One of the fantastic things about London is the amazing variety of food. While you just can’t leave the city without chowing down on some traditional fish and chips (at least once), you are not in the least bit limited to classic British fare.
Last night, my husband finished work in time to meet me for dinner in Southwark. He was starved and we decided to go for Italian; he knew of a quaint little spot close to London Bridge called Giuseppe’s. The address is on High Street but the entrance is on the side of the building, so you have to go partway into a little alley to get in.
Down a steep flight of stairs, the cozy little restaurant is situated below ground level. ‘Cozy’ can be great when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with your own friends and family, but not always as desirable when you’re seated four inches from another foreign couple having their dinner. Tight quarters…we were wondering why we didn’t get one of the larger tables until more customers flowed in; in no time at all the place was packed.
The restaurant’s popularity is definitely a testament to Giuseppe’s cuisine. We started with a bowl of olives and an order of garlic-stuffed mushrooms. There were only two mushrooms on the plate – but they were massive portobellos; a delicious appetizer. The biggest surprise, however, was yet to come.
Both Ian and I decided to have a pasta main; I settled on the ‘Ravioli Lobster’ and Ian ordered a dish called ‘Pasta Nero di Seppia.’ He had pointed it out on the menu for our waiter; if I had heard the word ‘nero’ it might have tipped me off as to what we were about to see.
When our meals were placed in front of us, we both stared at Ian’s dish in total shock. He had been presented with a huge bowl of linguine pasta with seafood, which is just what he had expected. What he didn’t expect was for every last piece of it to be perfectly black. Dark as night.
After simultaneously wearing puzzled expressions and asking each other, “What IS that?” Ian took his first tentative bit.
I watched his reaction carefully. “What does it taste like?” I asked.
“It tastes totally normal – like seafood pasta,” he replied. He began digging in with more gusto. A few bites later, I snickered at him; his lips, tongue and teeth were all blackened beyond belief. Clearly this mystery dish was not a first-date food.
Curious, I had to try it for myself. Sure enough, it tasted delicious. But I just couldn’t get past the colour! It prompted a conversation about the psychological impact foods’ colour has on our perceived enjoyment of it. We both agreed the black sauce was somewhat bizarre.
When we were about halfway through our meal (you’ll notice that the North American ‘quality check’ in restaurants is sorely lacking here; if you need something, good luck getting your server’s attention), I flagged one of the waitresses who seemed to have a solid grasp of English. She explained that the black colour was indeed ink, taken from a cuttlefish to flavour and colour the dish.
Back at the hotel, we did some quick online research to learn more about the evening’s mystery dish. In fact, we found a short video from a celebrity chef that outlined the cooking procedure for Ian’s exact meal. It does not seem to be uncommon, nor is it something exclusive to London. It was simply something we had never heard of or tried before, thus turning our dinner out into a somewhat comic and highly memorable experience.
Oh – by the way – my lobster-stuffed ravioli was fab.