Sink your teeth into tasty Mediterranean cuisine at this laid-back restaurant
Beso is a Mediterranean restaurant set in the heart of theatreland on iconic Shaftesbury Avenue. The open-plan kitchen is headed up by Khalid Dahbi, previously of establishments such as Claridges and Bibendum, however, this is a much more down-to-earth affair.
Exposed brick, dark walls and suspended industrial lighting makes for an intimate dining area, with turmeric leather booths and mosaic tiling really driving home the Moorish feel. And for those history and music buffs, it might interest you to know that the Beatles spent hours eating, drinking and song-writing in the basement of this restaurant in the 60s, which is now a private dining room.
Serving up Moorish food with modern flair is the focus here. Refreshingly, the menu isn’t gargantuan, it’s just enough for them to peddle their wares while emanating confidence and ensuring freshness.
To kick off with the boldest of flavours, the spiced beef and lamb Merguez sausages with harissa mayo grilled to juicy perfection are a must (£7.50) and the crispy Southcoast squid with a citrus crème fraiche has the perfect crunch and is the ultimate sharing food (£8).
The grilled Welsh lamb cutlets are also grilled to perfection; blushingly pink with savoury char and nestled into a smoked aubergine puree (£17), benefitting from a side of cumin roasted carrots with yoghurt, though these needed punchier seasoning to stand out (£4).
And then came possibly the most unctuous and luxurious vegetarian dish of all time - gnocchi with forest mushrooms, Dolcelatte and tarragon – which ticked all the boxes in terms of flavour and balance (£12.50). Its Spanish/Moroccan twist is evident with Ras El Hanout, pistachios, cumin and prunes peppering the menu but a slow cooked Tanjia burger and hake in wild sorrel cream serve as a reminder that this restaurant is European and its influences are broad.
Of the desserts that are freshly made in-house, the white chocolate panacotta has the obligatory ‘wobble’ as well as a delicate sweetness offset by tart stewed rhubarb and the Dulce de Leche cheesecake with flaked almonds and praline is beautifully textured and suitably rich (both £7).
The wine offerings span in origin from Turkey and Romania to South Africa and Argentina, and even the spritzy Txakoli, which I immediately associate with endless nights in San Sebastian’s pintxos bars, makes an appearance. But on this occasion the house wine, a Sicilian Catarratto, is smooth and slightly off dry and works rather nicely (£23). The neighbouring table saw away a variety of eye-catching cocktails. I’ll definitely be indulging in the Marrakech Martinis during my next visit!
Staff are attentive, knowledgeable and seem so at ease in their roles. The manager, Kamil, is a character and his infectious positivity only adds to the charm and appeal of this restaurant.
When I think of Covent Garden, classy restaurants aren't usually front of mind, so it was refreshing to discover Li Veli Winery & Bistro, a chic Italian restaurant and wine shop in the heart of Covent Garden.
Li Veli specialises in traditional wine and food from the Southern region of Puglia, a destination that is on my must-visit travel list. Given that I'm obsessed with all things Italian (and have visited Italy 10 times in the past eight years, it's amazing that I haven't yet discovered the joys of Puglia, but for the time being, I had to settle for travelling vicariously through Li Veli.
My friend and I (see my glamorous wine afficando friend below), had the pleasure of visiting Li Veli on a dreary Tuesday evening. Despite it being the beginning of the work week, we were surprised to discover that the restaurant was buzzing. That being said, I assume that word travels fast when one finds somewhere fabulous!
Li Veli Winery & Bistro specialises in the Apulian cuisine of Southern Italy, and is a joint venture between the Falvo family, owner of the Masseria Li Veli Winery in Puglia, and the Melpignano family, founder and owner of the San Domenico Hotels Group, resulting in a taste of Southern Italy in London's Covent Garden.
All of the dishes at Li Veli are authentic Pugliese dishes accompanied by Li Veli’s award-winning wines. Before our meal, we had the opportunity to peruse the extensive wine offering in Li Veli's wine shop and of course, we couldn't resist sampling a few of the sensational wines, which we enjoyed both before and during our meal. As one would expect, the wine list was extensive and boasted a number of superb wines, many of which are refreshingly available by the glass, so I'd recommend enjoying a few during your visit, if possible.
Stand out wines included the Colesel Noai Brut Prosecco n.v. (Veneto) (£7.95), a delicate straw yellow Prosecco; Li Veli Montococo 2011 (£9-£11), an intense ruby red wine with flavours of red and black berries and a spicy finish; and the Li Veli “Askos” Verdeca 2013 (Puglia)( £8.00-£10.00), an intense and fruity white with good acidity.
Above: Nicola Russo, Manager at Li Veli Bistro and Chef Antonio Calò who pulled out all of the stops to ensure that we had an enjoyable experience during our visit.
Above: The fabulous starters at Li Veli Winery & Bistro. From left to right: Homemade focaccia flatbread with cherry tomatoes, nduja salami, bruschetta with tomatoes and peppers and the cheese trough featuring Gorgonzola and Asiago cheeses from Puglia.
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There's nothing more delicious in life than indulging in a sensational meal.