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Quadrato, Canary Wharf, London E14

Stephen Higginson is our new City and East reviewer

How about a romantic dinner at Canary Wharf? No, I thought not. Isn't it windswept and with about as much 'must see' character as a Romanian bus depot? Well, no. Much has changed and it would now be fair to describe it as a dramatic, even awe inspiring cityscape, awash with busy bars and restaurants, some great river views - all with the added bonus of traffic-light, rubbish free and crime free streets, no graffiti, and ample, secure, cheap underground parking. Compare that with grimy central London!

The Canary Wharf complex is Big Bonus Territory thanks to its occupancy by many international banks and law firms. You would think that with all that disposable income sloshing around, docklands would have long ago developed a culture of sophisticated 'destination' restaurants, but this is not so. The savvy and ubiquitous Conran only arrived just over a year ago with Plateau, and together with Ubon (the sister to the renowned Nobu in Park Lane) the profile of eating in the area has been heightened, although both are more notable for their dramatic locations than for truly memorable cuisine.

There is also a lack of a positive 'dinner image', not helped by the fact that, by its very nature, Canary Wharf has been a place to 'do lunch' rather than dine. Most of the bankers and lawyers hop it back to Islington, Kensington and Chelsea at the end of the day after a few drinks in the constantly crowded bars.

So where can the new Eastenders (many of them US and EU expats) dine in the kind of elegant surroundings to which they are well accustomed further west? The answer is under their noses - the superb Quadrato restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, on the river at Westferry Circus, right at the heart of Canary Wharf. An imaginative, mainly Italian menu has already made it a justly popular lunch venue for the Wharf's top deal makers, but Quadrato has not yet captured the evening clientele it roundly deserves.

 The main reason can be guessed. The British have never really taken to eating out in hotels, something which does not trouble our EU neighbours. Recently, many top hotels, including the Savoy, the Connaught and Claridges have all had their restaurants revitalised by notable chefs and are now viewed as stand-alone dining hot spots, like the much lauded Locanda Locatelli which is, in fact, located in the bland, boring looking Churchill International Hotel off Oxford Street?

Quadrato should forget its hotel connection and promote itself as a very classy destination restaurant. Indeed, it could attract diners away from central London, where parking is a pain and booking a table can require planning ahead with the same care as the invasion of a small country. Talking of which, you can even arrive at Quadrato by boat - up to 8.30 pm, starting from the Savoy pier! Getting home is via the Jubilee line or the DLR to Bank and beyond. Don't worry, you can be back within bread roll throwing distance of Peter Jones within 30 minutes!

Inside, Quadrato 'feels right'. Contemporary International Luxe is the style; white, warm woods, subtle lighting, with well spaced tables which make the large, high room, feel intimate and soothing. A wall decorated with oversized pale ceramic vessels and central square white pillars, with geometric sculptural relief surfaces, make it all very cool 'Conran Shop' in mood, and a plain dark burgundy carpet tells you they are into high maintenance here; no swirly multi-coloured design to disguise the fallen crumbs! Only the rather unstylish chairs dilute the visual effect.

With Pol Roger served as the house champagne (seething with bubbles - not flat and half hearted like so many glasses of house fizz) you know that they like to look after you. The champagne list is a good one - with no less than five of the 13 on offer sold by the glass.

Of the seven choices on the carefully conceived antipasti menu, four were vegetarian, so they know the zeitgeist. Our thoughts turned to grilled king prawns and baby squid filled with bread crumbs, pine nuts and raisins or maybe the herb salad with orange, rhubarb and black truffle shavings. But before we could finally decide, we were served - from the same list, but as an amuse bouche - sautéed wild mushrooms with grappa infused blueberries, with extra-virgin olive oil soft polenta. A pale visual pleasure but the flavours and textures didn't quite mesh, and the grappa did not come through enough to give it an edge.

So it was onto the 'Zuppa & Pasta' selection to choose our starters from the seven on offer. We picked the homemade tagliatelle with wild boar ragout, porcini mushrooms and winter black truffle and the parmesan risotto manteco with braised pigeon, shallot relish and barbera reduction. The wild boar was alive with subtle, smoky autumn flavours and the reduction with the pigeon was smooth and heady and the whole assemblage a perfect balance of ingredients - rich but with a light touch. Both dishes had you yearning for a little more , and came with that extra satisfaction factor - they required the kind of skill and application you just would not try at home! We decided to order wine by the glass - both for variety, and the fact we had come by car. For these, we relied on our very knowledgeable Sicilian waiter, Alessio. Two resonant reds were his choice ( one each!) - a 2002 Solyuss, La Corte, from Puglia and a 2001 Ripassa Valpolicella Classico, Segio Zenato from Veneto . Smooth and round, they worked perfectly.

Another amuse bouche swam into view - a seafood 'brodetto' with Sardinian fregola and fresh herbs. With Alessio's recommended Sicilian ( wouldn't you just know!) white - a 2003 Barbazzale, Cottanera, it was a gentle, fragrant hit with both of us, and a testament to Quadrato's Sicilian Executive Chef Sebastiano Spriveri's addiction to tip-top seasonal products, bought from Borough Market and other sources of the finest and freshest. 

The kitchen brigade, seen balletically at work in the usual glass box kitchen at one end the restaurant, consists of several nationalities which Spriveri has blended into a very smooth running team, able to cope with his delicate, demanding menus which he chooses to call 'simple'. In utilising a few carefully chosen basic constituents they may be simple, but in the exquisite execution they are complex in a delightful and totally uncontrived way. 

For 'secondi', there were nine options .The vegetarian dish, a crispy basket of roasted asparagus and morel mushrooms, poached egg and orange sabayon, looked fascinating and had Spriveri's delicate touch for flavours and textures all over it, but a roasted fillet of turbot with braised artichokes, potatoes, black olives and vermentino sauce won the day for me , and my companion was easily seduced by the truffle honey glazed breast of duck with celeriac mille-feuille, potato and chive flan. We added a dish of perfectly sautéed vegetables, and on Alessio's advice, drank a glass of 2002 Orvieto Classico Pogio Calvelli at its Tuscan best and a 2003 Perlas, Dolianova from, yes, Sardinia! At £4.50 a glass - a snip. Once again it was an inspired combination of flavours which stuck in the mind. The sweetness of the turbot was offset by the artichokes and complemented by the rich dark sauce, and the perfectly pink duck melted in the mouth into the amazingly conceived, delicately scented celeriac mille-feuille. The elements kept their individuality, yet together the maestro and his team created, as the best cooks do, something greater than the sum of the parts.

A word about service,. It can make or break a good dinner. Quadrato has got that right too. Assistant restaurant manager, Gaetan Herve, is constantly observant and on hand to see things run well, and it was reassuring to note that he gave every table the same measure of attention. It was a quiet evening with around ten tables on the go, but you felt that he had plenty of capacity left to handle the stress that a busy lunchtime or evening could generate! This winning combination of culinary and service skills puts Quadrato way up in the London dining scene.

Pudding - eight to chose from, all at £8 - was shared. An amazing crema al vin santo e cantucci (biscuits) was accompanied by a stunning Italian ( sorry, Sicilian!) dessert wine - a 2002 Moscato di Pantelleria, Solidea. Utterly magic, seemingly radiating the ambience of Italian summer hillsides, and I guess at £13 a glass it should be; but if you can find it - buy it, drink it and wonder!

Stephen Higginson, February 2005

How much will it all cost?
Antipasti - £8 -£13.50; zuppa & pasta - £ 7.50 -£11.50; 
Main courses - £14.50 -£26; 
Puddings -£8; wines - from £20

Quadrato, The Four Seasons Hotel, Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf, London E14 8RS 
Tel: 020 7510 1999 
Open for lunch: every day from 12pm to 3.00 pm
Open for dinner: every day from 6 pm to 10.30 pm

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