Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Restaurant Review - Avellinos, Peterborough

Local restaurant brings you mouth-watering italian cuisine just like mama intended

Just a hair’s breadth from the very centre of town, this gem of a local restaurant has developed an outstanding reputation in the few years since its establishment. Avellinos began near Spalding in 2001 but relocated here, to Peterborough, in 2004 when chefs and owners Mick and Pep Guarnaccia decided to bring their unique Italian family recipes to the city. And we’re lucky that they did: Avellinos offers all the pleasures of decadent and stylish dining but with the added bonus of home grown Italian recipes, without the conveyor-belt pushiness or exclusive generic pizza/pasta combo of your average Italian restaurant.

Mick and his brother learned to cook from childhood, with Italian parents that gave them their taste and talent for good food early on. They used this knowledge and years of experience in the pizza industry to create a menu of impeccable variety that will suit all tastes. Starters range from Antipasti, a delectable platter of fine Italian meats and cheeses, to the beautifully presented and impossibly delicious Funghi Ripieni, a trio of flat mushrooms filled with melted goats cheese and parmesan. If you don’t manage it for starters, don’t miss the Polpette for the main course, large mouth-watering meatballs made to mama Guarnaccia’s own recipe.

You’ll find all the Italian favourites at Avellinos, from bolognese and carbonara to a whole range of traditional and more inventive pizzas, wood fired for that exquisite smoky aroma. But beyond this you’ll also find a choice selection of meat and fish dishes that the Guarnaccia brothers are particularly proud of. There’s succulent steak with chips and salad and delicate tender chicken strips in a creamy white wine sauce, not to mention a mouth-watering array of fish dishes. I couldn’t resist Involtini di Prosciutto con Gambretti, the tiger prawns wrapped in parma ham served with Neapolitan sauce. The prawns were presented on a bed of delicious risotto that perfectly complimented the tomato accompaniment. The food looks incredibly professional and yet manages to retain that home-made aroma that makes Avellinos quite so special.

Locally sourced food and a comprehensive wine list, not to mention a homely and yet endlessly stylish interior, make this the perfect place for both special occasions with all your friends and quiet dinners with a loved one. Now serving a lunch-time menu for just £4.95, Avellinos is open to offer their unique blend of Italian cuisine for midday business and pleasure, too. With food this good, you might want to book in advance!

Book Review - The Third Brother by Nick McDonell

Boy-genius fails to live up to hype with second novel

Nick McDonell is only twenty-three. It is perhaps because he is so young that his first novel, 'Twelve', received such acclaim after it was published in 2002, when McDonell was only seventeen. In fact 'Twelve' became something of a cult bestseller, seeming to embody life amongst the over-privileged, drugs-ridden classes: a life we might presume the author to be familiar with, himself coming from an affluent background and studying at Harvard. 'Twelve' was a punchy, disparate novel, split into snappy vignettes that gave it vitality, readability and universal appeal, with a subject matter that encompassed and epitomised the indulgent, well-educated youth culture of a generation.

McDonell may have hoped to capitalise on that early success by reproducing his youthful stylistic snappiness in this, his second novel published in 2005, titled 'The Third Brother'. In it Mike, our white Harvard protagonist, finds himself in Hong Kong working as an intern for a successful magazine belonging to a friend of his father called Analect. He is then sent to Bangkok under the guise of writing a drug-related story about backpacking culture, but with the unwritten mission of finding Christopher Dorr, a man who, alongside Analect and Mike’s own father, formed somewhat of a Harvard triumvirate in his own youth. This trio was blown apart by adultery and lies, from which the friends never recovered, and it is this same conspiratorial tragedy that seems to hang like an indistinct shadow over the prevailing gloom of Mike’s unfolding destiny.

The plot skips like a scratched record between past and present in chapters sometimes no longer than a few paragraphs, giving a fragmented picture of Mike’s development through childhood and his present existence in Bangkok. However, much in the same way that a scratched record fails to impress with formulated, uninterrupted ideas, the detached elements of the book never really seem to pull together to give a clear sense of direction or completion, leaving plot elements hanging, almost unfinished.

This is incredibly frustrating considering that McDonell shows himself to be capable of evocative, if underdeveloped, genius on several occasions in 'The Third Brother', not least in his beautifully filmic description of 9/11 and the unfolding events of that fateful day in New York. This is a strange, self-conscious novel, that fails to convince. But read 'Twelve', and don’t disregard the author on the weaknesses of the eternally difficult second novel - instead look forward to the iconic work that McDonell is undoubtedly yet to produce.