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La Luna

Clifford Mould discovers a serious Italian cucina in Godalming

I'm very unfair about Godalming - it doesn't have quite the civic pride and tangible history of Guildford, nor the antique shops and the  vineyard of Dorking. It's somehow the epitome of the soft commuter underbelly of Surrey. But never mind, it's got La Luna, which is definitely the best Italian restaurant this side of Barnes. A notable addition to Giovanni's brigade has been Erik Michel, who sold up his eponymous restaurant Michel's in Ripley, known more for its excellent cooking than for its accueill. 

  

La Luna is housed in a characterful old building just off the High Street, and it has been simply but effectively decorated using plenty of plain white paint. It looks stylish: even in safe Surrey things have come a long way from those familiar but terrible trattorie with their tiresome trolleys laden with bought in tiramisu.

Every month La Luna  features a regional tasting menu, so to make it a hat-trick of degustation dinners in one week, we made up a foursome and ventured forth. The theme was to be the food and wine of the Veneto. The cooking of this region is deceptively simple - indeed it used to be called le fantasie dei poveri (the fantasies of the poor), and departures from staple grains and pulses mainly derived from the rivers, canals, lakes and salty lagoons. My memories of fishy antipasti have never dulled.

 So what would Veneto alla Godalmingo bring forth, I wondered?  First: bread and olive oil - a good start, this oil was green and peppery, the focaccia well flavoured with rosmarino. 

The first course proper was a neat triangle of polenta served with a sauce made from porcini mushrooms. So simple, but so effectively and beautifully done, the comforting blandness of the polenta a perfect vehicle for the richness of the mushrooms. With this we drank an aromatic Due Uve, made from the two grapes Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. Our degustazione had begun well!

After just the right amount of time, out came risotto with peas, risi e bisi. The rice was creamy and the peas pureed, again utter simplicity, nothing showy, but marvellous flavours and soft textures. I really wanted to savour every mouthful. This time the wine was a tre uve from San Vincenzo, three grapes - Trebbiano, Garganega and Chardonnay, made a good partnership that did not overwhelm this quite delicate dish.  

The Venetians don't eat a lot of red meat, preferring offal, chicken and game. Appropriately then, our main dish was Fegato alla Veneziana, calves' liver wrapped around spring onion and radicchio. I'm not sure that braising is my favourite way of cooking calves' liver, but the rich combination of flavours made up for the lack of caramelisation that a quick grilling might have achieved. And anyway, one ought to try different ways of doing things! A deep red wine from Colli Treviginiani, a lesser known IGT, had sufficient power to  take on this rich food.

So, no fish this time, but perhaps a taste of the marsala flavoured sponge cake from around Verona, or the miracolo del miele, a mandorlato made with almonds and honey. There might also be tiramisu, said to have been invented in nearby Treviso, or so the locals there will tell you. Perhaps La Luna makes their own definitive tiramisu. Often, Italians will forgo what we'd call a pudding, and mull over the meal with a glass of Vin Santo and a few biscotti to nibble on. That's what we had to do, only I thought it was a bit of a cop out, as we had no choice in the matter. Visions of zabaglione with fagottini di riso, or even little fritelli scattered about, receded. But that's all greed, because for £48.50, we had been well looked after. 

Without a doubt I shall be back for their Menu di Natale, Christmas menu, three courses for £22.50. You'd like a sneak preview? OK, one dish only from each course: puff pastry filled with broccoli, spring onions, black olives and provolone cheese and a lentil vinaigrette, followed by a slow stew of boar drowned in Barolo with parmesan and potato gnocchi, then white chocolate and toasted hazelnut tart.  

Clifford's three tasting menus (in no particular order as they are so different!):

Jaan at the Swissotel Howard London WC2  £65 five course, five wines
Benares in Berkeley Square, London W1, £55 four courses, four wines
La Luna 10 Wharf Street, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 1NN £48.50 four courses, four wines
Reservations: 01483 414155

Clifford Mould November 2003

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010


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