Aioli Tapas Cantine in Thames Ditton (London/Surrey) is a recent addition to the local restaurant scene, being an extension of the Osteria di mucca felice restaurant next door. Regular readers will know of my love of tapas, having blogged on my annoyance of the English approach to it as well as raving about El Rincon de Rafa in Manchester. It was therefore with great glee that I ambled a mile down to road to dine at Aioli one Sunday lunchtime.
Drinks and decor at Aioli
Firstly, you have to get past the decor. Aioli is a mix of the worst of Shoreditch and Barbie’s childhood bedroom. I like quirky, and I am all for pushing the envelope, but there’s a limit. Suffice to say, one doesn’t often visit a restaurant for the decor, so it can be overlooked. That, and Aioli’s typewriter/scooter feature is pretty cool in fairness.
Before I get onto the food though, I shall do a brief summary of the beverage situation. The wine isn’t cheap; even the house wine comes in at £19 for a carafe and a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo at £32, Aioli would have to offer one of the best of its ilk to warrant it. This is technically London; certainly as far as Boris defines it with Transport for London fare zones, but it isn’t central London. What makes the wine pricing even more perverse is that Aioli have bottles of San Miguel are only £4 each, which is just 15 pence more than the chain Italians in central London compared to the wine’s near double.
Anyway, drinks (beer!) were delivered with warmed focaccia bread (almost certain it was homemade), very good olive oil & balsamic vinegar and some rather tasty Puglian (giant green) olives whilst the menu was contemplated.
Food at Aioli
Tapas would often conjure up an image of Spanish food; the approach at Aioli is that they serve a selection of dishes of Southern European original; there are clear Italian and Iberian influences. If you’re expecting lots of small terracotta dishes, then you’ll be disappointed. The style is more of the “bigger than a starter, smaller than a main” as employed by places like Maze by Gordon Ramsay.
After much deliberation, the final choices to share between two were;
- Pesto and fresh spinach pizzetta
- Spinach, ricotta and butter chilli raviolo
- Lobster raviolo, chorizo carbonara
- Quail Escabeche
- Iberian chipolatas
- Classic Tortilla
So, the pizzetta is the wonderful home-made focaccia I mentioned before, but with a liberal coating of a homemade pesto and fresh spinach and is thoroughly delicious; and I would go so far as to suggest having one in place of bread and oils at the start or to share one between 4 as opposed to 2 if including in your repertoire. If you don’t you will start to flag come the end!
That brings us onto the ravioli. In both cases, I am very pleased to see that they have ignored the oft quoted advice of “ravioli pasta should be thin enough to read newsprint through”. Bah. Aioli subscribe very much to my world view, which I outline in my book, that just because you are showcasing an epic filling, it does not mean you cannot show off your fresh homemade (and perfectly al dente) egg pasta by having it thicker either. The spinach, ricotta and butter chilli filling was perfectly spiced and thoroughly delicious. This came first of the two, which we were glad, because no matter how good it was, it would’ve been a let down versus the lobster.
The lobster raviolo filling is hard to describe; it was slightly more “oceanic” than you would expect and the colouring made me wonder if there was some brown crab meat in there; this is not a criticism, in fact, the more robust flavour than I was expecting meant it worked perfectly with the chorizo carbonara sauce. Two langustine atop the two large and plump ravioli completed the dish.
Escabeche, broadly, refers to the Iberian practice of marinating in an acidic substance, after searing, for a few days. In this case, Aioli used balsamic vinegar according to my taste buds, on a spatchcock quail, served warm. A thoroughly delicious way of preparing a lovely bird which seems to have fallen out of fashion for some reason. Obviously it’s a mission to get the meat off a quail, but it’s always fun!
The Iberian chipolatas were nice enough in themselves, but were served with a tomato, garlic and wine sauce that would grace any home-made spaghetti excellently in isolation. Which just leaves the tortilla which was served last. It was giant. And of exactly the sort of comforting way I imagine a Spanish mama would make – huge chunks of new potatoes, red onions and moist egg in the middle. My only comment here is that tomato, however nice and cherry, shouldn’t be in a classic tortilla, and it would’ve done with a sprinkling of sea salt (but, hey, that’s really personal preference).
There was no way we could face dessert after that and didn’t even inquire after a menu…. that will come on the next visit, of which I expect there shall be several on the basis of this performance. At the price (if you have beer instead of wine, that is), then it is one of the best value restaurants in its class I have come across in some time. Locally, I think only The French Table in Surbiton comes close in terms of places I have visited and I would commend Aioli to you all,
|Price Range||£40 a head (Sunday Lunch)|
|Phone||0208 398 2121|
|Address||16A, High Street, Thames Ditton, Surrey, KT7 0RY|