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By Molly Duignan
99 King St.
Four stars (out of five)
There's a new kid on London's best block of restaurants and there's nothing else like it in London.
Located on the one street London's downtown can actually be proud of King Street Nove Nove is completely made-over from the previous tenant, Maza Restaurant.
Though the prices are reasonable, the presentation and distinct elegance of Nove Nove puts real manners back into dining in such a way that one would expect the menu to be over-priced and the portions small.
Instead, Nove Nove is ambitious and anxious to please.
The modern, artistic décor is subtle and classy, with raw brick, dark stucco walls, sleek, black tables and chairs, as well as extraordinary lighting.
With four different dining rooms, the ambiance is quiet and relaxing, with the added touch of both classic and contemporary Italian music. The restaurant's class is evident in its small touches, like the offer to take your coat at the door and the simple table settings.
Nove Nove boasts a menu of contemporary Italian food with more than enough choice for picky eaters. To start, choose from a wide assortment of "Antipasti," all from $6 to $12, or have one of five options in the "Zuppa e Insalata" section for the same price.
The "Spinaci e Olio" fresh baby spinach sautéed with garlic in extra virgin olive oil is highly recommended for its light, fresh, bruscetta-like taste.
Unfortunately, the beautifully garnished tower of "Salmone all Grappa" smoked salmon, grappa and herbed marscarpone cheese takes a true fish-lover to appreciate. The salmon is overwhelmingly fishy, but salvaged by the delicious marscarpone cheese.
Even an unassuming caesar salad is made fresh at Nove Nove. Made without egg, the salad is refreshing and crisp. On the richer side in both taste and cost, try the "Gameri con la crema di gorgenzola" for $11. It features a generous portion of black tiger shrimp in a creamy and filling gogonzola sauce, served with a salad.
In the "Primi" section, choose your pasta linguini, papperdelle, penne or gnocci and match it with the sauce of your liking. Made fresh daily, the sauces range from a delicious "Pomodoro con basilico" a seasoned sauce of roma tomatoes, sweet onion, fresh basil and roasted garlic for $11 to a "Risotto del giorno" the chef's daily creation made with arbono rice.
The Pomodoro is thick, zesty and fresh. Nove Nove definitely has a knack for gnocci soft and creamy, it melts in your mouth.
With the bonus of a beautiful wood-burning oven, many of the menu's features are unique and diverse. From the "Pizze" section, choose from eight different wood-oven cooked pizzas for $10 to $14.
For something more unique, look to the range of "Secondi" options of chicken, beef or fish. A feast for the mind and pallet is embodied in the "Agnello Toscana" wood-oven roasted rack of lamb for only $25. Tender and sweet, served over roasted potatoes and vegetables, this dish guarantees satisfaction. All portions are perfect for a full meal, but not overwhelming.
The wine list is detailed and mostly Italian, with prices ranging from an affordable $6 glass of Pino Grigio to $250 for a bottle of Champagne. The restaurant also offers an impressive assortment of grappas, all imported from Italy, to fill the desire for an after-dinner liqueur. If diners have any room for desert, one should opt for their famous tirimisu.
Nove Nove makes a wonderful first impression, making it stand out among other restaurants on King as a new standard for Italian dining in London.