A welcoming new Mayfair Italian with a happy soul; our early-days meal was a little up-and-down, but this is a destination which looks set for success nonetheless.
arden‘s reviews are sometimes criticised for not talking enough about the food. We're never quite sure why. Sir Terence Conran, who's made a lot of money feeding people, puts food somewhere around halfway down a list of the 20-odd features that make for the success of a restaurant (a theory which, to be fair, he has tested to destruction). Unless a restaurant is supremely foodie (and few in London are), a blow-by-blow account of the particular meal the critic happened to eat will add little to the sum of human knowledge. It’s arguably more of a displacement activity.
So what are the factors which make a restaurant a success? Well, that’s the interesting bit. There is no ‘list’. It varies from restaurant to restaurant. One of those factors we suspect can sometimes be very important is this: does the restaurant give the impression that it’s ‘really trying’?
This new Mayfair Italian is a classic example. The food is not perfect, but it is an establishment which gives the impression of trying to please, and left us feeling we wanted to go back despite the odd imperfection on the food front.
It may help that this is a site with a restaurant soul, an unbroken history as an Italian restaurant going all the way back to 1936: indeed, only in recent times was the original ‘Ristorante Italiano’ superceded by the lacklustre Pappagallo. The premises (listed) are not especially grand by Mayfair standards, but they have undoubted charm – particularly in the impressively plastered room (à la française) upstairs, now in use as a bar.
The food is thoroughly Italian, but cooked, judging by his name, by a Japanese chef. The result is sometimes a bit of a fusion. The fried zucchini were rather more tempura-like than usual, which is to say nice enough but not quite ‘right’. Risotto can provide the basis for many arguments about authenticity, but our guest (a former Masterchef competitor, who ought to know) opined that this dish was using the wrong rice and laced with butter which gave it an inappropriately ‘dairy’ slant. We were inclined to agree. Our meal, however, had got off to a very good small-plate (cicchetti) start – a pea bruschetta was especially good. So, the food is promising but a bit mixed.
But that as Sir Tel has proved, is no reason that it should not have a long and happy life. And, upstairs, there's an attractively housed bar, which we suspect will become something of a local 'destination'.