MTV boyfriend and I are celebrating our six year anniversary. I stress the word celebrating as our six year anniversary is actually next week but MTV boyfriend has managed to organise an all boys ski trip that week and so I have been forced to commemorate the date a week early. I am tempted to take my revenge by picking a wildly expensive or even vegetarian restaurant for our anniversary dinner but no, that is not what relationships are about. I am both forgiving and thoughtful (rarely exhibited qualities trust me) and select The Giaconda Dining Room for dinner.
For a dining room so small that phrases about swinging cats come to mind, The Giaconda Dining Room has generated a lot of critical and internet comment. See here, here and even here. Interest appears to have been piqued by the chef, Australian Paul Merrony, the quirky menu which is described as “French-ish with a couple of day trips to Italy thrown in” and perhaps a morbid curiosity as to whether it is actually possible to run a restaurant from such a tiny kitchen.
The wait staff are fabulous. Very welcoming and helpful with the wine list. Our waiter recommended a Spanish wine, the 2004 Bierzo Tinto to us. It is certainly not a wine that I would have chosen myself but it is a lovely medium bodied red with just a hint of spiciness. Glass of wine in hand and nibbling on the complimentary sourdough bread and olives we set about ordering.
The signature dish of The Giaconda Dining Room is what is described as the “boneless (almost!) and crisped pigs trotters”. This came as a round of gelatinous meat, crisped on top and served on a bed of rocket with a soft boiled egg and some rich egg mayonnaise (pictured above). I wouldn’t attempt this starter by yourself, it was very filling what with all that fatty meat and mayonnaise and a little rest was needed after consumption to let my arteries recover. This dish was perhaps a step too far in the offal stakes for me. I may be unadventurous but there was a little too much trotter and too little actual meat for my liking.
Moving onto the mains, the “special grill” is fillet steak. The fillet is a lump of meat seared with the lightest touch on all sides and still pretty blue on the inside. MTV boyfriend is a happy man though and points out that when meat is good enough quality erring on the side of under cooking is never a problem. The steak is served on a pile of soft, buttery shallots which soak up all the lovely juices from the meat. Accompanying chips are of the unpeeled variety which some people view as laziness but I actually quite enjoy the extra crispiness from the potato skins.
Braised tripe is served in a shallow terracotta dish dotted amongst rigatoni, slices of chorizo and butter beans (pictured left). This is offal the way I like it, in a more manageable proportion and mixed in with other goodies. The dish has a slight kick from a scattering of paprika and the chorizo and it is rich and warming.
We decide to tackle the dessert menu with a bottle of dessert wine. After all, what are six year anniversaries for if not to get drunk. We choose the Monbazillac a super sweet honey coloured wine. It goes well with the apple and pear crumble which is unfortunately served too hot and with soggy crumble. Some redemption is offered by the interesting pairing of fresh rosemary with the apple and pear.
Not to worry, MTV boyfriend is enraptured with his creme brulee which is infused with a subtle lemon flavour underneath the caramelised top. He declares it the best creme brulee he has ever had. This is a big call given that MTV boyfriend has eaten hundreds of creme brulees and I wonder if he has had too much dessert wine but a stolen spoonful confirms that The Giaconda Dining Room creme brulee is indeed a thing of rare beauty. MTV boyfriend is now a very happy man and I am even happier as what could be a better present after six years than the best creme brulee of all time.
Don’t go to The Giaconda Dining Room expecting the best restaurant in London. Some dishes are a little hit and miss. But do go if you want to experience a restaurant with actual personality. Every detail in this place has been thought of by Merrony to the point that upon breaking his arm while cycling to work one day he amended the menu rather than compromise by getting someone else in to cook. The Giaconda Dining Room has a cosy atmosphere, interesting cooking and very reasonable prices. Even the ubiquitous 12.5% optional/compulsory service charge is absent here. Bonus points for that in my book.
Details: 9 Denmark Street, Soho, WC2H8LS (Ph 0207 240 3334)