Feasting à la Florentine in Lambeth North

27 Apr 2019

Lambeth. A borough, but also a neighbourhood; a neighbourhood not commonly understood as an epicentre of dining, but more a kind of undefined section of the borough itself and perhaps an extension of Waterloo. Florentine, an all-day dining restaurant at the Park Plaza London Waterloo, boasts no exact theme or cuisine, and mirrors the undefined trait of the neighbourhood of Lambeth itself. Lambeth North is the least-used Underground station in Zone 1. I think, in a time where we are led by likes, visits, and mentions, this is a reason why one should visit. And, I think, Florentine is another.

The interiors are probably some of the nicest I have seen south of the river. Opulent in places, and pared back in others. Separating the restaurant from a sleek bar space is a chainmail curtain sweeping down dramatically with glimmering flourish, while contemporary-style lamps in varying shapes hang from the ceiling. Structured shelves hold ornaments and plants, and the open kitchen is illuminated by a gold wall, giving off a warm glow that spreads out towards the tables. I wasn’t expecting to be so taken by the décor. Could the food possibly measure up?

Googling Florentine, the Ostrich Egg phenomenon pops up repeatedly. It was shown to me within ten minutes of my arrival, a glossy, over-sized egg that diners come to Florentine to try. So hefty that it can be shared between 4 people, the ostrich egg is said to equate to 24 regular eggs (I can’t remember the last time I ate 6 eggs myself, but ok.) This is an Instagram-worthy experience I’m not willing to miss out on. Equally as gargantuan was the 2.2kg Herculean Burger, which the table next to us had specifically come to Florentine to have – upon their daughter’s birthday request.

To start, we ordered the buffalo ricotta ravioli with black truffle and the tuna carpaccio with radishes and wasabi mayo. The former was something quite special, my guest and I agreeing that it was the standout dish of the evening. Pure butter indulgence glistened yellow off the plate and coated perfectly made ravioli, parcels filled with smooth ricotta topped with shavings of aromatic black truffles. The tuna carpaccio was not confined to Japanese flavours like the wasabi mayo accompaniment suggests, but more Italian with a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lime on the soft tuna.

Perhaps a strange anomaly, another thing Florentine prides itself on is the flatbread, made in a wood-fired oven station that sits separately from the kitchen and has its own dedicated flatbread-making soldier. Crispy and moreish, it is a must-try. We tried both the lamb and the mushroom/truffle/ricotta combo. The lamb had the flavour of a fancy kebab, with tzatziki dotted atop with coriander and mild red chilli – conjuring a short trip across the Mediterranean. The creamy, nutty flavours of one too many mushrooms were counterbalanced by ricotta. The lamb was a definite winner.

With my beady eye on the truffle tagliatelle and Chanterelle mushrooms, I’d clearly not had enough mushrooms at this point and asked for a small portion to try before our mains. The pasta was excellently made, twizzling round our forks in al dente glory and flavoured delicately with garlic and parsley. It is sometimes the simple things done well that are the best.

My date, a sucker for mashed potato on any menu, opted for the lamb shank for his main. I was a bit jealous. Soaked in gravy, the generous chunk of lamb shank fell apart upon contact with a knife and was appropriately rich to the taste. The keenly anticipated mash lent itself to a comforting and authentic taste of earthy potato which, in a way, complemented the earthy sweetness of our Waipara Hills Pinot Noir – a wine made for soft, rich lamb dishes.

My steak was good. Perhaps not slap-your-own-forehead-and-bite-your-bottom-lip-good, but delicious all the same. Salty and well-seasoned with a running of coveted fat, it was a successful rib-eye served with a generous helping of chips and a pot of buttery béarnaise.

For dessert (yes, we had to), the panna cotta with dark chocolate and hazelnut brittle stood out as it was reminiscent, to me, of bone marrow. Now, if you’ve never tried bone marrow and are disgusted by this comparison, bear with me. By comparing the panna cotta to bone marrow I simply suggest that it had the same nutty/sweet taste and melt-in-the-mouth consistency that is both light and rich at the same time. With the textural contrast of crunchy hazelnut brittle and the addition of dark chocolate sauce, the balance was complete and rounded off our meal with intriguing flair.

I was smiling smugly by the end of this feast, happy in the knowledge that I live so close by. Florentine, like Lambeth itself, cannot be entirely defined. A name like Florentine denotes Italian influence, and while there are indeed Italian touches, the menu inter-rails around Europe as a whole. The pasta is excellent, the wine rich, the truffle generous and the meat succulent. Go to unpopular Lambeth North station and increase its ranking. Especially for that butter ravioli.

Ashiana Pradhan

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