An Occupational Hazard – La Trattoria Verdi

Like all truly terrible things and regretable things, this escapade started in Taco Bell.

We sat one Saturday, in Southampton Row Taco Bell trying to decide where to celebrate a friend’s birthday the following week. We narrowed the search down to Italian. Someone gets their phone up and shows this place that looks lovely and then we look up to discover that it’s across the road from where we’re sitting. This isn’t a script of F.R.I.E.N.D.S or How I Met Your Mother, this really happened.

I mean, was that was not foreboding enough? Hiding in plain sight. Sneaks up on you. Makes you feel like a fool? Like a frog lured into a pot of slowly boiling water?

Maybe we’re looking for any excuse but in many ways this review bounces off Taco Bell for a number of reasons, firstly being the geographical irony. I wrote my Taco Bell review kinda assured of immunity to the sensitivity one should feel ripping strangers a new one on the internet because its a faceless corporation. In contrast, La Trattario Verdi is my worst enemy. An independent place with real people really putting themselves into it. Writing this has been like taking your pet to the vets. . .

“Trattoria Verdi, established since 1964, has become one of the most popular Italian Restaurants in London. Combining traditional Italian cuisine and a modern ambiance, [sic] Verdi’s exceptional variety of home-style Italian cooking fresh sea-food and delectable desserts have been attracting foreign and local guests for almost 50 years.

Enchanting background piano music as charming staff create a marvelous[sic], friendly atmosphere. Trattoria Verdi caters for individuals as well as boasting two private rooms catering for groups comprising fifteen to sixty individuals.

Verdi remains the epitome of original, genuine Italian Restaurant.”

from their website

Something about that description is a little disingenuous, no? One of the most popular Italian restaurants in London? Isn’t that a really, really bold claim to make? (By the way, I’m definitely the greatest writer ever to exist.) Are they aware how many Italian/Mediterranean places there are in London? Googling the phrase “most popular Italian restaurants in London” came up with plenty, none of them this place. And that’s Time Out, Trip Adviser and the Tatler. Not wordpress blogs or opinion pieces. Has Jay Rayner got an opinion?

“. . . Blemished butter. . . With under fried minced garlic swimming in it . . .”

It started so well. . .

The outside is a few select tables and chairs and in the summer it must be great fun to sit outside opposite a Taco Bell, next to blaring zone 1 London traffic. Who are we to judge? Perhaps a nice garden or some greenery would invite more people in but . . . eh.

The interior, slightly reminiscence of the ending of 2001: Space Odyssey.

Okay, so it starts well. We’re sorted to the table quick enough, we’re attended by the same waiting staff all night, a quiet attentive gentleman. Handed the menus and our first drinks are brought in good time. Our table over looks a lovely looking table full of classic desserts. Mousse, cheesecakes, trifles. We look forward to getting through a lovely night and ending with this tray. To begin with we’re reassured even. The decor and atmosphere is high brow and high spirited.

Curiously, we can’t order wine by the glass (does someone have a snobbery about it? Is it a ploy to get more money per customer?) So buying wine by the bottle we end up with two different types. For the non drinker? It’s orange juice, grapefruit juice or the usual sodas. Taking the orange juice which came in at an eye watering £5.45 for a half pint of regular smooth. The menu didn’t even want to try and convince you it was “freshly squeezed” or “triple filtered from a mermaid’s armpit”. It’s just regular orange juice.

I don’t think I’ve ever complained about the pricing of anything before but £5.45 for half a pint of orange juice is criminal. It wasn’t anything that fancy, not even that cold either. Are you trying to punish the designated drivers?! A litre of orange juice is £1.30 in Tesco, how is this justified?

Okay so, you don’t like non-drinkers, fair enough. What else can you offend us with? How about the massive red flag that the menu is pretty big. We all know what that means. No seriously, we do.

Part of the beautiful mural that hung over us as we ate.

The decor is beautifully neo-classical Italian. John Adam would have been proud. Not sure it’s modern though. And what is a modern ambience anyways? Am I expecting an austerity cut for starters? The phrase brings to mind images of dirty pavements and cold, cigarette stained air, breaking news and broken glass. Trendy kids in Shoreditch that are cooler than you. Is this what they’re trying to associate themselves with? There’s plenty of pictures of the country and it’s landmarks that show off Italy in a lovely light. By the sea and city buildings by and large. Which just makes me think they should hang the modern aspirations and go flauntingly, niche retro. Own it, baby, own it.

It doesn’t matter much though because there isn’t a modern ambience anyway. Unless you count the piano player doing Mamma Mia as contemporary. Cream-white walls and mural paintings of Italy and the Mediterranean are hung as pieces on the wall. Rose coloured lighting and a candle for each table. If anything this is a time capsule to the 70s. It would have been modern if you voted for Callahan.

And at the centre of the place is a piano player and over the course of the night we have musical numbers. At first it’s quaint and charming. But then you recognise a tune and it turns into elevator music charades. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow, no, wait. . . it’s that one from Grease, no, wait, wait, it’s definitely Les Mis.”

Butter Soup

My starter, Prataiolo alla Campagnolla (£7.75) was bread crumbed garlic mushrooms, the sauce was. . . well butter. It wasn’t so much a sauce as a dripping. A dripping of blemished butter. Greasy at best. With under fried minced garlic and soggy parsley swimming in it. Still I tried. It’s a classic dish and if they can’t pull this off . . .

My butter soup.

The taste was inoffensive at best. But that sauce, oh god that sauce. It kept coating the mouth and souring the taste. The complete mushroom under the crumbs was soft enough to have a creamy taste. Which had a nice contrast to the outer coat. But the butter, did I mention the butter? There was easily a coffee cup’s amount cooked into it. Blegh.

” . . . Tomato and far, far too salt. With a really really unlucky scampi caught in the middle. . . “

For mains, we have Fettuccini al fredo (£9.45). The pasta is bland and a few minutes away from al dente. Which makes me think that perhaps it was boiled in bulk and doled out for each order, which the large numbers on the menu collaborates. The butter and cheese sauce was passable, thick enough to keep the pasta all together but not much else. A sprig of parsley and that was it. They claimed tradition, not excess.

Most anaemic looking garlic bread. It wouldn’t even photograph well.

No seasoning. No salt shaker visible on the table. Pasta without salt? No optional chilli flakes or chilli oil. (Cajun or paprika cuts through a thick cheese sauce incredibly well, by the way.) What a few mushrooms or broccoli or sweetcorn or red onion would have done to this. It may not be traditional but it’s a thought. It’s better than lying on your website. In desperation, I drizzle the olive oil that’s on the table on top to get it at a moist enough flavour. It’s dryness was less noticeable then.

Like most carbs it stays in the gut, but this hangs around like swallowing an anchor.

And with the boastful promise of masterfully cooked seafood I tried the Scampi Provencale (£18.45). The chef must be a Rabbi on weekends. Far, far too salty. The sauce seemed to be going for some sort of ragu sort of thing. But it had two edges to it’s dynamic. Tomato and far, far too salt. With a really really unlucky scampi caught in the middle. I’m not sure who got the worse deal here, but I can’t think it’s “fresh sea food” if the seasoning was this over salted. Perhaps the fish came from the 70s as well as the decor?

Noticeably, the matron’d ran around to different tables, eager to decant bottles for guests, can’t imagine why. The thought does occur; does consuming alcohol improve the quality of the food?

The best of what I ate was the Fettuccine al Pesto (£12.45), which was cooked a lot closer, but still no cigar al dente. The pesto, being a little bit bulkier covers the pasta strands a lot better, and the olive oil and basil slickening together quite well. The sauce was far less toxic than the other two dishes I sampled. It’s heavy handed flavouring with such simple ingredients that is so impressive. Like someone cooked this with their eyes shut.

Inoffensive at best.

And it stays. Stays hanging in the gut. And good grief it made me feel sick. A malaise that hung in the gut long after the meal was over and you want to stick your toothbrush down your gullet and have it over with. So much butter. So much oil.

The question remains in the mind; how do they nail the atmosphere and fuck up the food? And frankly, can you have one without the other?

Trying to find a bright side, I whispered how wonderful it was that it was so pleasantly quiet and such a calming atmosphere. It wasn’t till the meal was over that someone pointed out it’s Saturday night, in central London and there wasn’t even 5 tables at one point in a place that could sit 100 individuals. Dam, that was a pretty depressing realisation.

And suddenly, all the atmosphere changes and shifts. Feelings sour. You notice things. The place doesn’t fill up. The staff are quiet. Some of whom wait around the bar. The piano, far from promising La Traviata or Rigoletto we get lite-jazz lounge versions of musical standards. Looking around the staff are looking around suspiciously, like the cast of a Le Carre novel. All rushed hushness and shifting eyes. The piano player keeps giving me a guilty look. Like a vegetarian sentry in a gulag. That signature, hapless Ron Weasley, Jim Halpert type shrug.

Micheal Jackson’s oxygen tent re-purposed. Preserving yet stifling.

Slowly, over the course of a dinner all this good will I have dissipates. So wanted to like this. Really I did. But its fucking awful traditional. Really, really traditional. Go die on that hill, then.

“When you seek revenge, you dig two graves.”

Oh, and did I mention the post-dinner ambience? Stilted awkward silences at the dinner table that the waiting staff picked up on? Towards the end of the meal, he noticed we hadn’t ordered any desserts and I suspect he may have realised this food had gone down like Boy George at a Klan rally. Slight wide eyed anxiety in his face when he says “Are you guys sure you don’t want dessert?” Or maybe he was trying to signal he was being held at gunpoint.

It was bound to happen. Ever since my first review I feared this day this day would come, putting the boots to something that gave the biggest slam dunk of shite. It’s an occupational hazard, it can’t all be feel good vegan burgers and vampire themed pizzas. My tone throughout this review has been somewhat sarcastic but I’m only giving back what I’ve been given. Its hard not to be irreverent when your dinner is the culinary equivalent of a Sam Beckett play. Black humour is all we have left now, friends. Good taste has deserted us and we must learn to live in this new, faithless and loveless world. Gott ist Tott. And so is this place. Utterly DOA.

Walking back to Tottenham Court Road station with the demeanour of a pallbearer and the overturning stomach of a hungover, 1st year student surgeon, we swore revenge. I felt so sick after this meal, even days afterwards the stomach still feels weak. They tried to kill me so all bets are off.

I need to emphasise this. Negative reviews do not make me feel like good human being. But as I said, if you don’t tell the truth you’re just a unpaid PR guy. If I ever have a place this bad again I’m just gonna sit on it. And unlike Taco Bell this isn’t a faceless corporation. This is something that someone loved at some point. But like all things that have been left unloved, standards have lowered and dropped.

The promising dessert tray is left untouched. Increasingly gelatinous and stale and deflating as the time goes on. I get the feeling its a working metaphor. Maybe, just maybe, this place was amazing once. But it needs work, some new blood or energy. It’s just tired. If anything, one hopes this could be a wake up call. “Oh, if only A.A. Gill were here!”

La Trattoria Verdi. Stay for the atmosphere. Leave for the food.

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. . . back here to the home page.

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Do you like your mushrooms drowning in butter? How much are you willing to pay for orange juice? Have you been to La Trattoria Verdi? Agree? Disagree? Comment below and let us know!

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