Blazing summer sunshine, cobblestone streets, a plethora of oversized sunglasses and chattering tourists in shorts, flip flops & beach skirts. Hundreds of people are gathered around a central piazza to watching a performer's flashing knife tricks, whipping them up into delighted glee. You'd be forgiven for thinking that an Italian city in the peak of summer had been transplanted hundreds of miles over the ocean.
Luckily it's Covent Garden, smack in the centre of Zone 1 (in fact a nearby obelisk in Charing Cross station is the official centre of London). Always a draw for tourists, twilight pulls in the theatre crowds, attracted to Drury Lane, Shaftesbury Avenue and the nightlife of Leicester Square; hungry and thirsty. Luckily, we've found an Italian-inspired oasis that will surprise the most experienced of Londoners.
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of 21, but my (many) opinions are only ever my own, and I would never recommend anywhere that I wouldn't happily visit own dime.
One recent summer evening saw us gallivant towards the piazza, not sure what to expect. Over the years, we must have walked past 21 a hundred times times. Never thinking to go in, it's a little gem of calm, good food and delicious cocktails. We were ushered to our booked table in their vaulted restaurant, catching a glimpse of chefs hard at work, before assuming our seats.
The day was baking. The sun was beating down outside, but armed with a delicious cocktail or two, the air-con on full and a beautiful salumi platter to much as a starter we could have cared less. Soft, flavourful whisper thin slices of cured prosciutto, finocchiona & carpollo toscana were served with divinely warm focaccia, garlic dipping oil, handfuls of crunchy pickles and aged balsamic.
Ever indecisive, we eventually plumped for pizzas, Italian style (while in Rome and all that) simple, thin, crispy and packed with flavour. Mr Kiwi adored his Figaro (the goats cheese happily substituted with mozzarella) whilst I went super classic.
Tricolore: cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. It was scrumptious, certainly some of the best pizza we've tried in the longest time. Possibly the best out of Italy so far - much to our delight. What's more, every slice proudly showed the Italian credentials of the toppings: mozzarella oozing off the slice in a manner befitting the best local pizzeria.
Whilst we journeyed gastronomically around the Tuscan countryside, Mr Kiwi kept hydrated with thirst-quenching beer as I perused the cocktail list. Beginning with an elegantly presented 'Taryntini', a vodka and aperol creation (see first image) it was swiftly followed up with a delicious 'Tickled Pink', home-infused strawberry wine & Chambord.
We crowned our meals lightly, and with abandon - Mr Kiwi opting for two simple scoops of lovely ice cream, but I couldn't help myself as soon as I spotted the Afrogato on the menu. Beautiful vanilla ice cream, served with a scoop of Frangelico and piping hot espresso.
Move over husband, I think I'm in love.
There are several levels to 21; external patios on the ground floor, the super quiet and private nooks of the basement vaults, and a couple of balconies called '21 - The Printroom' all set in this beautiful Georgian building. I'm going to need to explore the levels much more expecially as the prices aren't ridiculously tourist level either, not to mention the happy hour every day...
Service was friendly, perfectly attentive and the same with all the tables. There was quite a diverse set of groups tucked in their corners; families, couples, theatre go-ers and ladies loving the attention from their cute Italian waiter. One of the tables is rumoured to have a rather awesome aquarium as well - we will be back to 21, and soon!