21 Covent Garden
Covent Garden as an area has long been synonymous with the food industry. For long it was the main market in London for fruit and vegetables, brought in from all parts of the world to be distributed all over the country. Going further back, and the clue is in the name, it used to be a Convent Garden, so it is hardly surprising that to this day food is one of the main reasons for going there. The area has undergone a sea change in recent months and is now representative to the whole of London as one of the best places to go and eat. Russell Norman the restaurateur de jour has two restaurants in the area, Polpo and Mishkins and with the opening of a branch of the famed New York restaurant Balthazar; Covent Garden really is the new black as far as eating out is concerned.
There are however many restaurants that have been in the area for far longer, and it would be a great pity not to recognise them as they have been flying the flag for the area long before the new boys hit the area. the one in question is 21 Covent Garden. An Italian restaurant and bar over three floors. The top floor being the print room which is their cocktail bar with terraces over looking the Piazza, over seen by bar manager Luca Saladini who is able to produce award winning cocktails from a tiny bar manned by true professionals with waiting staff , especially Julia Bartnicka, who know every constituent part of each drink off the top of their heads, no mean feat when you see the cocktail list. The music is loud but not so loud that you can't hear what is being said and was the sort of music everyone knows so not intrusive in any way. I really do take my hat of to them as the place was jumping (in a good way) and the staff there were brilliant. They change the list quite often so, in their back catalogue they will have any drink that you could ever imagine wanting, so just ask and I bet you buttons you will not be disappointed.
A sharing platter from the bar
The food is traditional Italian in execution with a lot of the produce coming in direct from source, so freshness and quality is assured. The kitchen is run by head chef John Nicell with Andreas Viella supporting him. I use the word support advisedly as this kitchen, which is open for all to see, has to be, considering how many customers 21 Covent Garden, one of the smallest restaurant kitchens I have ever seen. That's said they get on with it, in a truly professional way and with the place rammed to the gunnels when we sat down, there was no waiting for the food and all came just the way it had been ordered. Covent Garden being Covent Garden, 21 has prime location on the piazza for people watching. There are two pavement terraces, which are always busy, but what might not be obvious to the passers by is that they also have a fantastically cool (temperature wise) restaurant in the vaults underneath the building.
This space, which was a storage unit when the market was still in use has been transformed into a very intimate area, tables well spaced, as hard as I tried, I could not pick up one word from the neighbouring tables. The space is dark which works just as well in summer as it would in winter, I am reliably told that it traps the heat and makes for a very cosy, romantic destination. It's the sort of place that gets fully booked for Valentines day, way in advance.
A quiet corner in the restaurant
The clientele seemed to be made up from a wide cross section of people from home county ladies having a catch up to a couple of students who were obviously catching up over the escapades of the summer hols.
There is much to be said for being constant and keeps customers happy, something the new boys on the block could learn. Queueing for a table is at best annoying, something that I didn't see happening here. Also I keep a look out for complaints being made and yet again not one to report. The chaps who own 21 have obviously made a very good choice in appointing Paul Brickel as the general manager. A stalwart of many a busy west end restaurant, he has been able to install in the staff a pride
in their product and the way I which they work, in what must be, quite a pressured environment. All carried off with aplomb.
So what I guess I am trying to say is, in a round about way, is. Whilst fanfare openings of new restaurants attract the press and the people who want to be seen, in my experience it is the established restaurant that time and time again offer a consistent package of reliability, maybe not the sexiest word in the world, but when booking a table it is invaluable and in the hands of all the people I have mentioned above you are assured not only of great food and drinks but also a warm welcome and a get bit of advice if you are not sure exactly what you want.
The next time I am passing and see a free table, it's mine, ok?