Jo Fletcher-Cross finds delicious Italian food in an unexpected location
I’ve walked past the unassuming Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars in London dozens of times over the years. It came as a genuine surprise to discover that inside this not terribly exciting building are some unexpected treasures.
To start with, I venture down to Voltaire, which on first glance appears to be a nice champagne bar — so far, so city hotel. But just behind the slick bar are the Vaults: turns out this is built on the foundations of Bridewell Palace, and the Grade II listed building features atmospheric vaults, used as a prison during the reign of Henry VIII and later on to hold the treasures of a bank built in its place. Now they’re luxury private VIP alcoves, which come complete with a personal waiter, who brings over memorable cocktails. A French margarita is impeccably made, with just the right balance of sweet blackberry puree, while an Informal Affair is a fruity mix of vodka, creme de fraise, sugar syrup and champagne.
Then it’s back upstairs to Italian restaurant Diciannove. This is no ordinary hotel restaurant: while the decor is lightly corporate, there are enough interesting touches to nudge it into something more sophisticated.
The food too is way beyond what one might expect from a standard hotel. Bread is excellent and served with very good olive oil. The menu wanders over Italy; each dish notes its region of origin. A starter of king scallops, parsnip and cumin puree, Romano broccoli and parsnip crisps (Liguria, thank you for asking), is perfectly cooked, with delicate, delicious flavours, though maybe a tiny bit heavy on the broccoli: the puree, however, is a thing of wonder. I follow this with a dish from Emilia-Romagna, ravioli, ricotta and roasted chestnuts, which comes on a layer of bright and richly flavoured pumpkin puree. The texture is a deeply satisfying combination of soft, dense and the slight crunch of chestnut.
Desserts were fairly standard: tiramisu was lovely but unremarkable, which is as it should be, really.
This is no ordinary hotel restaurant; classy, carefully considered Italian food with a modern touch. Prepare to be surprised.