On the Pimlico/Belgravia fringe site formerly called Vivezza (RIP), an English restaurant where the food is often well cooked, but where prices seem unjustified by either the cuisine or the level of comfort.
A restaurateur opening new premises never has a blank sheet of paper. He can’t do much about the size and shape of the premises (often dictating a particular table configuration). And the character of the area will make certain sorts of ventures much more likely to succeed than others.
The constraints are more difficult to shake off if there’s been a (failing) restaurant on the same site before. How to turn the tide of history? You couldn’t get a clearer example than this Pimlico/Belgravia fringe site.
From the ’60s until the middle of the ’90s, it traded as one of London’s original smart trattorie, La Fontana (which was famous for its truffles in season). Then it was turned into an upmarket pizzeria, Vivezza, which got off to a great start. For reasons never apparent, however, they dropped the formula just as it seemed to be really catching fire, and pushed the place upmarket. Which never really seemed to work.
The cuisine of the new operation is English, but the formula seems to suffer from all the same problems as before: the look and feel is of a brasserie or bistro, but the prices are defiantly pitched around restaurant level. That’s a trick you can pull off in giddy times, but it just doesn’t wash at the moment.
We visited on a Saturday lunchtime, when there’s lots of traffic from the (upscale) farmers’ market nearby. To the management’s credit, they’d realised there was a marketing opportunity, and Santa was outside dispensing the mulled wine.
But, hey, even if they’re poor round here nowadays (all things are relative), they’re still not the sort of people to be tempted in by a man in a silly hat. (They are, however, just the sort of people, who – if they should poke their noses in – would be likely to be positively put off by hideously loud ‘Christmas’ music.)
What might have had the market punters mobbing the place was a set-price lunch menu, somewhere round the £15-£20 mark, but most of the individual main courses are pitched around that level, with veg on top. No surprise then that, for most of our lunch, the place was pretty much empty.
Which is a shame, as the food was sometimes very good. Tasty hot bread was served with excellent oil, a steak was well cooked and sauced, and puddings such as crème brûlée were exceptional. This happy picture was muddled, however, by dishes which were simply OK, such as an unimpressive beetroot and black pudding starter, and a risotto which was too soupy for comfort.
The food, though, may all be academic. It doesn’t make that much difference if you’ve got the best chef in the world,if you’ve saddled yourself with the wrong formula.