Don’t leave Covent Garden to the crowds packing in to see Marty McFly infiltrate the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, Simba follow the Hamlet playbook or the Dementors make their London stage debut. Whether traditional (Rules, Simpsons on the Strand), innovative (Adam Handling), theatrical (Joe Allen), welcome imports (Balthazar, Shake Shack), less welcome ones (RIP Wahlburgers) dumplings (Dai Tai Fung) and wine bars (Frenchie), there are gems among the fast casual chains and tourist traps.
One of our all time favourites is La Goccia from Petersham Nurseries. Through the festoon clad courtyard, the recently refurbished bar looks like it has been there for at least 30 years - in a good way. The decor is wonderful: a big lone bloom on each table (in our case a Persian buttercup), artfully disheveled furnishing, bold contemporary art, worn leather chairs, rugs under tables like a Rolling Stones' recording session. Musically things are kept light, cheery and generic - a bit of Paul Simon, a touch of Jungle (the band not the movement). With organic pale ales and lagers from Gilt & Flint, El Rayo tequila from Peckham, pink gin from Devon and bourbon whiskey from Tennessee’s James Cree. It is the sort of bar that makes you want to skip the show and just sink into a Dark Chocolate Martini.
You would be well advised to dine in the restaurant either pre or post dinner. The kitchen’s skill with frying ingredients is clear from the very start. Starters are sensational - crunchy anchovies wrapped in sage that are just salty cigarillos of deliciousness. Free range Haye farm fried chicken is a genuine showstopper. The braised broccoli are agreeably alien rhomboids with a vivid salsa verde mayo . The wine list is 100% Italian with a really interesting selection of styles, including non-obvious varieties (a light fruity Grignolino from Piemonte!) alongside the more familiar favourites such as the Tamellini Soave classico.
Mains are fabulous: unctuous rigatoni with beef ragu, tender lamb shoulder with potent bagna cauda, delicate pumpkin ravioli in a buttery sauce with pistachios. Make sure you order the leek gratinato that comes with the kind of deep lactose hit of a Seventies dinner party favourite. Slivers of steak tagliata pair perfectly with honey glazed heritage carrot and chilli-laced Cavalo Nero. To close, an affogato and the anticipation of the next visit. On the way out, I spy a pasta-cooking class taking place on the big bar. It takes all my willpower not to sign up immediately. A truly exceptional restaurant in every aspect.