Rex and Mariano, Soho
Thank goodness: the brilliant people behind Goodman (love) and Burger & Lobster (£20 lobster, yes but £20 burger, no) have performed the altruistic act of taking over the gross Vodka Revolution in St Anne's Court. The scene of many a cringeworthy crime back in those halcyon baby-free days, grotty old Vodka Revs is no more and has been transformed into a gleaming white subway tiled pleasuredome of Sicilian seafood. And despite its unimaginative industrial touches and the standard filament/copper lighting, what a triumph it is.
I visited Rex and Mariano on opening night and four of us were able to stroll in at 7.30 with no problem, but praise the lord for there will be a normal, sensible bookings system in place come January. It's a pretty big place though, and there are several bars (oyster, ceviche, normal bar) in place for extra perching, like these guys:
The oyster bar also looked fantastic but as ever, I forgot to take a picture. Sorry. If you're sitting at a table, like we did, a lovely smily server will appear with an ipad from which you order throughout the meal. The idea is to order three or so dishes at a time (it's the much loved small plates scenario) - any more, we're warned, will not fit on the table. We start with 1/2 litre of the cheapest white wine which is £16 and perfectly nice and get stuck in to ordering. (Cocktails are £7, which I think is amazing value for somewhere like this).
Technophobes never fear, the ipad is super simple to use and there is a HELP button available which will result in a bevy of good looking Mediterranean men rushing to your aid.
The menu is a lovely lovely thing - have a look at it here - and though sorely tempted by the oysters at just £1.50 each, we opted for a plate of burrata to start with. It's not pretty on the plate, but really the best things in life never are. This is insanely creamy (so much so it was hard to fork your share) and served atop some middling foccacia and extra sweet summery tomatoes which had been smoked, which was fairly innovative I thought. A hefty old portion and a steal for £6:
Next we had fritto misto, a particular weakness of mine. There was some unbelievably beautiful salmon, prawn, calamari, whitebait and the odd bit of langoustine. It was crispy, light and moreish that we ate it at the speed of light, astounding a passing waiter. Should have been £12 but the inexplicably comped it for us as they felt they had been tardy in bringing it to us; they had not.
We all know the depth of my allioli obsession, and the stuff that arrived with the fritto misto was literally like crack, so we clicked and ordered other things to dip into it - zucchini fritti, which were passable but a teeny bit limp (I've made better ones myself, here) and some normal fries which were very good indeed. Lets be honest though, anything used as a vessel for that allioli is going to be astonishingly great. Even your own fingers would taste good (and anyway, there's a cool fountain basin type thing with Ren handwash amongs the tables, so it would definitely be fine to just dig in).
Before I disgraced myself, we moved on for more frutti di mare. Above left is something I'd never heard of before - a sabre fish. A firm, meaty white fish with a pleasant almost sardiney taste, it had been coated in fine polenta and then drizzled with a dazzling salsa verde. Yum. Another huge portion for £7. Still, we were greedy and drunk on our own success at finding such a great place to eat, so we consulted the ipad again for more seafoody treats. Torn between the cozze and vongole, I cast the deciding vote and of course it had to be the vongole - its my desert island dish, don't you know. They came, they were salty, sweet, garlicky beyond belief, and we were happy.
And that was it for us, we were stuffed, and even with the unnecessary comping disregarded the damage was a very ok £25 a head - this includes two litres of wine too, so I don't know why we even pretended we'd only have the initial 500ml. Next time we go I'm insisting on the red prawns, which I felt very jealous about when I saw a neighbouring table tucking in. I'd also like a good go at the oyster bar too. Oh, and the langoustines... look, who am I kidding, I'm getting the tube there now and I'm staying til I've eaten the entire menu.
New favourite place, fact.