La Ventura

Tel: +44 (0)20 7281 5811
Address: 28 Crouch Hill, London N4
Cuisine Type: European
nearest tube station Finsbury Park (PICCADILLY, VICTORIA)

The bad news is that La Ventura is the wrong end of Crouch Hill, in a bit of a wasteland with not even a pub in sight – what was once The Flag now seems to be blacked out as some sort of recording studio (or something more sinister).

The good news is that there is some really rather interesting food to be had in this desert, from the hands of Czech chef Vaclav Kriz, in simple but attractive surroundings – aqua walls and crisp white table linen. The menu degustation is astonishing value – five courses for £14.95 – but we decided we weren’t up to that on our visit and stuck with the a la carte menu.

My starter of fat, home-made ravioli (£4.75) didn’t seem to be exactly as billed – with smoked mozzarella and pancetta, and a wild mushroom and rosemary sauce – in that I couldn’t taste any smoke and the mushrooms looked suspiciously tame, but it was quite delicious and the addition of finely chopped red peppers (I think) to the stuffing mixture gave it a lovely freshness and crunch. Risotto with sun dried tomato (£4.95) was also good, though again it was a struggle to taste the advertised foie gras. This is perhaps my only quibble about La Ventura – some dishes try a little too hard to be sophisticated, and the complications are sometimes undetectable (and probably unnecessary).

Main courses (£11.25 – £14.50) all come with their own accompaniments and are beautifully presented. I couldn’t resist a dish very rarely seen on English menus – perhaps the Czech influence is at work here – slow roasted belly of pork. It was fabulous – ultra-tender, dripping with flavour, and served (don’t tell my dietician) with a crisp and generous square of crackling as well as excellent whole grain mustard mash. Pan-fried fillet of sea bream was also good though as before, the “lime crushed” potato salad seemed strangely lacking in lime.

Puddings (£4.95) were excellent: the choice is small but who cares when there’s banana tarte tatin with vanilla sauce and toffee cream, or Belgian chocolate marquise – both delicious. Mango sorbet with fruit also sounded good. A cheese plate is available for £5.25.

The wine list is short but interesting with house wine good value at £10.95. We tried a decidedly moreish Alsatian Tokay – worth every penny at around £16.

La Ventura has been under new management for a few months now and there’s no doubt it’s doing its very best to attract custom. There are special evenings every second Thursday in the month: live jazz nights offer a three-course dinner and jazz for £23.50 and wine tastings combine dinner and sampling nine wines for £33. The location is a hurdle though – let’s hope the jazz brings people in, because the staff are great and deserve to succeed.

– Helen Wright, 4/2003