The best concert that I ever saw was by ‘The Reverend’ Al Green. It wasn’t just his angel-like voice, or extensive back catalogue of soul classics, but the setting – three rows from the front, in the beautiful Royal Albert Hall – that made the experience somewhat akin to a musical epiphany.
But back then the only options for eating at the Royal Albert were either the cafeteria (closed in the evenings) or snacks over the bar. Clearly the management decided they were missing an opportunity, and invested more than £1-million to transform what was once the Café Consort into what they hope will become a destination restaurant in its own right. So you have olive-green banquettes, buttery brown leather seats and a striking, turquoise-tiled mozzarella bar. To stay in the mood, they are offering live music with the likes of pianist Alex Hutton tinkling the ivories on Friday nights, to an exciting line-up of performers – from blues to jazz – for weekend brunches. And in keeping with the Italian restaurant theme, there are posters of stars that have adorned the venue on the walls – and none of them are posing with the restaurant manager.
Verdi's menu is mid-range in price point, with a huge in the number of options. We started with fresh sardines 'Naples style' in garlic and white wine, and from the Mozarella bar, burrata with bresaola (air dried meats). The sardines were perfectly cooked, well-seasoned, and flavoursome. The burata was, according to the Northerner, not as good as what we get in our local Italian in Brixton village, but pretty damned fine in my books.
We shared a dish of Raviolini al Caprino or Goat’s cheese and red pepper filled pasta in a cream and white wine sauce. If the pasta was a shade short of being al dente, the flavour more than compensated. A lovely dish. The Northerner’s main of sea bream and gnocchi, with pesto and spinach was a good enough dish. The stuffed lamb breast, with white beans, tomatoes, smoked pancetta and spinach, was less successful. The lamb was a bit fatty and the sauce lacked the requisite kick. Desserts of Amalfi lemon and polenta cake and chocolate tart with Amarena cherries were triumphs. They were rich without being overly sweet, and perfectly cooked. We drank the Nero D’avola, Punto 20 Cantina Ottoventi which was so good that we ordered an extra class, and finished with a cheeky macchiato. When in Rome.
Except that we weren’t in Rome, but in a gorgeous restaurant that wouldn’t look out of place in La Dolce Vita, albeit with an English spin. I’m not sure that Verdi lived up to Al Green in terms of overall experience, but not many things do. Verdi does provide the perfect warm-up or encore to the stars whose photos will one day, grace its walls.
12 Royal Albert Hall
London SW7 2AP
020 77070 4401