REVIEWS, May 8, 2014
Overall Value
out of 5
  • Food
  • Service
  • Ambience
Toto’s, Walton Hs, Lennox Gardens Mews, London, SW3 2JH

A contemporary-style update of a traditional Knightsbridge Italian; a good quality, if pricey, all-rounder, where service can sometimes seem jarringly formal.

In a city without much in the way of living restaurant history, ‘Chelsea Italian’ is one of the few styles you could write a whole book about. In fact, someone did – it’s called ‘The Spaghetti Tree’.

The heyday of the style was from the Dolce Vita ’60s to the ’80s. In chichi Walton Street, the latter decade saw the launch of both Scalini (still very much in business) and the original Toto’s (which closed in 2012).

Well, now Toto’s is back, with its dark good looks given an understated contemporary twist, and its pretty terrace for summer dining (re-opening soon). Most elements of that essential Chelsea-Italian DNA are faithfully observed too. For example, you don’t really need to look at the menu. You already know what’s on it: Ravioli, Fritto Misto, Fegato alla Veneziana, Tiramisù’Yes, all the classics are present and correct, and done pretty well too.

Pasta (homemade, of course) was the highlight, but the liver was very serviceable, and the tiramisù fine, mainly thanks to the ice cream (with crunch on top) that came with it. There was an attractive choice of breads, from which the rye, curiously, was much better than the focaccia.

Service, though, is just not ‘right’. A consultant on the re-launch has been one of London’s few (only?) great maîtres d’ – the charming Silvano Giraldin. Le Gavroche, where he worked for nearly four decades, is rightly famous for the quality of its service. And, objectively speaking, the service at Toto’s from the smart and charming (and numerous) staff is exemplary.

What’s the problem then? The issue is an undertow of intrusive Gallic faffery. It was very nice of Silvano to send over a glass of champagne – but it would have tasted much better without the presentation of the bottle as if a holy relic, and a three-sentence evocation by the sommelier (followed in due course by similar descriptions of two – very expensive, as it turned out – wines by the glass).

Perhaps Knightsbridge plutocrats want this sort of portentous presentation, but we very much doubt it, and it’s certainly no part of the Chelsea-Italian tradition. And even the French have noticed that times are a-changing. Restaurateurs don’t come much more Gallic than Alain Ducasse, and at his new place Rivea (soon to open just a quarter of a mile away), the whole marketing schtick is about how the staff wear Converse trainers.

We’re not suggesting that here, but we do think a little less formality could transform a good experience into a special one.

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