Saturday, March 3, 2012

The wonders of zabaglione

This is a tale of how I have become converted to zabaglione. And made the useful find of a good Italian restaurant not far from the British Museum.

We had dithered over dessert, but were assured they were all home-made. The waiter's promise that the zabaglione would be whipped up especially for me was enough to sway me. I hadn't had zabaglione for years, and in fact only once or twice at all. On the last occasion I remember being underwhelmed by what seemed like a thin custard.

Now I am full of awe at how egg yolks, sugar and Marsala can be converted into a dish worthy of the gods. It was served warm (such was my zabaglione ignorance that I wasn't expecting this), thick and frothy in a wine glass, and full of the alcoholic punch of sweet wine (lots of wine, if the flavour was anything to go by). It was a bit like having a dessert and a liqueur at once.

I may be back to Il Castelletto just for the zabaglione.

As for the rest of the meal, it was all above our expectations. Round the corner from the British Museum, we weren't sure whether it would just be a tourist trap. There were a fair few tourists, to be sure, but the food was good. Prices are reasonable for the area - £4.50 to £8 for starters, around £9 for pasta main courses, and around £13 for meat or fish mains. (They also do a 2 for 1 with Tastecard, even on Friday evenings, and I think there is a cheaper lunch menu.) There were quite a few veal dishes, though I would have preferred some information about whether this was British rose veal, which is produced without cruelty, or something imported and reared with lower standards of animal welfare.

It maybe wasn't the best time to order chicken liver pate, having watched a programme about campylobacter food poisoning the previous night. Apparently chicken liver pate, made with undercooked chicken livers, is a prime source. Luckily the pate was delicious, and insofar as you could tell from the colour, the livers seemed to have been properly cooked.

Minestrone soup had a lovely, deep flavour to the broth. I liked the little contraption they had for grating parmesan onto it - much better than that weird ready-grated parmesan you sometimes see in Italian restaurants.

Moving onto mains, I thought the spinach and ricotta cannelloni was a bit small, but then I find that nearly every time I order cannelloni in a restaurant. It had a good flavour though, was generously topped with cheese, and came bathed in plenty of tomato sauce.

The other half had spaghetti marinara. This translates as sailors' spaghetti, but is not to be confused with marinara sauce made just with tomatoes, garlic and onions (the name comes from the fact that this sauce keeps well on sea journeys). In this case, as the menu explains, it was spaghetti served with seafood. When it arrived the seafood turned out to be mussels, baby octopus, calamari, and the odd scallop, in a modest amount of tomato sauce as well. The tomato flavour didn't come through strongly, though perhaps this was just as well to allow the seafood to be the focus.

We also had a tiramisu for dessert, though next to the zabaglione it seemed oddly lacking. It was pleasant enough, but could have done with more of an espresso kick to give it that "pick me up" quality. I personally think tiramisu should have an bit of a kick from alcohol too, though others may disagree.

Il Castelletto
17 Bury Place, London
020 7405 2232

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