Fair enough, there was a set menu involved. For a £30 tab per guest (sans vino), you get a proper three course meal. I thought this was a very reasonable amount to get your guests to pay for.
Bread baskets came around the table first. I love Italian bread and Al Duca’s offering set up a good start to the meal. I was quite taken by the sundried tomato focaccia and might have to admit here that I ate more than my share.
For starters, I went for the octopus stew. The baby octopus was cooked quite nicely and the tomato sauce with chilli and olives was very strong in flavour. This dish was very hearty and I can imagine it being served atop fresh pasta as mains. As a starter, it was served with fried polenta to soak up the sauce.
I had some of the beef carpaccio which I thought was the winning dish of the night. It was a generous serving of beef topped with beans, pine nuts, pancetta, and a whole lot of pecorino from Sardinia. I loved the celebration of colour, the play on texture (seriously, those pine nuts were super sexy), and the revelry of flavour. I wish I had this instead.
For mains, I went for the classic grilled seabass with french beans and balsamic dressing. Whilst the fish was cooked nicely and the portion was quite big, I thought this was quite average. I suppose that’s what you get for going for the safe option.
My friend J ordered the chocolate tart served with pistachio gelato. I imagined this to be quite rich and dense but it was actually quite light – both in texture and in flavour. The gelato stole the show here.
I went for the passionfruit panacotta as it appealed for a light end to the meal. The panacotta itself set very nicely however the flavour was much too strong and much too sweet for me. I couldn’t finish it at all.
Majority of B’s guests seemed pleased with their meals, ooh-ing and ahh-ing appreciation per forkful. I thought the food was good enough to please a whole bunch of people, although nitpickers and annoying foodies (*ahem*) would probably think it’s all on the average side. #cantpleaseeveryone
Overall, Al Duca is safe. Service is warm and friendly and the wine selection is pretty decent too. Nonetheless it was great seeing B enjoy his night, as well as know that some places in town are still quite reliable and group-friendly.