Opposite the new Home Office building, a Westminster Italian from one of London’s leading serial restaurateurs, Claudio Pulze; the cooking is of notably high quality, but service can be slow, and the setting signally lacks electricity.
It’s a little-known fact that Claudio Pulze has opened as many London restaurants as Sir Terence Conran – they both claim just over 50. Their approaches, however, tend to be diametrically opposed. Whereas Conran – as a sweeping generalisation – has often been about scale, design and hype, Pulze has demonstrated a lower-key approach which tends, in our view, to offer better bang for the diner’s buck.
That isn’t to say that Pulze’s approach is perfect. Concentrating, as he does, on the food and service, he’s sometimes a bit ‘tone-deaf’ on the ambience front. In some cases, he can create establishments which are pleasingly plain (Zafferano, say, in the early days), but in others there can just be a slight lack of spark (think Aubergine).
On balance, we’d put Pulze’s new Westminster Italian in the Aubergine camp: it’s a perfectly pleasant bourgeois place, but dull. Located on the ground floor of a ’30s apartment block opposite the new Home Office, and with an (authentically Italian) window into the kitchen, it struck us as rather like the dining room of an uninspired city-centre hotel.
The good news, however, is that the food, in particular, is very much in the best of the Pulze tradition. We sampled an amuse-bouche, two starters, two mains, a pudding, coffee and bread. Of these eight items, only one could in any sense be said to have been a disappointment – perhaps Zuppa Inglese (trifle) is better not sold to the Inglesi?
Two varieties of bread were of notably high quality, as were starters of marinated salmon with citrus fruits and – surprise highlight – a delicious salad of deep-fried eggs. A delicate pasta main course scored over a creation of duck and artichoke.
Slow cooking of this last dish was allegedly responsible for an inordinate delay we encountered between our starters and mains. Perhaps. But even so, the friendly and willing staff managed, on too many occasions, to be out of sight.