TOZI, Victoria Review

In Germany, many cities hold asparagus festivals during its short seasonal appearance, the highlight of which spans from April ’til May. Schwetzingen even crowns an annual Asparagus Queen. Spain and Italy are equally fond of the spear-like vegetable with a unique taste and an even more, cough, cough, splutter, splutter, unique ‘after’ smell. Across the pond, people queue for it and restaurants change their menus to celebrate it but in the UK, attitudes are muted at best; just another stick of greenery to add to the boring five a day.  

Tozi’s head chef, Maurilio Molteni is confused by our national disinterest and from the 7-18th May, is hoping to disabuse us of it. To this end, he has constructed four asparagus dishes for his ‘cicchetti’ menu. ‘Cicchetti’ is Venetian dialect for ‘small/side dishes’ and ‘Tozi’ is also Venetian dialect but for ‘friends’. We start our evening with some Franciacorta Brut, La Montina. This sparkling chardonnay/pinot noir is, essentially, an Italian champagne. It’s served not in flutes but in regular wine glasses to allow the complex flavours to breathe. It’s refined, crisp and elegant and puts us in a buoyant mood. 

Our Calamari Fritti comes fresh and tender, not in the ring style favoured in most UK restaurants but in smaller, oblong chunks suggesting it’s sourced only recently and is hand cut. The batter is incredibly light and small crispy tentacles make for a more authentic European offering.

If you’re not paying attention, the Tuna Tartar could pass for steak tartar before tasting, covered, as it is, in rocket and shaped like a smaller burger. It’s served with dashes of chilli oil and a slice of lime and is also hand cut into small chunks. With nothing else to flavour it, this mild but pure offering is refreshing and almost acts as an oversized amuse-bouche. Our first asparagus taste accompanies Seared Beef Carpaccio with Shaved Pecorino. The asparagus is cut into small vertical strips. Colour psychology might dictate that green adds a tension to red, but here the ingredients meld together with delicate, mouth-watering results. The carpaccio’s seared edges also provide an occasional chargrilled burst. 

Next up, an impressive double bill, neither of which is entirely dissimilar to the other; the restaurant’s signature dish Buffalo Ricotta Ravioli with Black Truffle and another seasonal offering of Hand-cut Taglioni, Asparagus and (more) Black Truffle. The former consists of three large ricotta parcels, each of which swims in a sublime butter sauce and is complimented by generous slithers of truffle. The ricotta is soft and creamy and practically melts with the sauce. Take away the ricotta and the hand cut taglioni becomes more of a focus. It’s al dente and there’s much less butter but it’s also incredibly moreish and, once again, the vertical cuts of asparagus fuse perfectly with the truffle. We add a smattering of black pepper to add a bit of spice to what is another mouth-watering dish. 

Tozi is annexed to Victoria’s Park Plaza Hotel and one of its playful marketing tools is a classic, lipstick red Cinquecento Fiat which stands proudly in the reception’s spotlight. Next to it stands an identically coloured Vespa; together, they make for a charmingly surreal sight. Further promoting its national identity, black and white Italian dramas (with English subtitles) are projected onto a large and wide screen above Tozi’s open kitchen where a small handful of chefs concentrate throughout the night. The dining space is large, modern, high ceilinged and wouldn’t be out of place in, say, the trendier, Bermondsey Street. The lights dim progressively through the night for a mixture of romantic and laid back atmosphere. And, should you visit the toilets, you might learn how to ask in Italian where the bus to the beach is (dov’è l’autobus per la spiaggia?) or how to count from 20 (venti, ventuno, ventidue, ventitré etc).

We continue the sharing ethos with two more dishes and question our sommelier, Anna Laura, as to which wine should accompany them. Tozi has two ‘Orange’ wines for its glass of the month and we taste both. Anna Laura educates us with an enthusiasm and knowledge suggesting she might own the vineyards from which they emanate (she doesn’t) or has at least visited them (she hasn’t). We opt for the ‘Blind’ orange wine which is dry and has hints of apricot. Anna Laura’s colleague Angelina serves us with similar warmth and dedication to the menu.

The Pan Fried Hake, Fennel Puree and Samphire is deliciously succulent and comes with small tomato skins (not quite sundried, maybe baked?) for a burst of sweetness while the Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder is almost silky in texture. One slice is pure meat, the other has a strip of fat for additional texture and flavour. They’re accompanied by giant couscous, a red wine type sauce and small cuts of black olive for a salty kick. 

For dessert, we opt for Italian classics both of which are served with a twist. Coffee is poured onto the Tozi Affogato at the table. The boule of vanilla ice cream is large and topped by crispy chunks of meringue which melt into the dish. In the ice cream’s middle, a heart of viscous chocolate surprises. The clue to the Pistachio Tiramisu is in the title. Served in a glass, the nut’s pastel green practically makes it look like a health drink, even if it is topped off by a sprinkling of cacao powder. The amaretto is less noticeable than in some tiramisu but a chocolate/caramel layer at the bottom makes this an instant classic and a perfect end to a flawless meal. 

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