On the former site of Marylebone’s Café Luc (RIP), a chic Italian restaurant of some ambition – on our early-days visit, there was no hint that the ambition was being realised to any extent which might justify the prices.
Café Luc, the predecessor of this Italian newcomer on this Marylebone site, was a foreign-owned restaurant perceived by some to have quickly failed largely because it was too pricey for what it was. We’re not at all sure that Bruno Barbieri – the Italian star chef who’s recently relaunched the site, with the appearance barely changed – has learned much from his predecessor. But at least he has a sense of irony – main courses at the restaurant he’s called ‘Daily’ nudge £30. These are decidedly ‘restaurant’ prices for a space originally fitted out in the style – and on the considerable scale – of a brasserie, albeit quite a grand one.
At these sorts of prices, the critical issue pretty quickly resolves itself into a question that’s as simple as it is brutal – is it worth it? Well, sorry to be immediately unwelcoming to a newcomer to these shores, but our week-one lunch (full prices being charged) admitted of only one possible answer: no.
Let’s start by acknowledging that service is pleasant, and that there’s a surprisingly good range of reasonably-priced wines. But thereafter, as our meal progressed, we were ever more conscious that we just didn’t ‘get it’.
It doesn’t help that the menu is odd. It’s divided into three sections (fish, meat, veg), but this is one of the few occasions that they really do need to explain it to you – it’s not immediately obvious that it is the last two of the six choices in each section which are the ‘main courses’.
It being lunchtime, and to get the maximum range of dishes, our order included the lunchtime special (£25) small-plate selection. This arrived as sort of white-china riff on a Bento box theme. ‘Oh, just like Eurostar’, bitched the guest. Well, honestly, we prefer the one on the train – at least it has a known ‘shape’, and includes dishes which, by and large, taste of something, and sometimes even include a solid bit of protein. Here, there was a just a warm mush here, the occasional prawn there, and a few leaves of salad there which together approximated to something very close to nothing. The Ã la carte dishes, similarly, seemed a sort of nullity; it was perhaps appropriate that our meal concluded with a rum baba (£9) so small that it was barely possible to share it.
We’re not saying, of course, that there were no flashes of competence. And there were folderols and inter-courses that bespoke the level of ambition you might expect at this sort of price level; advocates, indeed, might perhaps hold them out as some sort of justification. But the only real justification for this being almost certainly the most expensive restaurant on this swanky shopping street is some hint of genius. And of that we’re sad to say we could frankly discern none at all.