Restaurant Review: Orso, Covent Garden
It was Annie who suggested we went back to Orso. Like the lovely Joe Allen, it’s been one of our favourite haunts over many years and we went through a phase of going there more often than its sister restaurant. The two restaurants are connected – indeed there is a story that an underground passageway connects them – but while you will find a touch of New York and a lively buzz in Joe Allen, things are a good deal calmer in Orso, which will transport you for a little while to Italy with its pale terracotta walls and beautiful hand-painted Italian tableware. Like Joe Allen, the entrance to Orso is very discreet: just a small entrance through double doors down into a cellar (it used to be an orchid warehouse years ago, no doubt when Covent Garden was still a market).
We were doing our usual pre-theatre menu deal, which has nothing to do with going to the theatre and everything to do with enjoying some good food at a reasonable price while we chat away for a couple of hours. However, when I arrived – a little early as I was keen to escape the cold snow-going-to-rain weather outside – the maitre d’ asked if we were going to the theatre. I guess if I’d said yes, they would have hurried the meal, but as it was they left us to enjoy it at a comfortable and leisurely pace.
We were pleased to see mussels on the menu: Steamed mussels, shallots, herbs, white wine and cream. They’ve always cooked mussels very well and I’ve often quoted them as cooking mussels better than some fish restaurants I know.
The mussels were cooked to perfection: plump and juicy and the sauce was reduced down to a wonderful syrupy thickness and very delicious. And I have to say something about the plates too: all the individual crockery is hand-painted and very attractive. Look at the gorgeous little dish that came for me to put my mussel shells into.
My only complaint of the evening is that a bowl with warm water and lemon would have be nice at the side to wash my fishy fingers when I’d finished eating the mussels. However, the food itself was very good indeed. There’s ann excellent wine list and we’d ordered one of the many 50cl choices – a Merlot from Veneto, at £14.50. It’s great to have a good choice of half litre wines as a glass isn’t always enough and half a bottle is generally too much for me these days.
Annie chose chicken for her main course: Roast corn-fed chicken marinated in lemon and rosemary with Savoy Cabbage.
She said it was very good. I meanwhile had ordered – almost uniquely for me! – the vegetarian pasta option. Having eaten a lot of chicken in the last couple of days (which you will know if you read my blog!), and because I often cook salmon with wilted spinach (the other option), I decided to go for Penne with tomato, basil and baked ricotta.
It was very good with a deep tomato flavour. I could have done with a slightly larger portion as a main course … but then I might not have had an excuse to have dessert! Now, Annie and I have been eating out regularly – every 3-4 weeks – for many, many years, but with the advent of my blog we’ve slipped into having desserts quite often whereas once we never ate them. I think what the blog has done is provide two women with an excuse to have a dessert – we really should see what their desserts are like! we say. However, we do share one portion – Shall we share one? – and last night the obvious choice for us was Blood orange cake with vanilla sauce.
I’m so glad we were tempted. It was delicious: very light with a gorgeous orange flavour, the citrus nicely balancing the sweetness of the cake, and a good vanilla custard to go with it. Then came coffee – in lovely little cups with a gorgeous small jug that I wanted to take home – but you’ll be pleased to hear, I didn’t!!
Orso and Joe Allen have new owners (more of that another time), but meanwhile, it’s good to see my old favourites haven’t had some drastic makeover. Orso was as lovely as always. Yes, there’s room for some small changes, but, just as Joe Allen, going there is as much about the atmosphere as the food. Whenever I mention Orso to friends, it excites an affection. And, as it happens, Annie and I decided to go back next month after we see the new Picasso exhibition at the nearby Courtauld Institute.