An elegantly ambitious newcomer, near the Barbican, which deserves to transcend the obvious description of ‘City Italian’; on the basis of our early-days visit, it appeared to be one of the best restaurants to have opened in London in recent times.
his new Italian – in the City, of all places – is one of those rare restaurants that just knocks your socks off. Either we were extraordinarily lucky on our visit – it was, admittedly, one of those days when the sun was shining brightly – or this is a very significant addition to the London restaurant scene.
It helps that this is an almost vanishingly rare sort of establishment. Most London restaurants are, at least to some extent, constrained by being shoehorned-in to confined, pokey or oddly proportioned existing sites. (A classic example would be St Alban, where Francesco Mazzei, the chef here, formerly cooked).
Here we’re talking a ‘new-build’, at the base of a handsome new office block behind Broadgate, where there’s been no stinting on the scale and the fit-out is 'architectural’, rather than merely decorative. This is emphatically not décor-by-the-metre. There’s even a beautiful walk-in wine room, and, adjacent, a private dining room whose marbled interior feels much like a chapel. (When we poked our nose in, the large all-Italian kitchen brigade was for some reason all congregated there: the impression was bizarrely Caravaggio-esque).
In short, although the ambitions here may not quite be on the scale of the Four Seasons – the legendary restaurant in Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, on Park Avenue – they are not, in spirit at least, that far off. It may not be entirely coincidental that the money for all this comes from Peter Marano, who used to be a bigwig at Canary Wharf, so he presumably knows a bit about large buildings.
The dining room itself – there is also an elegant bar – is pretty much all-white, creating a harmonious, elegant and serene impression. This feeling of harmony is not disturbed by a menu which, if anything, appears to be on the short and simple side. But what’s the old adage about the desirability of under-promising and over-delivering? That seems to be the key to the consistent success of the menu here.
Ravioli – the supposedly simple dish which is one of the key tests of any Italian kitchen, and so often a disappointment – was light and delicious: three perfect parcels, made of pasta just yielding to the fork. And a fish stew was wipe-the plate wonderful. (Is that good manners in Italy?) Finished with fregola (a Sardinian pasta remarkably like cous cous), it succeeded not because of a cornucopia of recherché ingredients, but rather because relatively humble fish and seafood had been transformed. For us, that is the mark of a real Italian kitchen.
It was the pudding, though, that really made us stop and contemplate. Time being short, we’d passed on the recommended soufflé – yes, an Italian restaurant where they are proud of their soufflés! – and went for the second recommendation. Mangia e bevi – essentially a mélange of sorbets and fruits – is arguably an ice-cream parlour sort of pudding, but here it was just beautifully done. It sounds a terrible cliche – in the footsteps of Ego, the critic in Ratatouille – to admit that its colours and freshness transported us to a childhood holiday in Italy. But it is true nonetheless.
If you’ve read to this point it will come as no surprise that the service was wonderful too. Full of charm, one feared only that they were, if anything, trying too hard.
The obvious anxiety here, our waiter confirmed, is that evening business here will be difficult. We think that – once the word is out – they won’t have that much trouble. We do hope not.