For those working in education, summer is always a time of change and goodbyes and this year was no exception. After a meal at Esteban earlier in the week I found myself out again with colleagues to say goodbye to God (my work colleague not the omnipresent deity, though they have been mistaken in the past). So, on an exceptionally warm July evening, I entered Il Forno on Duke Street along with God and ten other disciples. Service from the off was very good and, in the comfort of the waiting area, we were offered antipasti nibbles and a Morretti beer whilst we waited for our full complement to arrive.
“So, on an exceptionally warm July evening, I entered Il Forno on Duke Street along with God and ten other disciples”
Some short time later we were escorted by our waiter, Salvatore (more of him later), into a large bustling dining room. We were seated along the window on a slightly cramped banquette, though this was our own fault, not the restaurant. I always find it funny how groups arrange themselves when about to be seated: some go for alternate couples, some adopt the ‘avoid sitting by the boss’ approach, others a random scattering, as for us we stuck to what we know best, gender. With the 7 ladies away at the other end of the table I was left with God, the Bard, Irish and Magnum as Salvatore returned with the menus. The choice of food on the main menu is quite extensive and supplemented by a Friday fish menu which looked intriguing. Whilst we considered the pros and cons of each course Salvatore returned to offer assistance and take further drinks orders. Now in a previous review of Zizzi in Liverpool One I made the bold statement that more mature serving staff were often considerably better than the younger variety. Salvatore was the proof that I was wrong. A young and, I was reliable informed by the ladies in our group, handsome Italian, he had confidence (not that over-confident pepper grinding sort, a trait of many a faux Italian waiter) and a degree of intuition which belied his years. Realising that by the time we had selected 12 different starters the weekend would be done and gone, he offered to select for us. This is a simple thing I hear you say, but it is often the simple things that so many restaurants get wrong. Likewise when it came to the wine selection we left the ladies to marinade in their pinot whilst we took his advice for a Gavi di Gavi (£25) from near his hometown. Whether this tale was true or not is irrelevant as it was an excellent wine. These are just two examples, and there were many more, of how good waiting-on staff can add so much to an excellent dining experience. Anyway back to the meal…
“isn’t really cooking, just taking things and putting them on a plate” – God’s view on antipasta
Our starters arrived: a series of 3 antipasto misto Italianos (£17.25 each), some garlic focaccia (£4.50) and something vegetarian for Irish. The focaccia was very good and the antipasto was superb. God pointed out that he didn’t think the antipasto should be included in the review as it “isn’t really cooking, just taking things and putting them on a plate”. Though there is no challenging the literal accuracy of God’s interpretation here, the key is where the products have come from. That in itself is the hard part: sourcing good quality cured meats, cheeses, pickles etc takes time, knowledge and a good palate and someone at Il Forno has all three. The three cured meats each had a unique flavour with my favourite being the smoked salami. The artichoke and parmesan bruschetta was light and crisp whilst both pickles (onion and artichoke) were the perfect accompaniment to the hard cheese. Finally the mozzarella and sundried tomatoes skipped off the tongue like Fred and Ginger. Irish said his veggie lasagna-type dish was original and OK but lacking some flavour, I told him to stop being vegetarian! We then had a fairly long wait for our mains. For our mains Magnum and I opted for the sea bream baked in salt (£22.95) off the Friday Night Fish menu. God chose the Isrealites (sorry I couldn’t resist) he really picked the oven baked rack of lamb (and no I will not lower myself to make any Lamb of God comments!), the Bard chose the grilled halibut (£20.95) and Irish the calzone pizza bruschetta (£9.75). Feedback on these dishes were: from the Bard that “the halibut was excellent” (he is usually much more eloquent than that!), from God “the lamb was a good cut of lamb, well cooked and infused with rosemary”, whilst Irish “thoroughly enjoyed the calzone”, though it did suffer from the inevitable inedible half inch either end.
“The theatre of its arrival was then followed by Salvatore giving a masterful lesson in filleting the fish, and it was the full fish”
It was the salt baked sea bream, however, which stole the show in every way. The theatre of its arrival was then followed by Salvatore giving a masterful lesson in filleting the fish, and it was the full fish. Having ordered the same dish, Magnum and I thought what was here was to share but we were wrong. No sooner had the first fish been carved than a second arrived: no complaints about portion sizes here! The fish itself was a delicate delight with a subtle yet not overpowering saltiness throughout the beautifully tender and firm fish. To quote the late great Michael Winner, it was historic. The evening was finished off with my request for a round of Blood and Sand cocktails (see my post on whiskey). The young lady mixing most of the drinks looked slightly bewildered by the request but, within a blink of an eye, Salvatore arrived to find out the ingredients and dashed off to take care of matters himself. Returning with a set of excellent cocktails. He really is like a one man show! As the bill arrived were were all full of praise for the meal. One which, though not cheap (£60 each), was a good example of getting what you pay for in terms of food, wine and oh did I mention the service?
Type: High end restaurant
- Service: 9/10 as good as it gets, anywhere!
- Atmosphere: 8/10 a large busy dining room with plenty going on
- Food: 8/10 Highlight the salt baked sea bream
- Value for money: 8/10 quite expensive £60 but you get what you pay for
- Overall: 8 Great service, excellent food and delicious wine.
These are judged against the best of that type of restaurant. For example cafes against what you would expect from the best cafes,high end restaurants against the best high end restaurants etc.
Website: Il Forno