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Nothing special and overpriced
IL Giardino (London)
Member Name: Praskipark
IL Giardino (London)
Date: 08/10/10, updated on 09/10/10 (68 review reads)
Advantages: Fresh pizza toppings and cosy atmosphere
Disadvantages: A little cold upstairs and loud incongruous music
Now, I can't for the life of me tell you how we reached this small Italian/Sardinian restaurant as we were taken through the back streets and I wasn't paying attention. Too busy nattering! All I know is that it is on Blenheim Drive near to the Peckham Rye railway station. The restaurant's location seems to be on a side street leading away from the main shopping area which is full of fruit and vegetable markets and shops that sell anything from a bag of safety pins to sacks of the most aromatic of spices. Il Giardino's is slap bang next to an Affro-Caribbean hairdressers. I stood mesmerised as I watched through the window little girls having their fuzzy curls stretched and twirled into the most fascinating of shapes.
The restaurant itself is a square shaped building with a flat roof painted in a very bright custard yellow. Upstairs the two windows that look out on to the street have bright green wooden shutters and the downstairs windows are plain glass with wooden surrounds but in a natural shade not painted. As you peep through the downstairs windows you will see window sills filled with flowers and voile curtains hanging from the inside pelmets. The lighting is mellow and creates a sort of Alpine look with the wooden panels, tables and chairs.
On entering we decided to go to the top floor as the downstairs restaurant (which holds about 6/7 tables) was already buzzing and the area seemed a little cramped. As we had a pram to park we thought there would be more room upstairs and there was. No-one was seated on the top floor so we had this very large room to ourselves. Maneuvering the wooden stairs was a bit tricky especially carrying a baby - they were those very steep old-fashioned stairs that twist and wind round half way up and the steps get smaller. Not a task I would like to do after a couple of glasses of beer!
The room itself was very pleasant painted in pastel pink with an odd selection of paintings and memorabilia dotted around; a mixture of Sardinain and South American artefacts. The reason for this is that the owner and waiting staff are Peruvians who had lived in Sardinia. We all sat down at a long wooden refrectory type table including my grand-daughter who loves to sit in a real chair now and not a baby high chair. The table was simply decorated with place mats, red serviettes and a vase of fresh cut flowers. Within a few seconds one of the waitresses brought us the menu. There is also a blackboard on the wall in the centre of the room displaying in different coloured chalked scribbles the special dishes of the days and some of these seemed very interesting like chicken with stewed peppers, filo pastry with cheese and spinach, spaghetti with mussels.
While we were looking at the menu the waitress who was very polite went downstairs and came back with a basket of traditional carasau bread - a flat bread that is circular in shape and has the texture of brittle pastry and is made from yeast, water, salt and flour. It doesn't sound very tasty but it actually is delicious especially sprinkled with olive oil and fresh rosemary sprigs.
Five people and a baby were in our party and two people weren't drinking alcohol. We decided to give a beer a miss and go straight for a jug of red house wine which was okay - nice and smooth and no bad bitter taste afterwards. We also ordered a large bottle of still water which turned out to be fizzy which we didn't realise until we had poured a glass. We did mention to the waitress that she had brought the wrong kind of water but she didn't seem to understand so rather than make a fuss we just ordered another bottle and the second time we received the correct thing. I did notice that it was an Italian brand - San Benedetto.
Now for the menu. I'd already decided to have a ham and mushroom calzone and my son and his friend ordered pizza. The other two ladies in our party both ordered tagliatelle with prawns. The good thing about this restaurant is that the pizza toppings are fresh and not made from tinned or frozen vegetables. The pizza bases looked very light when they arrived and indeed they were. From what I could see the toppings were generous and not too loaded. My son had a topping combination of salami, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic and three cheeses. By the look of his face I think he would have liked a bit more topping. My calzone was huge and I did think I wouldn't manage to finish it but I did. The dough was light and the filling inside was a combination of mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, onions and ham. The balance of herbs and garlc was tasty and just aout right and the amount of filling inside was plenty. I loved the fresh tomato taste especially with gently fried onions - it all tasted very fresh. To make it even more tastier I asked the waitress for some olive oil - I just love oodles of extra virgin olive oil poured all over pizza.
I didn't try any of the tagliatelle dishes but they both looked appetising served in very large white bowls. I would say that the portion was medium sized rather than large. My daughter in law said the sauce was very creamy made with fresh cream and fresh tomatoes and garlic. The kitchen staff didn't skimp on the prawns either which is a good sign. Parmesan cheese came in a large shaker container but we had to give it back to the waitress so she could take it downstairs to the other diners.
The lighting on the top floor was very nice - soft and romantic but the music was a strange choice - very loud and strident numbers - some rock n roll from the 50's and some awful tacky electro stuff followed by a couple of operatic numbers. I thought the choice was comical. Also, it was a bit chilly upstairs and to warm myself up I did a little dance - to entertain my granddaughter really who was very well behaved and seemed to be eating everything in sight. The room was a good size- great for a party or special occasion - I would say it could hold up to 30 people.
After all our plates had been cleared away we were asked if we would like desserts. I didn't want a dessert as I was full but the other members of our little party chose a dessert each: one cheesecake, two portions of Italy's most celebrated dessert - Tiramisu and one Torta de Nona. Up to this point service had been very quick and we hadn't been kept waiting at all so it seemed strange that about 15 or twenty minutes passed before the desserts came to the table. The explanation was that there was no Tiramasu prepared and the chef had set to and made a fresh batch. I thought this was a bit quirky - like the story I remember a bout a Portuguese restaurant we visited where they had no eggs so went out to the chicken run to get some.
When the Tiramisu arrived it looked rather splendid sat on a big white plate with its layers of whipped mascarpone and lady's fingers that had been soaked in coffee and some sort of liquor, dusted over with cocoa powder. I could see when the girls tucked into their dishes that the dessert was fresh. Only thing was - it was still warm inside. Our friend's girlfriend wasn't very happy - she would have preferred it to be cold. Perhaps it would have been best if the waitress had mentioned that they were out of Tiramisu and the girls could have chosen another dessert. Personally, I didn't think a dose of warm Tiramisu was anything major - all adds to the eccentricity of the place. The other two desserts went down a treat especially the Torta de Nona otherwise known as Grandmother's cake. This is a lovely light flan made with creamed pine nuts. Now, why didn't I have a slice???
I am unable to tell you how much the bill came to as our lovely, generous friend paid for all the meals. I do know that the pizzas were Ģ8 each and I know this is probably the norm in UK but for us Warsavians it is expensive and double the price we would pay in downtown Warsaw. The tagliatelle dishes were slightly more expensive and I seem to remember the desserts being just over Ģ4.
So what did I think? I liked the building and the cosy decor. I thought the waiting staff were attentive but not over the top which is just how I like it. I thought my calzone was very tasty and I enjoyed the wine but overall there was just something missing. I don't want to be too critical or sound ungenerous as we didn't pay for the meal but I felt the restaurant just didn't have enough razzmatazz to make it a first class restaurant.
The day after when we were on our own I asked my son and daughter-in- law what they thought about the food at the Il Giardino and they both said the same thing - 'Nothing special and overpriced.' So there you go - still it is very nice to be taken out to dinner.
You can find Il Giardino at 7 Blenheim Grove, Peckham, London Se15 4QS
Opening times: 6pm- 11pm Monday to Saturday
*Not sure where the photo at the top of the page came from - the restaurant I visited didn't look anything like this. *
Summary: Not bad