Very good, very droll.
But the annual celebration of my escape from the womb meant I had to once again prove my mettle. Choosing Italian took seconds, choosing the restaurant did not. In the end, I found the closest, poshest Italian place to my house and crossed my fingers. Artigiano was the lucky venue, and it turns out that we were rather lucky too.
For a start there was a table. A rather panicked balding Italian asked us if we had booked, gesturing to his almost entirely empty restaurant as if it were packed with punters fighting over the last antipasti platter. After puffing out his cheeks we got a prime spot in the delightful conservatory part of the restaurant. The delight came from the fact that it juts out into the street, so people walking by had to walk around us to go by, which kept me entertained while my parents discussed my career, housing prospects, and made pointed looks at the fact that we were sat at a four person table, but I had failed to find a fourth person.
Artigiano is very, very Belsize Park. Super posh and frighteningly privileged, but even more polite about it. The same could be said for the waiters. They were friendly but stiff; quietly assured that the food they were serving was for richer men than me and my jumper with fake leather elbow patches.
We received some on-the-house salmon bruschetta (only once we had ordered our mains, as if we might run off having had some free food), which was tasty if not freshly made. We also had bread and olive oil, which for some reason came without balsamic – by far the best bit about Italian bread.
Startled by the fact that I could get a Parmesan basket with avocado, asparagus, poached egg and mayonnaise for just £8.80, I went for the largest starter imaginable, and quaffed it down before I could even say "the mayonnaise was a bit heavy". Still, down it went, complimented by our Gavi 2010.
Still full of mayonnaise I started on my homemade gnocci with tomatoes, squid and mushrooms. The fact that it was delicious was slightly offset by the shape of the gnocci, which reminded my forcibly of earplugs. They probably would have been very effective earplugs too, judging by their delicious sticky texture.
Given how excellent the courses had been thus far, I decided to challenge the chef by ordering a chocolate fondant. So often sold, so often from a plastic pot via a microwave. Reassuringly I was told this would take 15 minutes, and to push the point I was forced to wait 20. It was well done, joyously gloopy in the middle if a little dry in the sponge, but the creamy raspberry sorbet made this a forgiveable. However, the panna cotta had the texture of raw jelly. It also had a coffee cream, which as a caffeine intolerant man is a waste of a damned fine pudding.
All told though, it was hard to complain. The food was excellent, if a little heavier than I expect from three Italian courses. No one else had a bad word to say from the other tables, and our fellow diners lent a wonderful sense of community, with chubby ladies who dyed their greyed hairs blonde and wore wacky jackets and waistcoats gossiping gently behind thick upper-class accents. They fulfilled the ideal of the upper-middle class - money earned and money spent. The right feeling for a restaurant.
The prices are reasonable (£133 for three, all eating three courses), the staff and food genuine, and the place relaxed and welcoming. And so, with a warm heart and a content feeling – things only Italian food and great romances can give you – we departed.
12A Belsize Terrace
London, NW3 4AX