A friend was DJ-ing at a rather nice pub called The Albany near Great Portland Street a few weeks ago, so we took the opportunity to seek out dinner away from our usual haunts. There were lots of Turkish places but I was fresh from my month-long cheese fast and some grilled slices of halloumi were unlikely to satisfy. There was also The Villandry, where we once had a perfectly nice if overpriced brunch (though to be fair this was many years ago, before I'd really got used to London restaurant prices). Still, it looked empty, and I'd read some mixed reviews of it, so we settled on Demartino – a reassuringly full-looking Italian.
Inside their were black and white shots of film stars like DeNiro (was he the Rob referred to in the menu, where the Rigatoni with Tuscan sausages and meatballs is described as “Rob's favourite”?), and a large, neglected-looking accordion in one corner (whose long-since-played demeanour made the music-loving husband very sad).
Even though they are not in season yet, I chose the fresh asparagus topped with parma ham, buffalo mozzarella with balsamic dressing (8.00). It was a huge, fresh-tasting plate, though I was a bit surprised at it being served cold. The husband opted for a competent insalate tricolore of buffalo mozzarella, avocado & plum tomatoes (8.00).
For my main, the spinach gnocchi with four cheese sauce (7.00) was ample, and perfectly fulfilled my craving for formaggi. The husband had delicate yet meaty wild boar ragout on a mount of pappardelle pasta (9.50). (Incidentally, I once remember seeing an entire book devoted to which sort of pasta goes best with which kind of recipe – though it's not something I've ever tried to implement at home. To me, it seems, that a bit of cooked dough is a bit of cooked dough, whatever way it's shaped.)
Throughout, the place had a lovely, family-run, regulars-filled kind of vibe of a good neighbourhood joint, as well as a reassuring smattering of Italian visitors. With a bottle of OK wine, we got off at under 50.00. Sure, it wasn't stellar enough to warrant a separate trip but we might well return if there's another gig at the Albany.
Demartino, 196/198 Great Portland Street, W1N 5TB; Tel: 020 7436 2547; Tube: Great Portland Street; www.demartino.co.uk