It was a dark, rainy evening when I spotted Tozi. I was on my way home from an exhausting work-out at the Queen Mother Sports Centre, a few yards down the road, when my eyes were caught by a hidden oasis: a vision of warmth, relaxation and enjoyable food, tucked away on a little side street.
With my tired body finding new energy, I shot around the corner to check the menu, which featured most mains at below £10. I had to return to this place: a week later I arrived with a friend, and we were soon impressed by how friendly, attentive and welcoming every staff member was.
A basket of warm bread promptly arrived on our table, waiting to be dipped in the tasty-looking olive oil and balsamic vinegar – just like in Italy.
The one thing that wasn’t Italian about this restaurant was its concept: “It’s like Italian Tapas,” our smiley waiter explained. Every dish comes as a small taster portion. Generally, he said, people order about three dishes each and share all of them; the chef will send them out in small batches. The only dishes which are regarded as big enough to serve as a main are those marked with a ‘T’ on the menu.
The prospect of paying three times as much as we’d anticipated was a disappointing one, but we were confident our money would be well spent. So we placed our orders.
Things began well. The buffalo mozzarella served with ‘heritage tomatoes’ and basil was the creamiest mozzarella I had ever tasted. It melted in my mouth, and went well with the mulitcoloured tomatoes. It could, however, have benefited from more than one basil leaf and some more tomatoes.
This paucity quickly became a theme. Having spent nearly £7 on ‘gratinated scallops, Venetian-style’, I did expect to receive more than one scallop. So I felt let down when I received a lone scallop; and whilst it was presented in its beautiful shell, covered in garlicky toasted breadcrumbs, the taste was only mediocre. My baked aubergine Parmigiana came in an equally impressive dish, but with a comparably unexciting flavour.
The biggest let-down was my friend’s meal. Her T-marked ‘fritto misto’ – a blend of battered prawns, squid, crab and sardines – turned out to be a mere handful of food, served with slice of lemon. For £13.50.
Even after filling up on all the delicious bread, my friend’s stomach was still growling. So we paid our bill and went to Giraffe – a chain restaurant around the corner.
Despite our escape, I would recommend Tozi as a pleasant place to eat, drink and socialise. Don’t expect to be blown away by culinary taste explosions, though. And don’t expect the recommended three dishes to make for a filling meal: all the portions were disappointingly small. Still, at least I won’t have to work as hard at my next gym session.
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