Friday, 5 November 2010

Al Duomo, Brighton

Cod fillet, shrimps and a mountain of potatoes
Our party of four went out for Italian in Brighton. Nothing fancy but we didn't want to go to a chain restaurant so we searched the internet for independent Italian restaurants. Al Duomo came first and seemed to be the popular choice. It's located right next to the pavilions and is 'one of Brighton's most popular longest established Italian restaurants'. Surely that must mean something right? Right.

It takes me ages to order (plus we were driving from London) so to save everyone some time, I went on the website to choose my grub and... overwhelmed is not the word! They weren't kidding when they said they offered a 'wide-ranging menu'. I also checked what (else) they had in store and that's when warning signs went a-flashing. Surely any Italian restaurant (or any restaurant) that hosts Elvis nights, cheesy hen dos and a basement club must be avoided right? Right. Or if you have to have to go, you shouldn’t really expect your grub to be as special as the barmen’s striptease right? Right. However we were going to be in Brighton after all. The holy mecca of all things flamboyant in the UK. So it's okay, right? Right. *gulp*

We got there in good time for a Friday night and, despite the website saga, in good spirit (I think Brighton does that to you anyway). The restaurant looked cozy enough, but it didn't have that 'people come here for food' vibe. We were immediately sat by the table closest to the door - where people can observe us talk, drink and eat while waiting to be seated - despite asking for a cozy table upstairs. Ho-hum. Interesting. Anyway. Let's talk food.

We decided on the pate al brandy (£3.95), calamari fritti (£5.25) and gamberoni all'orientale (£7.25) for starters. The prawn came with a sweet chilli dip... which wasn't really Italian but at this point I thought nothing about Al Duomo can shock me anymore until...

wrapped butter on the plate!
Talk about a mess. It felt as if whoever plated our starters got lazy and just plonked everything on every free space. And okay, I have no reservations about restaurants using wrapped butter but... but... on the plate?! Boo. At least the battered seafood looked better...

Calamari & Gamberoni... al fritti!
Surprisingly, all starters were pretty decent. The pate was smooth and divine; absolutely, perfectly light even with the thin pieces of toast. You can taste a wee bit of the citrusy brandy but it didn't undermine the meaty flavour. I wanted to avoid the calamari and the prawns as I thought they'd be greasy like all battered things but I couldn't resist and thank God my will is weak. They were cooked to perfection and the batter was so light and seasoned nicely. The squid was so tender I thought it would melt in my mouth if I didn't chew quick enough. The prawns (which I liked without the sweet chilli sauce) were succulent and juicy. Each bite was a resounding flavour of a really good shellfish. Ahhhh. Lovely. My mood definitely changed a bit after our starters.

We got served our mains and again, the plating was... quite rubbish. Take a look:

Filetto Rossini, £18.50
Now, you can't really complain much when you have a really nice piece of fillet beef for that price. But. Was it really necessary to plonk the toast and the pate on top? Like that?! It looked like a science project. So we had to dismantle the science project plate before we got to cut into the beef and oh my gosh what a delight it was. The steak (as you can see) was cooked ever so slightly rare and it was the most beautiful shade of pink inside. The chunky roasted potatoes may be a bit overdone but the jus, which was a bit on the brothy side, made them just right.

Tagliatelle Imperiale, £9.50

We didn't expect the pasta to be served with prawns in their shells at all so this came as a surprise as well. However, with four massive prawns and a generous serving of fresh pasta how can we complain? The sauce hinted a bit of spice but the freshness of the cherry tomatoes balanced it out. I'm not much of a pasta fan but I craved for this dish a few days later.

Pesce Spada alla Griglia £13.95
This was possibly the most boring dish we ordered. Quite a disappointment, too. They promised skinny chips but we got the usual chunky ones. The rocket salad underneath seemed like it was bordering on its shelf expiry date and the swordfish fillet was dry, underseasoned and a bit overcooked. Generally blah. I felt sorry for my mate who ordered this.

Now without any bias let me present the star of the main course segment, garnering a whole hour's worth of deciding points:
Merluzzo al Gamberetti, £10.95
It's a plate of potatoes with a side of cod and shrimp! Seriously. I thought I'd never eat potatoes again. But hey, this was really delicious and made 45 minutes of the hour I spent studying the menu worthwhile. I don't usually order cod, but the dish promised prawns so I thought I'd get the best of both worlds. When it came, I was a bit gutted seeing a measly pinch of shrimps. It felt a bit pointless, kind of like an uncooked garnish that was thrown in there 'for the road'. One or two king prawns (and less potatoes) may have made this dish worth the full 60 minutes! Nonetheless, the fish was nicely cooked and the skin was still quite crispy. And the sauce! Wow. It resembled some sort of creamy, silky bisque and I loved it so much that I resorted to ploughing through that mountain of potatoes just to have something to eat it with. I wanted to lick my plate dry.

We all had gelato in the end. I had coconut and pistachio. All I can say is YUM. Nevermind that it was presented ice-cream parlour style, complete with a wafer stick. Nevermind that it was freezing outside (and from where we were sat because again, we were by the door)

If there was a word to describe the Al Duomo experience, it would be... overwhelming. The food was actually quite decent. They know how to pack their dishes with flavour and they know how to cook their ingredients well. I'd actually go back to try more of the extensive menu. Saying that, I think they need to refine their plating a wee bit more. Not expecting absolute sophistication but perhaps just enough so that the food may actually appear to be why people go there instead of all the gimmicky cheese. Because seriously there's good food there! But then again, perhaps people who go would actually rather stare at fake Elvis than at their plates..

Al Duomo Italian Restaurant
7 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton, BN1 1EE

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