As someone who likes their cheese honkingly strong or at least with some discernible character, I've never really seen the point of mozzarella. Sure it's a vital component of any pizza, but as a stand-alone cheese personality, it's always seemed lacking in flavour, depth, anything that would justify the top billing in a dish. My visit to Primo has totally changed my view on this.
Primo, a shiny Italian making use of the bottom corner of the West Point development, has been establishing itself as an exciting culinary journey to the Med since it opened in May. You wouldn't guess the cuisine from the décor though. Primo is very suited to its hyper development location, rightly eschewing a traditional trattoria theme for contemporary design. With its glass walls, flocked wallpaper, chandeliers and judicious use of leather and suede, it's like an edgy M&S interiors shoot styled by Gok Wan. It will be dated in six months' time but for now, it's 'bang on trend'.The well considered menu matches the contemporary approach with a range of Italian antipasto, pasta, pizza and main dishes. To start we chose the mozzarella epiphany or to give it its proper Italian name, insalata caprese calda (£5.75). A layered tower of warm, fleshy mozzarella, firm and fresh beef tomato and smoky roast aubergine was respectfully dressed with a punchy basil and balsamic vinaigrette. The squidgy creamy mozzarella yielded into the tomato and aubergine in a seamless marriage of subtle flavour and texture. These were damn fine ingredients brought together and treated with care.
The same can be said of the mains. My rana pescatrice con risotto allo zafferano or oven-roasted monkfish wrapped in pancetta with saffron risotto (£13.50) was a delight. The salty crispy pancetta gave way to meaty moist monkfish on a sofa cushion of hearty risotto, decorated with brittle threads of fried seaweed. It had been cooked beautifully, the monkfish juicy inside its pancetta blanket with the rich risotto giving gravitas to this well executed dish.
My dining companion's pollo farcito or baked chicken breast stuffed with asparagus and parma ham in creamy mushroom and tomato sauce (£10.50) was also enjoyed, described by my friend as “creamy chicken done very well”. We marvelled at this roulade of chicken with a swirl of Parma ham running through. As with the monkfish, it was perfectly cooked. The side of spinach (£3.50) was the only dip, being not so much wilted as stringy mush with stalks.
As evidenced by the pics, the presentation errs on the ridiculous. The zig zag of balsamic reduction, sprinkles of unidentified red powder (paprika?), and the ultimate food presentation crime, the sprig of flat leaf parsley, are like the statement jewellery that a stunning outfit just doesn't need. This said, it's in keeping with Primo's shamelessly flamboyant style.With standards generally running high, dessert seemed inevitable and it was well worth the extra bloat. The tirimasu (£4.75) was fluffy mascarpone mousse interrupted by thin layers of espresso and liqueur soaked sponge served in an oval tumbler with homemade shortbread. My coppa ai frutti di bosco (£4.50) was a divinely posh sundae of homemade strawberry and raspberry ice cream, intense berry compote and mini meringues complete with a swirly biscuit. Service lived up to a positive Italian stereotype of being charming, professional and slick. Having considered our food choices, our smooth yet cheery waiter recommended the Vementino Sardegna (£17.50) with impressive product knowledge. Fantastic choice too. I'm desperate to go all Jilly Goolden and say something about a bouquet but instead I just strongly urge anyone with a penchant for elegant dry whites to seek this Sardinian wonder-wine out.
All in all, Primo delivered. Not bad pricing either, we went for the segundi plattis but the £7ish pizza and pasta dishes we spied around us looked similarly exciting. I intend to check them out.The location lets them down a bit though, being out of the way of the rest of the city centre action. The view isn't up to much, sitting opposite that hideously lit up development and a Novotel, and next door to a construction site for another complex. Currently the area feels try-hard, like a desperate newbie hanging on to the edge of the city centre. It may well develop into a hub of cosmopolitan cool though and if it does, Primo will be its leading light.
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