This summer my family and I went to Italy. Tuscany to be exact. One of my brothers lives in LA with his wife and two sons, so seeing him and his family is an extremely rare treat. This year to celebrate various things the whole family decided to sack off the UK in favour of Tuscany. My family now numbers 12 members, which is astounding to me when I think we started out as just five Hedgeses.
The holiday was so perfect it makes me tearful thinking about it (especially on a cold, grey Tuesday in November). We had diving competitions in the villa’s private pool, played tennis to varying standards (my Dad beat everyone, natch) and stayed up late drinking Chianti Classico, laughing and playing cards. And we ate. We ate for England, Italy and the whole of the United States of America – we were committed to the cause. There was pizza, cured meats, pasta, arancini, cheeses, breads, juicy ripe fruit – and ok, quite a bit of Nutella (no European holiday is complete without it in my eyes). My nephew ate so much salami he could have passed for a Dukan dieter.
So if it was possible to love Italian food any more than I did before, this summer has made me crave it in an almost religious way. It’s all tied up with memories of sunshine, happiness and relentless teasing from my big brothers. Isn’t brilliant the way food can do that – be linked to memories and conjure up all these things you hadn’t realised you’d forgotten?
Four to Eight encompasses two floors of sleek, modern space with a central bar upstairs and an open kitchen downstairs. The restaurant is the vision of two brothers who grew up in Sicily while the head chef trained in Piedmont – this is an Italian operation through and through.
The welcome we received was very Italian – warm, welcoming and the staff couldn’t do enough for you. They were friendly and jovial throughout the meal, and very patient with all us bloggers as we chatted rowdily and took some time to provide our orders.
We were presented with caviar canapes to go with our prosecco. The canapes were served on a cracker that contained squid ink and it looked beautiful. The taste was subtly seafoody and I really enjoyed all the different textures (God, this is making me hungry writing this). We also snacked on wonderful arancini, which were crisp on the outside and wonderfully gooey and starchy on the side. There was also salumi and farinata, which is an Italian unlevened bread made from chickpeas.
For my starter I went for charred pear, whipped pecorino and pickled walnut. It was delicious, and if I could get that whipped pecorino as some sort of spread to eat morning, noon and night I would. A lot of my fellow diners went for venison tartare with beetroot, shallots, bitter lettuce and fermented pear. Alas I didn’t get a photo of this, but am told it was also excellent.
Main course was a tricky choice for me but in the end I went for beef shin ragu served on pappadelle. Oh. my. sweet. Lord. It was obscenely good. The meat was melty and wonderfully rich and there were thin ribbons of parmesan on top, which cut through the richness with a wonderfully sharp, salty kick. I was GUTTED that I ever had to stop eating that dish. I still dream about it now…
The others went for a range of things including sea bream with roast lettuce, semoilna gnocchi and salsa verde (very good by all accounts) and grilled spatchcock baby chicken with kohlrabi slaw.
An alarming number of restaurants seem to overlook their dessert menu, which I think is a downright criminal act. However, Four to Eight kept up their game. Dessert choices were white truffle rice pudding, rum baba, Amalfi lemon tart or opera cake and ricotta ice cream. I went tart, obvs.
The tart was served with a generous globe of raspberry sorbet – hiya my fave. The tart was buttery and rich, and the sorbet complemented the tart perfectly.
I would highly recommend Four to Eight to anyone who was looking for a decent meal in the Covent Garden area (there aren’t many restaurants I actually like in Covent Garden!). It’s easy, informal yet smart and they know their biscuits/ragu.
Four To Eight, 1-5 Catherine street, London WC2B 5JZ
Nearest tube: Covent Garden (10-minute walk)
I was invited to review Four to Eight, but this by no means guarantees them a favourable review. The beef shin really was that good.