Great Italian on the river at CottoCrudo in Prague

Dining alfresco at CottoCrudo

It’s a cold, dank day in London so I’m transporting myself back to a warm August evening in Prague when we dined on the terrace of CottoCrudo. How I love a bit of al fresco dining.

CottoCrudo is in the rather swanky Four Seasons Hotel and the terrace overlooks the Vltava River. The extensive menu offers a range of Italian and Mediterranean-style dishes. Executive Chef Leonardo Di Clemente comes from an Italian farming family and his philosophy is to mix what he describes as “Mamma-style cuisine” with current culinary trends.

CottoCrudo literally means Cooked Raw and this is how the menu divides. The crudo section encompasses a set of mouthwatering raw fish dishes that it’s impossible to resist. All beautifully presented using the freshest of fresh produce. The most perfect start to a summer night’s dining.

What’s on the menu

Oysters were served with mango, cucumber and yuzu soya sauce. Fresh, zesty and gloriously tasting of the sea.

CottoCrudo: oysters

Luscious oysters with a zesty sauce

My tuna spaghetti was marinated with orange emulsion. Thin, spaghetti-shaped pieces of fish that melted in my mouth, made all the more tender by the fabulous citrussy marinade.

CottoCrudo: tuna

A glass full of delightful tuna spaghetti

Raw salmon was served with miso vinaigrette, frisbee salad and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

CottoCrudo: salmon

Delicate Asian-flavoured salmon

The richest of seared tuna carpaccio was served with Genova-style salad and smoked quail’s egg.

CottoCrudo: tuna carpaccio

A colourful collection of tasty morsels

For my second course I chose from the antipasti section. Described as Onsen poached egg with soft potato cream, porcini mushrooms and black truffle, it was hard to picture but I loved the sound of all the ingredients. And boy was I right. What a wonderful dish of softness and flavours.

In case you’re wondering an Onsen is a hot geothermal spring in Japan which is the perfect temperature for making slow-cooked, soft eggs left in the water for several hours. The principle has been transported to the kitchen where eggs are cooked at a low, controlled temperature for 45 to 90 minutes. Love a bit of science in my dinner!

Both this and the tuna spaghetti I had are CottoCrudo Signature dishes which I wasn’t even aware of when I ordered – well, they certainly were spectacular.

Truffly potato cream, egg and mushroom – a phenomenal dish

Saffron risotto was served with roasted seabags, buffalo mozzarella and green pea puree. The sweetness of the fish was perfect with the creaminess of the cheese and risotto. A classic Italian dish given a little bit extra.

CottoCrudo: risotto

Roasted seabass nestles on the saffron risotto

There seem to be a lot of truffles around in the Prague summer – good news for us all. This beautifully meaty dish of milk-fed veal tenderloin was served with foie gras, black truffle and mushroom puree.

CottoCrudo: Veal

Delicate veal with the earthy flavours of truffle and mushroom

CottoCrudo: petit fours

A tray of delicate petit fours to finish with

And here’s the wonderful red-rooftop view across the river.

CottoCrudo: terrace

Looking across the river to Prague Castle

CottoCrudo is certainly a glamorous place to dine. The food is excellent, the service impeccable and the attention to detail impressive. And the intimate little terrace does have great views.

Today’s price point

Being in the Four Seasons you’d expect prices to be on the steep side at CottoCrudo, but the food was actually pretty good value. Starters began at 220CZK (Czech Koruna) – about £7.50 and mains from 620CZK – around £21.

The extensive wine list was however rather on the expensive side with local wine going for around £40 a bottle and everything else for significantly more. We went Czech and weren’t disappointed.

CottoCrudo is in the Four Seasons Hotel at Veleslavinova 2a/1098, Praha I, Czech Republic.

Read more about what to do in the beautiful city of Prague by clicking here

Christmas delights at Spaghetti House

It’s that time of year again – Christmas. Okay it’s only early November but the Christmas lights have been up in London for some time already and the shops are bulging with decorations, food and ideas to make it your best Christmas ever. All that sort of stuff.

For me the best part of Christmas is the chance to spend time with friends and family – and of course, the food. So I was delighted to get an early taster of Spaghetti House’s tasty Christmas offering. I do love this family-run group of London restaurants. You’re guaranteed top quality, authentic Italian dishes, it’s great value for money and there’s always a warm welcome.

The set Christmas menu offers a choice of four starters, mains and desserts. So something to suit everyone. We watched the expert chefs led by Achille Travaglini prepare everything fresh in front of us. Achille was also happy to share some of his top tips with us, like the use of orange zest in his prawn cocktail to give it an extra zing, and a slice of orange to serve for colour.

Here’s a taster of what you can enjoy for your Christmas celebration.

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Spaghetti House’s take on cocktail di gamberetti

The involtini di melanzane al forno  is a generous portion of baked aubergines stuffed with basil and ricotta with Napoli sauce. Beautifully rich and satisfying, and extremely cheesy. A deliciously indulgent starter.

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Baked aubergine filled with indulgent ricotta

The sea bass fillet (branzino also scalogno) came with shallot dressing and balsamic drops, grain mustard mash and spinach. Sweet and perfectly pan-fried fish topped a pile of smooth, zesty mash.

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The sea bass is a delightful fishy option

Pasta lovers won’t be able to resist the tortellini al funghi and tartufo. Handmade pasta parcels are filled with mushrooms and black truffle and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, crispy sage and lemon zest.

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Little parcels of truffle, mushroom deliciousness

For red meat lovers there’s the medaglioni di manzo al vino rosso. Beef tenderloin medallions are served on a bed of aubergine puree with a red wine sauce and smoked sautéed potatoes.

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A substantial plate of tasty beef and potatoes

Italian desserts are my absolute favourites and I do love a good tiramisu. Made here with soaked espresso biscuits, mascarpone and amaretto liquor. Simply yum.

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Tiramisu is the king of Italian desserts

Winter fruit compote came with toasted traditional panettone – feather-light panettone soaks up the richness and syrupy-ness of the compote.

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Panettone and winter fruits to delight

There’s also an Italian version of crumble – the Bramley apple crumble is served with a  large dollop of vanilla ice cream.

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A pot of apple crumble topped with rich ice cream

Of course there are also traditional choices available like chicken liver pate to start, roast Norfolk turkey with all the trimmings for mains and a stunning Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

The Christmas menu is available from 21 November to 21 December 24 2016.

Today’s price point

Spaghetti House’s Menu Natalizio (Christmas menu) is great value at £16.95 for two courses, £19.95 for three courses or £29.95 for three courses with half a litre of wine.

To find out more visit spaghettihouse.co.uk

Tasty Italian and a warm welcome at C’Alice

So today we’re dining out in Fulham. Fulham sits on the north bank of the River Thames, between Putney and Chelsea and is an elegant area of London teaming with stylish shops, bars and restaurants.

Historically half of Fulham was originally occupied by market gardeners, so a lot of London’s produce came from here – nowadays plenty of it is being eaten.

C’Alice is a new addition to the scene (it opened about two months ago), about halfway along the Munster Road, a short and pleasant meander from Parsons Green tube station.

It’s run by an Italian husband and wife team who felt there was a lack of what they describe as Italian aperitvi places in the area, so they wanted to create a relaxed meeting place for drinks or dinner that locals could enjoy. Well, there’s plenty of enjoying going on at C’Alice.

The menu abounds with Italian favourites and dishes with a difference, too. To start off we enjoyed two fishy starters. The scallops were panfried with grapefruit juice, an unusual combination. The sweetness of the scallops was a little overpowered by the tartness of the grapefruit but they did melt in the mouth. And don’t they look beautiful.

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A beautifully presented scallop starter

A dish of three-pepper marinated salmon in olive oil, lemon and celery was light and zesty, a lovely summer night starter.

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Succulent pink, peppery salmon

For mains there’s a good selection of pasta, risotto and salads as well as classic dishes like tagliata. And this pan fried, breaded sirloin steak simply served with chips and salad. Must try breading sirloin at home – it was tasty and tender and gives a nice twist to a steak.

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Lightly breaded, tender sirloin

And here’s a real Italian favourite – Saltimbocca. The pan fried veal steak is topped with Parma ham and served with Parmesan risotto. A truly indulgent and satisfying dish.

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A traditional veal dish with parmesan risotto

And then of course we were on the Italian dessert trail and we went for two beauties. The creme brûlée was warm, creamy and light.

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A classic creme brûlée

The tiramisu was a little overloaded with cocoa powder but underneath had all the beautiful textures and flavours of this Italian staple. I seem to be tasting tiramisu all around London…nothing wrong with that.

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Time to taste another tiramisu

C’Alice serves good Italian cuisine in substantial portions. The service is friendly welcoming and the space is light and decorated in a relaxed, contemporary style. There’s plenty of wine on display – they sell over 130 different kinds from Italy – and lots of other liquor options as we discovered.

After dinner we settled in on the small terrace and sipped on a glass of their beautiful Amara – a lemon-based liqueur from Sicilly.

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Delicious lemony liqueur from Sicilia

And we chatted to some of the locals who were clearly happy with their new meeting spot. C’Alice’s strapline on their website and shopfront is Wine – Food – Talk. They’ve definitely got all that covered.

Today’s price point

Our three-course dinner cost £69.50 for two people, not including wine.

There’s a wide range of Italian wine available, including by the glass. We had a bottle of Primitivo Itynera for £19.

Starters begin from £6 and mains from £12 for pasta dishes.

C’Alice is at 199 Munster Road, Fulham, SW6.

Square Meal