A couple of weeks on from my meal at Gemelli, and I still can’t make up my mind about the place.
Take this, for example.
The formally-clad waiters arrive in a pair. Working deftly, silently, one clears space for the amuse-bouches to arrive. The other recently places a tree of gleaming filigree with two small ‘acorns’ in its branches, which reveal themselves as asparagus-flavoured gnocchi. It’s an arresting thing, and hard to believe the leafy little things aren’t organic. Between courses, they sweep the tablecloth with a tiny brass brush and dustpan.
It’s even harder to believe you are in a Tesco Extra.
It must be tempting for Italian restaurants to just bang out the same old crowd-pleasers: a bolognese and a carbonara here, a vitello al limone or a pollo cacciatore there, a tiramisu to top it all. There are plenty of businesses doing just that, and they have their place. But even the most cursory glance at a menu which features beetroot dust, bee pollen and lemon air tells a more ambitious story.
Breads- five? six? seven varieties? more?- arrive with a luxurious spread woody with white truffle.
One starter tops a tian of sliced field mushrooms with a single silky raviolo filled with the woodier, muskier notes of porcini and truffle. The pasta is excellent, with just the right amount of ‘give’, and it’s a belter of a dish for funghi lovers.
Welsh salt marsh lamb is dressed with a light, herby sauce, with a potato croquette which is very deftly seasoned. Sweet little peas and pancetta lardons make this an impressive starter.
The pasta dish (apparently created for Catherine Zeta Jones) comes with a generous amount of seafood. There’s also a scarlet strip of pomegranate and octopus gel which I don’t feel adds an awful lot, but looks dramatic; and as if that wasn’t enough it also comes with side servings of two varieties of caviar and laver bread.
And if that’s too meagre a line up for you, hold on- for here comes the bottarga. There are good flavours and lovely textures here- the pasta, again, is faultless- but somehow if doesn’t quite (and yes, you saw this one coming) gel.
I love pasta, I love seafood; yet the two together always come up a little short. Something is always that little lacking. Ah well; my search for the perfect seafood pasta dish continues.
Beef fillet medallions are medium rare as requested- there’s a lot going on in this dish, with a deeply peppery, sticky jus and some surprises in the shape of punchy notes from dehydrated vegetables, the best of which is the wallop provided by the onion. House ‘Special Chips’ are a treat: thick curls cooked in olive oil and deftly seasoned, these are formidable (in the most complimentary sense of the word) things. It seems willfully contrary to praise the chips in an Italian restaurant, but Gemelli plays with expectation.
Gemelli has traditionally had patisserie as its main business- there’s a section of the restaurant exclusively for those who want to come for just dessert (as opposed to their just desserts)- and you’re invited to wander over to the counter to make your selection.
We are handed scent-impregnated forks: wasabi and bergamot. The star dessert is a dark chocolate and orange confection. There are crumbs, there are shards, there are spheres. There are jellies and tempering. There are smears of sauces. There are flames. There is 30 year old balsamic.
In essence, it’s a grown-up Jaffa cake, but a Jaffa cake which has invited all its friends round and let them trash the place. It’s all a bit overwhelming.
Gemelli could never be accused to following some tired old template, of knocking out the predictable crowd pleasers. The staff are visibly proud of what they do here, and the AA has awarded them two Rosettes after a single visit, testament to the imagination and execution at work here. So, brilliant or barking? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
Either way, it’ll make an impression.
Newport Retail Park Spytty Road
Tel: 01633 270210
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.