It’s Monday night and as per usual I’m leaving work late. I know that by the time I get in, it’s going to be too late to cook anything substantial so I booked a last minute table at L’Infinito Italian restaurant on Wanstead High Street.
I dropped a text message to my friend Sally asking if she wanted to join me for a last minute meal. It seemed like we both had the same Monday feeling!
I rushed home to drop my bags and freshen up and then left – but not before I had a mini panic remembering that my tastecard was about to expire! I knew my yearly membership ended in June, I just couldn’t remember when. I had a massive relief when I spotted the end date – 20th June 2012 – JUST in the nick of time. PHEW!
First Impressions Count
Sally and I rocked up to L’Infinito admiring the fresh floor to ceiling windows allowing passers by to see into the restaurant. “Ooh Italian, my favourite!” Sally said. It was not busy at all, just a couple of young families, but this was to be expected, after all it was Monday.
We were greeted by a very friendly waitress who offered us a seat by the window – usual restaurant tricks – fill up the window seats to make the restaurant look busy. Of course I wasn’t having that – one of my restaurant rules – never accept the first seat offered. I took a table at the back.
The atmosphere of the restaurant was immediately regarded as pleasant. As I’ve previously mentioned, it was pretty much empty, but being that it is a fairly small restaurant you didn’t have that feeling of sitting in an empty echoed restaurant.
Our waitress presented our menus and told us that the soup of the day was carrot and potato and that they did not have spinach, mussels or duck available. Well that made the choices a bit more straight forward. The menu was very varied and I knew straight away that I’d be having the beef carpaccio. I LOVE beef carpaccio. It’s a luxurious dish and I wouldn’t attempt to try cooking it at home so if I see it on a menu I’m sold. Sally chose the warm grilled vegetables served with roasted goat cheese, garlic and rosemary oil dressing. Choosing the main course took me a bit of a while because I really fancied the roast cod fish which came served with spinach which of course they didn’t have. The menu certainly wasn’t limited. There were at least six choices each of meat dishes, pasta and fish, as well as a selection of salads.
In the end I chose the sea bass which comes served with boiled new potatoes and green beans. Sally chose the salmon.
When asked what I wanted to drink I asked for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc only to be told they didn’t have it in stock. I asked the waitress if she could recommend anything as an alternative, she proceeded to simply read through the wine list. I asked again “can you please recommend anything that is similar?” again a shrug. As she seemed a bit unsure I opted for the Vermentino Di Sardegna, which, when it came turned out to be a good choice. The description had read similar to Sauvignon Blanc in that it was fruity and slightly perfumed taste.
Whilst we were waiting we had bread delivered to our table with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. About 10 minutes later our starters arrived. I was impressed with the presentation. The taste was as I expected. The carpaccio was complimented by the Parmesan cheese and it was thoroughly enjoyable.
Sally’s goats cheese starter also looked fantastic. I think the description suggested there may be a tad more of the “roasted vegetables” that were promoted in the menu as the vegetables presented appeared to be more of a garnish. Then again it was a starter.
When the waitress delivered our starters she informed Sally that they didn’t in fact have the salmon after all, another blow but they had one more duck left (they had initially said they were out of duck) – so back to the drawing board to choose another dish. Sally opted for the duck in the end.
We had a 15-20 minutes wait following our starters to mains but this was perfectly acceptable – especially as they’d had to start prepping the duck at late notice following their miscount at what they had left in their kitchen. We were so busy gassing the time flew by!
The main courses arrived dramatically – continuing the theme of well presented white plates.
The seabass was cooked to perfection. Thoroughly tasty fillet – succulent, not dry at all, and with a crisp skin. The portions were generous as there were two fillets, both of a good size. The boiled potatoes were sliced and placed around the plate. You can see above the dots amongst the new potatoes which is the balsamic reduction. The flavouring was perfect but I think my only comment would be that I think there should have been slightly more of the balsamic sauce. Either that or the new potatoes should have been served whole. Towards the end of the dish I found it was hard to get that balance of the seabass, potato and green beans on my fork whilst still trying to find some of that sauce to top my forkful.
The duck breast was cooked again to perfection. It came served on a bed of mashed potatoes and beetroot and berry sauce dotted around the dish. I tasted it and the breast was perfectly moist, again with a crispy skin. The beetroot was very sweet which complimented the duck well. I think this dish had the perfect balance of the meat, potato and beetroot. If anything I think a side dish of spinach would have gone well with this dish – which we would have probably ordered, had it been available.
Finishing our mains and assessing whether we had any space for desserts we perused the again generous options. Easy for me – I spotted cheese. Similar to carpaccio, if I spot cheese and biscuits on the menu for dessert – that’s what I’m having.
We ordered and pretty much about five minutes later dessert was at our table – after all cheese doesn’t require much preparation, and Sally had chosen cheese cake so again quick to plate up.
The desserts weren’t really mind-blowing. This isn’t to say they weren’t good. It was just hard to set it apart from what you might have had elsewhere. I regret not asking what made their cheese cake “new” as it had stated in the menu. Was there an old one? Was it a new recipe? Who knows?
The cheese came well presented again on a plate with crackers (which looked suspiciously like larger versions of Ritz biscuits) in between each portion of cheese. The restaurant had recommended a glass of port to accompany the cheese (up-sell) but I had not ordered port because I’d already had two glasses of wine and it was a school night. I was intrigued to know what was in the white bowl because the menu had simply read “selection of Italian cheeses”. There had been no elaboration on what these cheeses were. I asked the second waitress what they were and she explained that I had goats cheese, blue cheese, and two types of parmesan – one aged 18 months old and the other 24 months. In the bowl – was honey.
I commented that usually the cheese presented would be explained to the diner on production of the plate – at this point the waitress apologised and told me that she is actually the manager of the restaurant – not the waitress at all! She explained that she has taken over the restaurant as new management and they are still finding their feet. The cheese query she explained is a new thing she had learned.
It was truly fantastic having this chat with the manager because I then raised the point of the fact it was Monday and they had no spinach, mussels or salmon – at the beginning of the week! Her explanation was that fish deliveries were on a Tuesday and that they’d had such a busy weekend, they hadn’t anticipated running out of those items. I understand the point of mussels and salmon – because if you have a preferred supplier you wouldn’t want to get this elsewhere – but I slightly disagree with the spinach because Wanstead High Street has two chain supermarkets and a green grocer present. It was still nice to have had an explanation for this rather than a simple “we don’t have…”
Finally a story that warmed my heart whilst at L’Infinito. The manager (Antonella) had told me that she was preparing the restaurant for a post funeral reception the following day. She said that an elderly lady had died recently and as she’d been a regular customer of L’Infinito, she had requested the family have her reception there. Antonella had said she was so touched and honoured to be able to host this occasion but couldn’t picture the lady. She said that the family were going to show a presentation on a projector featuring photos of the lady – at which point Antonella would probably recognise the customer that loved L’Infinito so much, she wanted to be remembered for going there.
Dinner with service and wine for two: £49
L’Infinito offers 50% off the food bill 7 days a week. Try it yourself and tell us what you think!