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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Number Twelve

The day: 20th November 2007, Dinner
The place: 12 upper Woburn Place, London WC1H 0HX (020 7693 5425)
The venue: Number Twelve bar and restaurant (at the Ambassador’s Hotel)
The food: Modern British with an Italian twist (or modern Italian with a British twist)
The drinks: International, shortish but non obvious, good range of prices and types, starting below £20, also by the glass and 375 carafe.


We told you already there is one guy in the trade we really trust, and now you know we mean it since, in spite of our previous disastrous experience elsewhere, we once again followed his tip off and came to Number Twelve, recently opened as the bar and restaurant of the Ambassador’s Hotel in Bloomsbury.
The weather on the night was too lousy for us to stop and take a picture of the outside, which is discrete and minimalist. The interior, softly lit, is slightly reminiscent of Addendum (another hotel restaurant), though the dining room here is probably smaller.
Four chefs animate the kitchen: Santino Busciglio (Head Chef), Stefano Motta, Filippo Giunta and Michele Tosello. Well, with such a line up (duly reported on the menu), there has to be a piece of Italy on the offerings, and indeed there is. Here, though, we have to register a complaint with whoever is responsible of the restaurant’s webpage: when we checked it out before our visit, it mentioned a set menu at £14.95 for two courses and £17.95 for three, a real deal (not to mention the advertised prices at lunch, at £13.50 or £15.50 for two or three courses). But on the night, the set menus were priced at £22.95 for two courses and £25.95 for three (albeit with a house wine carafe thrown in), and above all were only available until 7:30pm (though, to be fair, the waiter had suggested we could have it even if it was later). Well, never mind, the prices are still very reasonable; let us splash on a la carte, but it is the principle that is annoying (yeah, yeah).
Starters go from the £5.50 of Cream of Borlotti beans, rosemary scented ceps, garlic bruschetta, or the £5.95 of the Buffalo mozzarella, Italian plum cherry tomato and Basil, to the £7.50 of e.g. Devon crab salad, avocado and radish salad.
Mains include home made pasta twists, seasonal wild mushrooms and white butter sauce (and from this progression you recognise it is not sold as an Italian restaurant) at £12.95, as well as Roasted Cumbrian herdwick Lamb, garlic, sampire grass, shoulder potato cake at £15.95, overall ranging between £11.95 and £16.95.
No amuse bouche, but a nice lady with a good looking bread tray arrives: our choice of small rolls is placed neatly in a small plate in front of us - we pictured them together not to make them feel lonely…
Hey, no complaints now, it is not an Italian restaurant, so cannot keep moaning about the lack of a bread basket on the table. And, to be fair, once we make it clear that we like our bread, we get the helpful bread waiter hovering around us to make sure we have a constant supply. We do not need much to be happy.
Now let us open the dances. We begin with:
- Irish salmon from Claire island in three ways: terrine, tartare, cold smoked (£6.95)
- Seared yellow fin tuna with salt crust and warm Sicilian sweet and sour fennel salad (£5.95)

Ok, let us get this out of the way: thank god there are only four chefs in the kitchen: since each of them must have seasoned the salad in the salmon, if there had been any more the salt crust would have been on it, not on the tuna (the manager, reminding us of those politicians professionally forced to defend the indefensible, tried valiantly to persuade us that the salt was needed to create a ‘contrast’. We admired the effort). Having said that, this was really the only (minor) fault in a truly excellent dish. We followed the suggested progression, with the terrine first: luscious, moist, tender chunks of salmon in their gelatine, beautifully melting in the mouth with a controlled eruption of flavour. Next, the cold smoked rolls reined in the fat a little, and cleaned the mouth with the pleasant smoky and tangy flavour and the very fine julienne of vegetables, preparing you for the grand finale of the salmon tartare, rounded off by the dill sauce and the roe. An extremely agreeable ensemble of soft textures.
The same goes for the simply presented seared tuna: the fish itself had been cooked flawlessly indeed, tender, both delicate and potent, with finely cut veggies and olives making the dish airy and light. Above all the very finely sliced fennel lent a very fresh taste. Interestingly, in spite of all of the acidic tones and the lightness, the sweet and sour treatment of the fennel and the fact that it was cooked, made this after all a rather comforting dish, contrary to the coldness that the picture might suggest.
Well, a good and classy start, now we were really in a good mood.
As mains, we went for:
- Roasted rabbit, Jerusalem artichokes, spaghetti of carrots (£13.95)
- Scottish red leg Partridge cooked in two ways, Savoy cabbage, pancetta, foie gras, bread sauce (£14.95)
The rabbit, a very sound, stark, balanced dish, with a tasty, neat reduction, was really good, rolled with herbs inside, and cooked very well, with the meat retaining its moisture. The Jerusalem artichoke quenelles were rather rich, but very “indulgent”, and anyhow balanced by the carrot ‘spaghetti’, which we found a refined touch.
In comparison, the partridge was still good but somewhat less to scream for, the flavour or the meat tamer than expected, a touch dry and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the bread sauce, strongly flavoured with cloves. A rather exuberant, less balanced dish, with strong flavours and bold matching. These left Woman cold, with Man much more appreciative, notably (once again), of the fine reduction.
By now, going for dessert was a must. We opted for:
- Dorset bell heather, honeycomb semifreddo, baked figs (£5.95)
- 70% Vahlrona chocolate mousse, hazelnut biscuits, vanilla sugar syrup (£5.95)
Now Woman is not one for semifreddo, nor for mousse, so going for them is really a kind of a test (for instance, the excellent buffalo ricotta mousse with candied artichokes at Latium). Well, we are glad to report that both dessert passed with flying colours!
The honey semifreddo was simply superb, and the tender “croquette” of almonds on which the fig was sitting married the semifreddo with relish. Just simply good.
As for the chocolate dessert, the mousse brought much pleasure, as one would expect. But what was really bordering on the divine were the (unadvertised) rosemary ice cream, the hazelnut biscuits and the vanilla syrup. These are the kind of dishes that one keeps reflecting on afterwards. Rosemary ice cream with chocolate, would you have ever believed it would work? Very good.
All the above was accompanied by a surprise complimentary glass of Muscat de Frontignan (which, in case you are curious, would have set us back a very honest £4.75 each).
Finally, a nice selection of petit fours:
We were impressed with the two flavoured polenta pyramids, one chocolate and one lemon (so much so, in fact, that one of the lemon pyramids was already missing by the time we took the picture…Man, would you mind being more patient next time, please?).
This restaurant has the great habit of offering wine by the carafe (like Arbutus). With a 0.75, bottle of water at 4.35, a 375 ml carafe of fine French Chardonnay Les Templiers, VdP des CĂ´tes de Thongue (2006) at £8.75, and a 375ml carafe of Tuscan Sabazio Rosso di Montepulciano, La Braccesca (2005) at £13.00 (also good), our total bill including service came at most reasonable £91.52.
Number Twelve is a fine establishment. The service is very professional, at the same time friendly and not intrusive, attentive but not overbearing. The cuisine delivered by Chef Busciglio and his team is very accomplished, impressing us for its lightness and yet carrying intense flavours, classical in conception but with many marks of joyful originality. Woman wished they marketed themselves as a fully blown Italian restaurant, joining the ranks of our favourites (search around the blog if you don’t know yet what they are…) in bearing the standards of fine Italian dining in London. Man, on the contrary, is fascinated by this kind of ‘hybrid’ cuisine, a ‘very London’ experience that should be of interest to Italians and non-Italians alike. Be that as it may, thanks to our friend for tipping us off; though now this is all getting a bit more worrying for our finances, as it feels very much like we’ll have to be back here!

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