It’s that unpleasant time of the year where everyone seems to be ‘coming down with something’ for about three months, secretly thinking that their bug is much, much worse than all the other fakers’. Except me of course, who really does have it worse than everyone else. However, my way of combating illness is to pretend that I’m not ill, my mind trying to trick my body into forgetting its ailments. So when I get sick, I go about my daily business pretending that I’m just enthusiastically clearing my throat during a coughing fit before turning any sneeze into an exclamation of triumph, “AHHH-CHOOO-who’d have thought that I’d make it out tonight, hey?!” Make it out tonight I did indeed and the wonderful Massimo restaurant serves as the ideal venue for my convalescence, so much so that by the end of the meal I can’t quite remember what I was complaining to myself about before I left my flat.
Walking into the Corinthia Hotel is like walking into one of Jay Gatsby’s parties; it’s such a grandiose setting, the cavernous ceilings and elegant décor ensuring that every night spent there is a special occasion. We’re offered a preprandial cocktail in the bar of The Northall, the hotel’s other outstanding restaurant, and I order the suitably titled Corpse Reviver no. 2. The chilled blend of Chase gin, Lillet Blanc Cointreau and Absinthe does work Lazarus-like wonders: by my second sip the tickle in my throat has gone and by the time I drain the glass and head through to Massimo I’ve forgotten my cough completely.
The pillars that hold up the roof in this palatial, Roman-style restaurant are striped and remind me of Blackpool rock and I picture Caesar taking a break from the Colosseum to chomp candy on the pier and take a ride on The Big Dipper. Weird reveries of disappointing holidays give way to more present and pressing issues such as which wine to order with our food; this is a task that I’m happy to delegate to our charming sommelier, Alfredo, who deserves special mention for his proficient taste-matching skills. On this note, the service at Massimo is magnificent – watching a team of waiters serve a table of six is like watching some sort of culinary Swan Lake, the black and white garbed staff tapping and twirling around to place plates down in sync with one another. I could watch it all night…or at least for longer than I could watch the ballet.
The starters impress with every bite, which can’t be sincerely said about a lot of dishes: a large disc of beef carpaccio is liberally coated in black truffle shavings as well as huge flakes of Parmesan, a tangy and tasty masterpiece that’s finished off with the herbaceous crunch of baby watercress. On the other side of the table is a plate of marinated swordfish scattered with pink peppercorn, strips of fennel and grapefruit segments as well as delicate blobs of tropical fruit reduction; the accompanying wine, all apricot and pomegranate overtones, is perfectly simpatico with the dish’s charming tastes of Spring.
The pasta course is the one that we’ve been waiting for ever since we spotted the separate ‘truffle menu’; our waitress dons a King of Pop-esque glove to shave a golf ball of white truffle on a bowl of homemade egg tagliolini, the thin strips of pasta adorned with thin slices of the decadent truffle and a generous smattering of Parmesan cheese adds a decadent yet rustic touch to the sublime dish. Not to be outdone, the deep green of my spinach pappardelle is topped with the rich carmine of wild boar ragout and the flavour is so delicate yet intense that when I add a glug of Montepulciano, liquid velvet in my mouth, I could be in sunny Tuscany rather than rainy old London. It could be worse though: I could be in Blackpool. Et tu, David?
Our main courses arrive and the bucolic style in which they’re set out is so notable juxtaposed against the fine dining atmosphere of the white tableclothed restaurant that the ‘posh peasant’ label that springs to mind seems totally justifiable (if a little un-P.C.). Marco, the genial manager, explains that my rabbit is served in the cooking style of Ischia, an island where the only herb that’s grown is thyme, so the natives have to learn to be experimental with its flavour potential. The accompanying truffle polenta is marvellous and a garlic bulb may have just been placed on the plate for decorative purposes but, adhering to the old wives’ tale of the onion species being a panacea with health-boosting nutrients, I gobble the whole thing in one. A mixed fish stew is superb; the cuttings of octopus stand out as they have been cooked until they are soft and tender and absorbed the thick piscatorial flavour from the broth yet still retain the faint echo of their original polpo flavour.
After a rum-soaked Neapolitan Baba confirms this meal to be one of the best in recent memory, I nurse the remainder of my dessert wine and think of reasons to stay in our new favourite restaurant. Ah yes, wasn’t there a health-related issue that I was suffering through just before the meal? Hmm, feel fine now – must have been worrying over nothing. “Ahem hem…”
Massimo Restaurant & Bar, 10 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5AE, England
Tel: +44 (0)20 7998 0555
Massimo is located inside The Corinthia Hotel, which is centrally located just a short distance from Trafalgar Square, The Strand and London’s Theatreland. The closest Tube Station is Embankment on the Circle, District, Bakerloo and Northern lines and Charing Cross Mainline Station is a three-minute walk. The restaurant is open daily except Sundays for lunch from midday to 3:00pm and dinner from 5:30pm to 11:00pm.
Type of Restaurant:Fine Dining Italian Restaurant
Insider Tip: The booths at the back of the restaurant are perfect for a romantic date.
Price Band: High
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Massimo Restaurant & Bar