Friday, January 05, 2007

Italian Cafés in London: Giovanni's Ciabatteria & Café Valencia

I stopped in several small cafés with my friends whilst in London, and many of them were run by Italian restauranteurs. There's alotta good Italian food in the UK (of course, I trust the best is actually in Italy). Two cafés stand out, one for its excellence, and one for its mediocrity.

Giovanni's Ciabatteria - I think it was this past Saturday that my one friend Charles and I wet to the gorgeous British Museum. I could've stayed in there all day, and set up camp all night! There were so many great things there, from the Elgin Marbles (reliefs that were, well, relieved from the Parthenon, and that the Greek government understandably wants back) to the Rosetta Stone (the key to unlocking Egyptian hieroglyphs) to awesome carved lintels of one queen's bloodletting and vision-inducing ceremony from the Maya city of Yaxchilán. But with so many Mesopotamian winged bulls, Aztec turquoise-covered skulls and colossal busts of Egyptian pharoahs, I could put out a longer post than my previous one! And Charles was getting claustrophobic from the crowds, so we headed out for a quick bite before heading back to the flat. We found a nice, small Italian deli that was about to close (okay, we didn't realize that at the time). The waitress seated us and gave us menus featuring the day's panini specials. Each panino (singular of panini, a small compressed sandwich on ciabatta bread) was about £3 which is absurdly cheap. I ordered a mozzerella, tomato and ham panino, while Charles ordered another (don't remember which, though), and we each got cappuccinos, I a small, he a large. Mine was about £2.50, and hit the spot on that on-and-off rainy day. The panino was filling, satisfying and a little salty, given the ingredients. We were both duly impressed with this place, and the next time I visit Londontown I will head back there. Also, and this is usually the case in any London restaurant, we were not rushed out at closing. You will often be hurried out of American restaurants, whether or not there is a wait. But in the UK, unless they are really pressed for the space, you won't usually be rushed out. It was just a nice, casual light lunch.

Café Valencia - I went here on Monday with both my friends, Charles and Kevin. We roamed all around Soho looking for a café that actually had room (this time, the tendency to not rush you out worked against us). We wanted to eat at the Patisserie Valerie, which has wonderful confections (also available at the Moscos Café and Patisserie, not sure what part of town but it's very close to the US Embassy). But it was the most crowded of all, so we went elsewhere, and ended up at the Café Valencia. Now I'm not 100% sure this was the name of the place. I guess I wasn't paying close attention. But the food I had here was unremarkable. Again, a nice cup of cappuccino made it more bearable. Kevin seemed to like the pecan pie he ordered, but it was more like a deep dish torte to me. Can Londoners really know about pecan pie? I may never know.