Thursday, 1 April 2010

Ponte Nuovo, Crystal Palace

We're not short of places to eat on the Triangle. And most of them are blessedly good, but we've never had a half-decent Italian, in my humble opinion. Lorenzo's is quite bog-standard but always startlingly busy; Il Ponte (as was) tried to be slightly more upmarket and only managed to be marginally more bog-standard. So to see Il Ponte become Ponte Nuovo meant a dinner out was on the cards.

The new owners have either scaled down the size of the restaurant inside or decorated it to make it look more intimate in cool slate tones; either way it works. The menu has undergone a complete renovation too. Think bottarga alongside calamari fritti, melanzane Parmigiana and that curiously beloved insalata tricolore (which I've never really understood the appeal of, especially in any month outside July and August). There's a good but not overwhelming choice of soups, pasta and risotto dishes which can be had as a primo piatto or secondo, a really excellent choice of fish and meat dishes and a tempting list of side orders. Looking good so far.

Our starters consisted of the calamari fritti, a generous portion, although to my mind the batter wasn't delicate enough and might even have been frozen; that insalata tricolore which looked fine but where the tomatoes had come from is anyone's guess; and the melanzane which came in a perfect-sized portion, bubbling hot, non-greasy and rich without being just too much.

Mains were more successful: my linguine with clams was again a well-judged portion, swimming in clams and a sharp-sweet cherry tomato sauce. The risotto marinara was full to bursting with a variety of seafood with rice just al dente and not too soupy, but the triumph belonged to the gamberoni with chilli garlic butter. As the plate was put down, I have to admit I genuinely thought they'd given' Joey' (for our purposes here he shall henceforth be known as Joey) a small lobster, also on the menu but a good tenner dearer. No, they were indeed 2 large succulent langoustines with a firework chilli dressing, butterflied and chargrilled for maximum flavour. The sides weren't the least of it either - chips (why do boys feel chips are de rigeur at every single meal?) were crisp, golden and moreish; buttered spinach was not reduced to a puddle of slime, but fresh and green and the zucchini fritti were fresh out the fryer in a tremulous batter that barely veiled their modesty but crunched pleasantly between the teeth.

Desserts were what you might expect. We were quite full but MCD and I, ever the troupers, had a creme brulee between us. The brulee was fine, but the creme was fridge-cold which is never particularly pleasant; I like mine to retain a vestige of warmth from the cooking. The wine list was reasonably comprehensive and well-priced - nothing outrageous and all good value. The bill in total for 3 of us, including a beer, bottle of wine, sparkling water and a glass of white came to just under £100 which we felt was ok value, considering it had barely been open a week and yet managed to deliver on both food and service.

NB: Next door Pizza Fresca has become Fresco, a pizzeria-cum-takeaway. I saw a sign last week advertising breakfast, but there's no hint of it on the menu. Reports come back that the pizza remains as good as ever, although the eat-in menu isn't as long as the take-out menu, but other dishes are disappointingly average and they're threatening to do Sunday roasts for which, my informant tells me, they were chastised for trying to do too much not well enough by one engaged customer.

No comments: