‘Share the love (without the kids)’ is the concept behind TOZI’s date night dinner. For £100 you and your partner can enjoy a tailor-made feast, complete with a beautiful bouquet and dessert-to-go. The flowers are a charming sentiment, especially with Mother’s Day looming over everyone’s heads. But the ‘dessert-to-go’ option — because you’ve got to get home for the kids — seemed strange. If you’re making a night of it, at least stay for dessert, right? Or get home, realise you’re actually too full for a squidgy chocolate Bonet, and feed it the children the following day. Scarf it down right there and don’t tell the kids how much they missed out. Or do – it was your night, tell them that.
The ‘date night’ menu isn’t a pick-and-choose deal. It’s eight courses. Like it or lump it — but don’t be vegetarian. They did ask if we had any dietary requirements on arrival — fortunately, we didn’t — though it may have foiled half the menu if we did. The lineup didn’t feature anything unconventional too. If you’re signing up for contemporary Italian cuisine, you wouldn’t have a case to complain against chef’s choices. Of course, as with most Italian places around the city, you can shun the set menu and order a pizza. You could also have just stayed at home.
With lights dimmed, but not too dim, and a bottle of Pinot Noir, you could be at home. In fact, they even had the telly on in the background — well, a projection of La Dolce Vita, which reminds you you’re in a swish Italian restaurant, and not slouched on the sofa. The lighting is stark enough to see the dishes on your table, but soft enough for you to read the subtitles if you decide not to speak to your date.
TOZI specialises in Venetian cicchetti (tapas-style small plates), part of the restaurant’s casual dining ethos. The feel was ‘we’ll dish these up when we’re ready, here’s some bread, oil and balsamic’. They should have mentioned that these eight plates are huge and the bread is ‘just for show’.
Crispy calamari was first up. Lightly battered, as you’d expect. We picked and poked at it until it was pushed out by a cured meat platter and a plate of burrata and tomatoes. Perhaps we’d have given the squid a second chance, if there weren’t mightier options to have a go at. Parma ham and capocollo were the tender, cured flavoursome meats we anticipated, while mortadella is a smooth and ham-like salami I’m yet to fall in love with. Soft, stringy and a bit gooey, the burrata fell quite flat, but was rescued by the sweet, ripened heritage tomatoes.
The pasta dishes were ushered in, first introducing ricotta ravioli with black truffle. We imagined it as a hard dish to get right — too much truffle and you’ve blown it. Here I need to add that all small plates are not made equal. With the thick ricotta filling, a rich, buttery yellow sauce and a smattering of truffles, the kitchen felt three pieces of ravioli were sufficient. In hindsight, they were probably right. At the time, we wanted to gorge ourselves on cheesy truffle goodness and dismiss the remaining courses. We didn’t. And instead moved onto the pappardelle wild boar ragout. If a hearty English stew cast aside boiled potatoes and flirted with some hand-cut pasta, this dish would be it.
Next, braised ox cheek with mash and wild mushroom arrives and squeezes itself onto our table now full of half-finished plates (aside from the signature ravioli – that was licked clean and spirited away). Silky, creamy, half butter, half potato, ‘how do they make it so smooth?’ mash always finds a gluttonous place in my heart, with TOZI’s spuds being no exception. To suggest the ox cheek melts in your mouth would be rudimentary. Seared and pot-roasted, the ox cheek distinguishes itself as that finely braised meat I’ll still be reminiscing about months down the line.
Saddened that the offer expires this Sunday, TOZI’s parent date night compounded a wealth of Venetian and classic Italian dishes. The restaurant really tapped into the terrible truth that parents don’t have much time to themselves, so rolled a selection of their fantastic dishes into one dining experience. Bravo.
TOZI Restaurant, 8 Gillingham St, Pimlico, London SW1V 1HJ (Closest tube: Victoria)
For more Date Night London reviews, click here.