Sunday, 22 January 2012

Restaurant Review: Dego

Dego is an Italian that likes to do things differently. But it's had far from unanimously good press. I give it a visit for Scout London.

As desirable restaurant openings go, that of Degó was far from ideal. It became embroiled in an unfortunate Twitter furore after a slightly unfavourable blog review spawned public attack from an over-zealous promoter who obviously graduated from PR school before the introduction of the social media module (just read the comments). As a result, the food was largely overshadowed.

Run by a passionate young Italian couple, the concept is a bold one. They’ve merged the notion of a homely osteria (tavern) with that of more experimental cooking and tasting,degustazione. It’s the shunting together of these words which gives the place its name.

The upstairs of the venue, which hides on a quiet Fitzrovia backstreet just minutes from Oxford Circus, could be aptly described as a wine bar. And the drinks on offer consolidate this, with a huge menu of Italian pours, including numerous vintages of the house-special fizz Franciacorta, a regionally specific sparkling wine made in the Champagne method, offering comparable taste at a much lower price.

Downstairs is where the main mastication happens, though the low-lighting, leather booths and black and red decor hints at the kind of establishment which might supply a less gastronomic kind of oral action, the likes of which Berlusconi would certainly approve of.

Casting such thoughts firmly from our mind, we dive into a number of small dishes, which includes an unfathomably flavousome courgette velouté with soft goats cheese, proving even the most dreary sounding options can become a stand-out. Beef tartare, which is hand-chopped at the table, seasoned by instruction and daintily topped with a quail egg is another suitable advocate for simplicity, as is a hearty ragù made with veal mince, a rich stock and homemade pasta that would leave your weekly spag bol weeping with inadequacy.

Paradoxically, a fancier sounding duck breast glazed with red pepper is less tasty, succulent and satisfying than we’d have hoped, though they’ve done themselves no favours in raising the bar so high with the first few dishes. And whilst a pudding of chocolate and mint ice creams with chilli and olives added like some kind of obscure tutti-frutti doesn’t entirely win us over either, we’re not ones to overly criticise a bit of creativity.

We see Degó as a bit of a hot-bed of experimental cooking, sticking two fingers up to the notion that Italian eateries in the UK must be rustic and traditional, whilst still adhering to the nation’s principle cooking styles and ingredients. Such an approach won’t be as universally well-received as a margarita pizza, but it’s genuinely exciting.

At £58 for the tasting menu, this excitement doesn’t come cheap, but with antipasti dishes starting from £6, a taster session with a glass of wine needn’t be a mafia-esque blow-out.

Dego, 4 Great Portland Street, W1W  

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