When I told a certain someone we were going out for an Italian dinner he was a little surprised… and I sensed, a little unimpressed. Unless we’re actually in Italy, we very rarely choose Italian over the 101 other cuisines and styles at the tips of our tastebuds here in London. Why? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I think my first instinct is that it’s a safe option, even perhaps a boring option.
Hands up, who’s dismissed Italian food because it’s just pizza and often sub-par pasta? Yep, me. Have you also been a little smug and thought, why would I order that in a restaurant when I can make it at home myself? Me again. And have you also realised that of course, you’re very wrong because Italian food is so much more diverse than that… think of the beautiful cured meats and cheeses, think of the rich ragú, think of the gelato!
So having convinced myself that Italian food was worth eating out for, I set out to convince a certain someone with dinner at Massimo, the beautiful restaurant inside the equally beautiful and rather swanky Corinthia Hotel. Stepping into that dining room felt like walking onto the set of the Great Gatsby; the space has a wonderful art deco vibe which adds to its grandeur and makes you wish you could whittle away your evenings sipping champagne there.
There was no champagne on this occasion but we were welcomed with a refreshing glass of prosecco and a rather enticing bread selection; my favourite of the breads was the little pizza square smothered in a tomato sauce, how unoriginal am I? Our starters arrived sooner than I expected but I was hardly complaining as they looked utterly delicious.
I was already tossing up between the carpaccio and swordfish dishes to start but when we were told about the tuna tartare special, I was sold because I can rarely pass up a tartare of any description. I thought Massimo’s version with its tiny cubes of tuna on creamy avocado was the perfect combination of flavours and textures, the only part I didn’t understand was the lone padron pepper that came with it.
Unfortunately a certain someone was left a little disappointed by the marinaded swordfish with pink peppercorns, grapefruit and fennel. While the fish was fresh and generous, and the whole plate certainly looked a picture, the overall flavours were a touch muted, not what you’re expecting with those usually punchy ingredients.
However there were no additional flavour injections required with our mains and both were unfussy, hearty portions that Nonna would certainly be proud to dish up. The veal cutlet was perhaps just slightly over the medium we requested, but it was still tender and juicy. The fluffy truffle potatoes underneath certainly added another level of luxury to this simple but satisfying dish.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Ischia-style rabbit with spring garlic and chilli; partly because I haven’t had rabbit this succulent for a while, partly because I’m a sauce girl and this sauce was worth drinking on its own, and partly because I loved squishing the garlic cloves out of the bulb and smothering it all over the rabbit. Oh the rabbit… did I mention it was ‘hot knife through butter’ kinda material? I even loved the polenta, not something I usually proclaim.
The desserts returned to the dainty and delicate style of the starters, the kind that you eat with your eyes first and almost don’t care about the taste. But you do eat them anyway because who in their right mind could pass up these beauties. The dark chocolate mousse with amarena cherries and rhubarb was exactly as described… dark, and bitter, and perfectly formed.
However, the chestnut Mont Blanc stole the show with its ethereal pink sugar sphere. Once I cracked it open, it was pretty spectacular too, a little chocolate crumb on the bottom, a creamy chestnut ice cream in the middle, and a soft meringue on top… ethereal and tasty!
By the end of the meal, we were definitely reminded of the joys of a good Italian dinner: bold flavours, simple combinations, hearty plates. There’s not a pizza in sight, though I have heard that the pasta is fantastic and I would happily go back to test it out. What we did eat at Massimo was excellent, but the impeccable service elevated the whole experience – the sommelier helped us pair wines with our dishes, the provenance of the ingredients were explained, emphasising how committed they are to showcasing Italy’s producers, and the staff were so friendly and accommodating!
Are you a fan of Italian cuisine? Have you been guilty of dismissing it as just pizza and pasta?!
Thank you to Massimo Restaurant for reminding us just how good Italian cuisine can be, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!