Something of a club for affluent Mayfair locals, this convivial basement Italian offers straightforward cooking at prices which would not be sustainable in most other parts of town.
hefs are a rather over-rated commodity. OK, let’s try that again. Many chefs are skilled and dedicated individuals and put their heart and soul into their cooking. In our experience, however, it’s generally the owners of a restaurant who make the real difference. It’s the owners who set the style of a place, and the owners who decide if the cooking is good enough. (If it isn’t, it’s the chef, not the owner, who gets the push.)
We don’t, therefore, usually pay that much attention to chef changes, but we thought – finding ourselves in Mayfair one lunchtime – that we might make an exception for Francesco Furriello. Recently installed at Mosaico, he was for a number of years chef at One Paston Place, the grandest place in Brighton.
Initial impressions of the basement site were of continuity. With its handy but discreet location, just off Old Bond Street, this place still feels like a secret known only by the well-heeled local cognoscenti, and many of the punters still seem to be regulars. The service is all-Italian, and generally charming, if – at the senior levels – with a confidence that might strike first-time visitors as verging on bumptious.
But the food? Pretty much precisely as we remember it from before, and still mainly remarkable for the mismatch between the prices (which verge on outrageous) and the quality (which we would put somewhere round good/average). Our (solo) visit comprised your basic Italian lunch: soup (creamy celeriac), pasta of the day (gnocchi with prawns) and tiramisù, washed down with one glass of wine and an espresso. The price of this most basic of repasts was a few pence short of an astonishing £50.
At one level, you could say that that’s just Mayfair for you nowadays, but – in the context of these sorts of prices – we couldn’t help being struck by just how mundane the food had been. And how the effort which should have gone into taste and texture seemed to have gone into presentation. The excessively creamy tiramisù with which we ended the meal was a case in point; presented as if it were some fancy dessert à la française, complete with chocolate plumage, it somehow managed to evoke nothing less than a tart at Ladies’ Day.