My anticipation at the thought of dining at Mennula was by far the highlight of the experience, what actually transpired was far less enjoyable than the run up to eating at the new Sicilian restaurant on the site of Gennaro Contaldo's former great Passione on Charlotte Street.
From start to finish there was one blunder after another beginning with my two online reservation requests being completely ignored. I had more success on the telephone managing to book a table for two during second service on Friday night.
We arrived to find there would be a wait, the previous diners had not yet departed, a pain but okay, we could wait. The annoying thing was, the premises is so tiny that we were asked to wait outside, in the rain, with two fellow diners who were in the same boat. Two glasses of prosecco on the house eased the pain and within 10 minutes we were seated.
Mennula, Sicillian for Almond, are generous with their appetizers. We were served a platter of roasted almonds, delicious, arancini which I found rather disappointingly flavourless, and large plump green olives. The selection of bread, rolls and sticks were fine, a nice olive oil for dipping, but I found the rolls a little dry.
Having ordered the calamari con salsa di potate to start, I was most surprised to receive the artichoke salad. Pretty as it looked it was not what I had ordered. This was whisked away, along with Thomas' carpaccio, which thankfully as a cold starter did not spoil as they hastily prepared the squid.
When it arrived, it was simply presented and well cooked. A large piece served alongside a whole small beast with some delicious roasted peppers and olive paste. The potato sauce was very interesting, perfectly seasoned so as to be a mild but tasty accompaniment to the main event the squid.
Thomas' carpaccio was generously sprinkled with capers and parmesan and was beautifully tender. The lemon sauce providing a nice edge to the dish. Both starters were declared a success. We opted for red wine, the Syrah – Sangiovese -Mannara, Sicilia 2008, which we'd ordered a carafe of but were presented with a bottle, already opened. We decided we were happy to drink a little more having tasted it.
We were both pretty hungry after long days at work, neither of us had chance for lunch and so decided to order antipasti, pasta and secondi courses, three each. This had not posed a problem when placing our order yet when done with our starters what was delivered next were the main courses, the pasta had been skipped entirely. This was rectified, the mains were taken away and the pasta dishes followed swiftly. Mine was remarkably good. What's not to love about perfectly cooked lobster linguine? The lobster meat was sweet and succulent, the pasta al dente and the dish was faultless, the classic tomato and basil sauce reminding me why I had been so excited about eating here.
Thomas' next dish was the potato gnocci with almond and pesto. This was also magnificently done, the dumplings were full of flavour and meltingly soft. The quality of these dishes made it all the more disappointing when we were given the very same main courses we had sent back half an hour earlier and both dishes were obviously ruined.
My pork dish, belly served with polenta, cabbage and apple had dried out entirely. It was almost inedible, each mouthful required a lengthy chew. The crackling had become soggy. That said, the sides were good, the polenta, cabbage and sauce remained intact.
Another casualty was Thomas' fillet of beef which was heinously overcooked after the lengthy rest it was unwittingly given. Presentation here was also lacking, the plate visible beneath the smudge of celeriac mash leaving it look decidedly messy.
Better results with the desserts, there were no hitches at all with the delivery of the tiramisu and the Sicilian cannoli with ewes ricotta. Both desserts were exceptionally tasty, others have raved in the past week about the cannoli marking this dessert as their must try dish.
We asked for the bill and were again disappointed by an element of the service when our bottle of wine was removed with 1/2 the bottle undrunk. We asked for it back and the waiter stated he would ask whether it was possible to return it to us. It was returned and I made certain to take it with me when we left which they frowned upon but I was past caring.
Chef Santino Busciglio's 'passion and down to earth philisophy' are clear, he happily mingled with diners asking for their comments and I think his approach is refreshingly relaxed and friendly. Aside from the many service related errors, there were some high points and much of what we sampled was seriously good but the experience was quite frankly catastrophic and means I shall not be returning any time soon.
10 Charlotte Street
7.5/10 (for food, not service obv)