Places To Eat In London: Cafe Monico, Soho
I’ve got a great new spot for you today with a lovely atmosphere, Instagram worthy interior, a killer bar and great food. If you have not already been yet, you need to get on down to Cafe Monico on Shaftesbury Avenue, recently opened by Soho House. Sometimes I like my food to be singing and dancing, packed full of new or unusual flavours, and sometimes I like to to be a 100% bang on authentic version of something else I like to eat elsewhere in the world. Cafe Monico falls into the third category of restaurants I like: somewhere comfortable and consistent, where I can rely on the food being what I’ve ordered, the wine is good, the cocktails are imaginative, and I’ll get just as much entertainment people watching my fellow diners as talking to my date.
I mentioned the wine was good, right? They have a good list (variety so there is something for everyone, but not too many to make the task of choosing one daunting), and lots of the wines not just come by the bottle or by the glass, but by the carafe too, perfect for two of you at lunchtime (especially if you’re dining on one of Cafe Monico’s good value set lunches instead of a la carte), or for two of you if you’re planning on starting and ending the meals with cocktails or a digestif. So yes to the wine. However, while we’re on the topic of pre-starter edibles, the bread that was brought to the table was the only thing that disappointed me in the whole meal: while it was lovely and warm, it lacked almost any flavour at all.
It was very difficult to choose from the starters on the menu, they all looked fabulous, and there were oysters, which I probably would have ordered if I had not been after something comforting. I loved the taste I had of my date’s Salmon Carpaccio, beautifully plated and laded with dill, cream, chilli and spring onion. I could have happily had the whole plateful myself. My chicken liver pate was solid (okay, so it did not have the secret truffle flourish of the last time I tried an order of chicken liver pate, at The Duck Inn in Pett Bottom, but it was still lovely). I could have done with much more toast, and a few less cornichons, though.
My mother (fortifying herself for the shopping trip I’d promised her after lunch up Regent Street and back down Bond Street) had the big portion (you could choose) of crab ravioli with samphire. She loved the butter sauce (not too oily), and said it was a good homemade rich pasta with a good, generous crab filling. However, I was told (and from the bite I stole) the samphire was the star of the show, making it a bit different from just a bowl of crab pasta, and adding a pleasant saltiness at the end of each bite. It is a popular dish too; the day after we lunched I found myself back at the bar downstairs killing time with lovely Garibaldi (the king of aperitifs) and a Bellini before lunch elsewhere, watching plate after plate of pasta coming out of the kitchen.
If I had to choose a last meal, it would be local oysters, moules marinière and crepes with local salt and butter, and a dusting of sugar eaten at a seafront restaurant in Cancale, Brittany. Needless to day, classically produced mussels in white wine with shallots, butter and parsley, and a good pot of french fries is my favourite dish on the planet, and I was in the mood for it. Now, when you are used to eating the gold standard of a dish (most portions of moules marinière produced on the Northern French coast, or in the dishes native Belgium) you develop very high standards. Now, these were not the best moules marinière I’ve ever had, probably because the mussels did not come out of the sea right outside of the restaurant window, but they were perfectly executed. Literally the only fault you could find if you were being picky was that someone had not gone through and discarded all of the closed mussels from the casserole dish. Though, if you need someone to do that for you in my book you need schooling on how to approach the dish. (If you want to read more about how to approach the dish, you can find my (mildly trolled) guide here.)
We ordered cocktails with dessert. Well, a cocktail and a coupe of prosecco, which I was told paired beautifully with Cafe Monico’s utterly delicious, patisserie style tiramisu. I had the Elderflower Sidecar, which is everything you could want from a digestif/ dessert cocktail. Okay, so you could not really taste the elderflower, but it elevated the cocktail in that it lightened the cognac, making the whole thing (even when it was sweetened when you chose to drink from the half of the glass with the sugar rim) perfect, and not too much to go with a heavy sweet. If you’re a brandy or cognac drinker, I’d really recommend it, especially with Cafe Monico’s chocolate salted caramel bombe. Okay, so they’re probably churning out tens of these every day which accounts for the slightly dry cake base, but the chocolate top is rich, dense and more-ish, with the most wonderful caramel filling. Instead of salting the whole thing, I love how flakes were added to the top, directly above the caramel core to form the perfect bite with each spoonful.
Thank you to Soho House for inviting me to review their newest opening – while it was not the most exciting culinary experience I had last week, we both really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere, and would recommend it to anyone (especially pre or post-theatre, considering its location). And I clearly loved the atmosphere, cocktails and bar, as I honestly can’t remember the last time I returned to a place within 24 hours on this side of the Atlantic.