nacho Martinez, from Madrid who is already making his presence felt. He is young, tall, very good looking, his English is excellent and I have a feeling he will soon be on the box showing us how to make the perfect Brandada de Bacalao. His open kitchen occupies one end of the restaurant and his brigade affect his close shaven hairstyle that makes the darker haired amongst them look as intense and brooding as Jesuit novitiates.

The lunch menu at 12.50 for two courses, or 15.00 for three including coffee, changes daily and might include a starter such as sweet red peppers with salt cod mousse with squid ink sauce, a dish we tried at dinner. There was roast stuffed goose for lunch, but not for dinner on the evening when we visited.

I can seldom resist Fish Soup, and this one was really impressive. The bisque was crabby and there were hints of saffron and star anise. Good sized scampi tails and mussels each retained their own flavours. Another dish of well seared scallops came two by two with tender sweetbreads, a treat that's become rather rare these days. (The proximity to Smithfield Market should be an asset to the restaurants in this locality). There was a very pretty salad arranged inside a circle of thin lengthways slices of cucumber. This presentation has greatly impressed two different sets of dinner guests over the weekend - so thank you, Nacho, for the idea! The bradada, or salt cod mousse stuffed into sweet peppers was another idea that I shall certainly be trying out at home. I just loved the combination of creamy, salty cod together with the vibrant flavours of the pepper and the rich sepia sauce. Another successful starter dish consisted of perfectly shaped deep fried coquettes made from spider crab meat, served with a minty tomato salsa for dipping.

The principal ingredeinet of the special main course of the day was oxtail (Smithfield again!), where the meat was removed from the bone and shaped into a round patty held together with caul to make a crepinette. The oxtail was brown and glutinous, just as it should be. It was served quite plainly with crisp little sautéed cubes of diced potato. By contrast, the fillet of venison with onion confit looked more sophisticated, as did medallions of veal fillet with fresh foie. The good thing about this sort of menu is that it encompasses an interesting variety of dishes ranging from vibrant, rustic cooking to more elaborate, subtle styles.

We just about managed an ice cream, rather a nice one with a lot of sherry in it. I rather fancied an Arabian Tart, but was told to behave myself. Sherry, having been for far too long served warm in thimbles in the rooms of Oxbridge dons, is making a come back. In a decent sized glass, a chilled Amontillado hit the spot for quite a while, just staying the distance long enough to pair brilliantly with the fish soup. After that we didn't mess about; the Marques de Murrieta Reserva Especial Rioja, 28.00 kept us very happy indeed. A glass of Moscatel de Javea provided a pleasant finale to an excellent meal.

There is a good, if small, selection of wines, ranging from house Rioja at 11.00, to Valbuena and Vega Sicilia Unico at 150.00. On the subect of prices, the starters range from 5.00 to 12.00 for foie gras, main courses go from 10.00 to 16.00, and the desserts are all 4.50. Thus the average cost of a three course a la carte dinner sharing a bottle of house wine is about 30.00.

The friendly service at Gaudi is under the professional eye of restaurant manager Gloria Phillips whom many will remember from Harry's Bar.

Restaurante Gaudi, 63 Clerkenwell Road, EC1
Tel: 020 7608 3220

Open: Monday to Thursday 12 to 2.30pm and 7 to 10.30pm

Friday 12 to 2.30pm and 7 to 9.30pm


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