As a north Londoner, the sight of Battersea Power Station has been all too rare. I’ve had to make do with only fleeting glimpses of its architectural magnificence, usually from the window of a southbound train.
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Now its long-awaited redevelopment is complete, everyone has an excuse to see it up close. And if that wasn’t enough, TOZI Grand Café offers the new wave of visitors to the area a taste of authentic all-day Italian dining in a thoughtfully designed spot right next to that Art Deco landmark.
TOZI Grand Café/Matthew Shaw
The power station may be well preserved from the outside, but this part of Battersea now feels conspicuously post-modern. So a sleek café, encased mostly in glass, fits right in. I came on a gloomy evening in early March, but I can imagine TOZI Grand Café flooded with natural light on a bright afternoon in May, when its signature Italian afternoon tea would reward a visit after some strenuous retail therapy.
An inviting, postbox-red bar overlooks the round interior, reassuringly stocked with Italian liqueurs and spirits. A couple of rustic-looking barrels sit behind, which I hoped contained some kind of artisanal vermouth, the foundation of any decent negroni. That, in turn, is often the hallmark of a good Italian bar.
The negroni test
The “barrel aged” was the most classic from TOZI’s negroni menu. “Laphroaig essence” in the ingredients raised an eyebrow as I know how overpowering that peatiest of single malt whiskies can be, but it proved to be an inspired touch. The distant smoke of the whisky elevated the natural aromatics and bitterness from the vermouth and Campari.
My companion went more leftfield with a “Clarified” version, containing Italicus and Americano bianco (clear vermouth). In contrast to the deep, sunset orange of mine, his was pale and reluctantly yellow. It tasted intensely fragrant, loaded with notes of bergamot and citrus and completely different from mine yet still unmistakably a negroni. It was a strong start.
TOZI Grand Café/Joe Howard
After the negroni test was passed with distinction, expectations were high for the food. While we studied the menu, we ordered some house focaccia and the crispy sage and salted anchovies from the cicchetti options (small snacks). Both sustained the quality tone set by the cocktails, especially the featherlight and grease-free anchovies.
For the pasta course, the buffalo ricotta ravioli with black truffle was earthy, comforting and laced lavishly with butter. It was right on the edge of being too al dente, but that’s undoubtedly the better side of the edge. We also ordered the divine sounding cuttlefish, squid and taggiasche olives paccheri. The combination of all those deeply salty Mediterranean flavours, generously coating the broad, perfectly wilted tubes of pasta hit every spot.
Secondi involved two excellent fish dishes that displayed a high level of skill. TOZI’s halibut on the bone with salsa verde was cooked with respect and confidence, allowing the firm, meaty constitution of that prized fish to take on the assertive flavours of the salsa verde with ease.
The whole gilt-head sea bream with lemon, dill and tomato was a continuation of that theme. Simply prepared, good quality fish allowed to mingle with a few uncomplicated Mediterranean flavours, and for that I’m grateful. Both dishes represented the famous simplicity of Italian food, and its natural affinity to the sea.
Dolci is where TOZI fell short, which was surprising based on what came before it. The pistachio tiramisu, which sat on a bed of emerald-green nut crumbs, certainly looked the part. But like so many tiramisu in my life, it lacked enough booze and coffee to make all that mascarpone have a greater sense of purpose. Without it, the creaminess was rather one-note, with only a meek hint of the strong stuff that can make or break this classic dessert.
The panna cotta with seasonal fruits offered a shot at redemption, but despite a promising wobble when it was placed in front of me, was a little over-set and needed a braver hit of vanilla.
TOZI Grand Café/Joe Howard
Battersea Power Station is a triumph of form and function, and there were moments where it felt like its new neighbour reached similar heights. However, the floor of the entry level wines could have been a little higher, and the desserts need some fine-tuning. If it gets that right, TOZI Grand Café won’t need the station to be its own powerful attraction.
Dominic Kocur was a guest of TOZI Grand Café. 3a Electric Boulevard, London, SW11 8BJ; tozigrandcafe.co.uk