The Giaconda (Mona Lisa) Dining Rooms
Divine saffron risotto
Halibut with straw potatoes
Cod on rocket and lentil salad
Skate with juicy large capers
Nougat ice with raspberries
Chocolate mousse cake
Bustling down the street with guitar shaped bags on their backs, slouching outside sheet music shops with indie hairdo and a fag hanging insouciently from their lips, Denmark Street is a musos dream, more Diagon Alley than Tin Pan Alley. The Giaconda Snack Bar used to be a coffee bar hangout for musicians in the 60s (interesting post on Denmark st in the 60s).
The Giaconda Dining Rooms is small and dark, seating a maximum of 30 people. I felt for the chef sweltering at the back in his tiny kitchen on this muggy July day. The waitresses are charmingly dressed French maid style, headed by a no nonsense Antipodean woman, Tracy, the wife of the chef, Australian Paul Merrony. They have young children and therefore this place is closed at weekends. I like the way that everything about this restaurant is geared to their particular family situation, rather like a home restaurant.
As soon as we sit down we are given olives, bread, butter and a large flagon of sparkling water for the reasonable sum of £1 each.
The website states that the food is mostly French with a couple of day trips to Spain and Italy thrown in and jokes
"On our day trip to Spain we were lucky to have missed the Espuma / Spherification pandemic that was sweeping the country at the time - thank goodness we came through that one intact!"
I was with Fat Les and the Teen, for school holidays at the Lycee have already started.
The teen and Les shared the saffron risotto (£6). This was stunningly good. Even my teen liked it. Perfectly cooked Risotto is an effective way to highlight the taste of saffron.
I chose a Rigatoni Puttanesca (£6) which was good but perhaps a little too over seasoned with anchovies (and I like my salt).
I liked the way that the food was not presented in too fussy a manner with good sized portions.
For mains we all chose fish; Les, the skate with a butter sauce; myself: halibut with straw potatoes which I've never had before; the teen: cod with a gorgeously dressed lentil and rocket salad. These came accompanied by a couple of salads; mixed and watercress.
All of the fish dishes were good but Les's skate was probably the stand out dish.
Puddings: my nougat ice(£6)was a little disappointing as it seemed to have more candied orange than honeyed nuts, more of a marmalade ice; the teen's chocolate mousse cake with caramel sauce (£5.50) was fantastic, light rich mousse with a puddle of creamy caramel; Fat Les's Eton Mess (£5) was excellent; pink meringues, chalky and sweet, combined with strawberries.
I had an expresso at the end. Fat Les, some of you may know, is a coffee geek. He took one sniff of my coffee and declared that the bean had been roasted at square mile (?). He checked with the waitress and he was correct.
I gaped at him "How did you do that?"
"Oh there's only about four roasters, it's easy" he declared blithely.
Chatting to the head waitress, we asked if they would be open for the summer.
"No we are going away to Europe. That's what's wonderful about being here in Europe, you have so many different cuisines on your doorstep. In Australia it's the same for miles around. Our nearest neighbours are in Asia which is pretty far. Everytime we go to Europe we always come back with something, a new ingredient or dish, a new inspiration".
I agree, those trips are essential to recharge the creative culinary batteries.
9 Denmark St
Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Rd
0207 240 3334