I first dined at 21 a couple of Christmases ago. Their cosy heated al fresco terrace, from where I could gaze upon the giant Covent Garden Christmas tree, admire St Paul’s Church and watch street performers, carol singers and happy shoppers roaming around the market, drew me in. And the excellent food made me stay. Since then, I have been back time and time again.
Now that summer is in full swing, the terrace is a great place to soak up the sun with a bubbling prosecco cocktail. But if you prefer to eat inside, you can dine in the restaurant’s candlelit cellar vaults. Tables are dotted around the nooks and coves of the space, so you can have an intimate meal for two without being overlooked by other diners.
The menu here changes every couple of months, except for the giant, crisp-based stone baked pizzas – their luxurious, cheesy toppings stay put all year round. There’s always ravioli, pasta, fish, salads and a stew on offer, so you’ll have plenty of choice.
Stew is the last thing I’d expect to chose when eating at an Italian restaurant (I usually go straight for a pasta dish), but 21’s beef brisket (£14.95) – with smoked garlic, shallots, carrot, leek and new potatoes – is divine. The meat falls apart in the rich sauce, which you can mop up with the chunk of rosemary focaccia, served on the side.
The ravioli (~£13.25) is another strong contender. Venison in a rich cream sauce was the flavour of the season when I visited. The succulent meat filling was parcelled up in al dente pasta, and topped with shards of crisp pancetta, tender green beans and a generous sprinkling of parsley and black pepper.
If you prefer fish, you’ll be served a generous portion, with crisp skin and perfectly soft flesh. Mine came on a bed of flavoursome caponata (see my recipe here) with boiled baby potatoes.
It’s no surprise that 21 Covent Garden keeps its diners coming back for more. The restaurant has certainly earned its reputation for serving exceptional Italian fare and despite the acclaim, has stayed true to its roots, serving classic seasonal dishes that take quality ingredients and make them sing.
21 Covent Garden
21 Clare Market,
T: 020 7836 2137
Open 12:00pm-22:30pm (Mon-Wed), 11:30am-23:00pm (Thurs-Sat), 12:00pm-22:00pm (Sun)