For some of us, it’s difficult to visit a restaurant without having read at least one review first. There’s nothing I enjoy less than a bad meal, so to avoid that I rely on a handful of trusted friends, bloggers and tweeters to guide me. It works pretty well, but following the herd has its price: there must be dozens of good places out there that just never really break through.
Tozi is one of those places. Just off Wilton Street near Victoria station, home to the ridiculous (Loco Mexicano, Preto churrascaria) and the sublime (A Wong), I must have passed it dozens of times while it’s been open over the last five years, but when I was invited to eat there I assumed it was brand new.
The room is smart and airy, and mostly full on a Monday evening. The menu is mostly Venetian-style “cichetti” sharing plates, though we are here to try their new, one-week only Piemontese menu. We ask for all of the Piemontese menu, with accompanying wines, and a few dishes that the waiter recommends from the main menu.
Our first two dishes are a salami whose name I cannot remember and Testun al Barolo, a sheep and goat’s cheese packed in grapes. The salami is fatty and powerfully meaty, like a terrine, though the slices are perhaps a little too thin. The cheese is amazing, with the grapey sweetness mingling with the sharp goats cheese to create an incredibly rich combination unlike any cheese I’ve tasted before.
Next up is the first Piemontese dish, carpaccio of beef topped with pickled mushrooms and parmesan. I usually find carpaccio a bit too elegant and dull, and despite the chef’s best efforts with the pickled mushrooms this did leave me slightly underwhelmed. The ingredients were flawless, though, the beef being astonishingly tender and as flavorsome as thin, raw beef fillet can be. This was from a “Fassona” cow, a Piemontese breed famed in Italy for its tenderness.
Onto the raviolis. One dish is three large, ricotta-stuffed packets of ravioli, the other a Piemotese Agnolotti del Plin of much smaller stuffed bits of pasta, about the size and look of a whelk. Both come in a “butter sauce”, which is fabulously delicious. The first is swimming in the stuff, and the utility monster in me licks the plate clean. The second is more restrained to give the black truffle some space, and as you want with black truffle the aroma pervades every bite. Yum.
Our last savoury dish is Brasato al Barolo, a beef rump braised in a (quite expensive) Piemontese wine, served with mashed potatoes. OK: it looks like Irish stew. But it was a testament to the power of cooking with really, really good ingredients. The beef melted in your mouth, the sauce packed a powerful and complex flavour punch that betrayed hours of braising, shot through with parsley to lift things with a little lightness. And the potatoes were delicate and fluffy. I hated sharing it.
Finally, a chocolate bonet, which was like a chocolate creme caramel, with cream and Amaretto syrup. I’m not really a dessert person, and though this was clearly very well put together it felt a little bit of a come down from much of the other food we’d eaten. The real star of the course was the digestif we drank – Chinato Borgogno, which tasted a bit like a Campari mixed with a light tawny port. Bitter and sweet at the same time and truly unlike any other alcohol I’ve tasted.
I did not have high expectations going to Tozi. How could an upmarket Italian I’d never heard of, five minutes from Victoria station, be any good? But it was. It had confidence in itself, enough to let excellent ingredients speak for themselves and to present the food as it would be done in Italy, rather than with gimmicky twists. Though the Piemontese menu was a one-off, it would not surprise me to see some of the items added to the normal menu.
The big catch, and I’m afraid there is one, is that these ingredients come at a price: our meal would have been £101, had it not been comped and if we’d opted for a bottle of wine instead of the wine pairings (as well as a glass of the Chinato), and that’s for a fairly modest amount of food. That’s a pain for me, but it isn’t for everyone, and there’s something very nice about a place that refuses to compromise on the quality of its inputs. In an area not exactly brimming with talent and dominated by obnoxious, overpriced chains, Tozi’s quiet self-confidence deserves a wider audience.
Rating: One medal.
I was invited to review Tozi.