If I am ever asked which is my favourite restaurant I invariably answer Locanda Locatelli, the food is great, the service excellent, there's an interesting wine list and there's a touch of glam thrown in for good measure. I also, perversely, quite like the fact that it is situated in a rather naff hotel.
I thought that with the chef and maitre d' coming from Locanda Locatelli, Ristorante Semplice could not fail to please. Especially if the name was a further give-away to its intentions. But Semplice is a warning that we should never forget that hoary cliche: simple is as simple does.
It is with a heavy heart that I report that this place does not do simple and does not do justice to Sr Locatelli. Most of all it does not do seasoning. Pretty much everything I tasted could have done with a more assurred and generous hand in the kitchen.
I started with a ravioli stuffed with aubergine, tomatoes and mozzarella. With a name like Semplice I assumed they would keep things simple and use the best ingredients. Fay Maschler makes much of the imported mozzarella. This dish was not the best Italy has to offer. It was pretty bland. The same was true, in my opinion of Silverbrowess' salad of artichoke, rocket and parmesan. For some bizarre reason the kitchen had cut off the stalks of the rocket and therefore removed the source of flavour. Thankfully not all the starters were quite so bland. The pesto filled gnocchi with beans and pine kernels was delicious. It was a bit more spongy than most gnocchi and looked closer to ravioli than gnocchi. But the flavour was good, subtle yes, but good nonetheless.
My main of cod filet (shh don't tell anyone), beetroot sauce, baby spinach salad with hazelnuts was dull in the extreme. The fish was horribly overcooked and lacked any flavour, making my guilt that I was eating this verboten fish all the worse. Then again, the chef was the one who should have felt guilty, he put it on the menu and he knackered it in the frying pan. As a composite, the dish had virtually no flavour, what there was came from the toasted hazelnuts. Silverbrowess had john dory with artichokes, new potatoes and plum tomatoes. The fish itself tasted pretty good, but the sauce was no better than you would get at any number of non-descript restaurants on the Med. A particular low point for me was the ice-cream at dessert. When I asked the waiter, who sounded Italian, whether it was ice-cream or gelato he looked at me blankly and told me it was ice-cream. Questions don't come much simpler and for an Italian restaurant claiming to do the simple things, I would have thought there was only one answer. Not no answer.
None of this was simple food, fantastic ingredients, cooked brilliantly. Or at least that was my opinion. For fairness' sake I do have to 'fess up that the other three around the table really enjoyed their meals and thought it was a perfectly good meal. That in itself is pretty damning praise given the provenance of both the front of house and kitchen staff.
Google Earth (download)
Ristorante Semplice, 10 Blenheim Street, London, W1S 1LJ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7495 1509
What others think
Squaremeal - Dishes, meanwhile, may be simple in presentation but are based on exemplary produce, carefully handled to extract maximum flavour.
Metro - My chestnut pannacotta is actively duff: heavy, granular, bland, like eating porridge in aspic.
The Guardian - All three starters were sparkling...The main courses, however, were unimpeachably mediocre.