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08 August 2005

Locanda Locatelli*****

Getting older makes me reflect on what's important to me.  It was therefore fantastic timing that just as I was concluding that food was (barring my family and friends) the be-all-and-end-all, Silverbrowess told me she'd succeeded in finding the Holy Grail of London restaurants - a table at a reasonable time for Locanda Locatelli.

As my other posts betray, I love Italian food and I particularly love Giorgio Locatelli's cooking.  I was therefore ecstatic to hear we'd got a table at his eponymous restaurant Locanda Locatelli.  His particular mark is that he cooks the best ingredients in relatively straightforward ways.  He might put a twist on an Italian dish, or play with an Escoffieresque combination of flavours, but always the outcome is the same - delicious with a real depth of flavour that looks beautiful and is highly memorable.

I have a sneaking suspicion Giorgio wasn't in the restaurant when we went last Wednesday, usually he pops out to wander round the tables but there was no site of him.  However, this was not a case of whilst the cats away.  His brigade has clearly taken on a lot from him and turned out food that is just as exquisite as when he is there. 

Our table was at the far end of the room to the bar, with one of us sitting on the banquette, the other facing them (and the wall).  Cleverly, enormous fish-eye mirrors mean that the wall-facer is not totally cut-off from the restaurant and you get a fair idea of what's going on behind you.  It also afforded me a good vantage point to check that Silverbrowess had kept her word and hadn't ordered me a birthday cake.  Had she of done, I'd have done a runner.  The tables aren't particularly close but they were close enough to afford me a constant whiff of the aftershave of the gentleman sitting next to me.  Silverbrowess was convinced that his table of two women and two men were out on dates, I'm not so sure, but this one guy's aftershave was so strong and naff smelling, it reminded me of school changing rooms and too much Lynx deodorant.  Not the fault of the restaurant what aftershave its punters choose to wear but maybe it should be.  Maybe they should ban crap aftershave in the same way they ban smoking.

I've seen quite a few comments about the service at LL.  It's very polite, unbelievably informative but it tends to be slow.  I think this is largely because only one or two of the waiters take orders for the entire restaurant and so at peak times, such as 8pm on a Wednesday night, they're run off their feet.  Luckily, the drinks and homemade bread, courtesy of Dan Lepard helped to keep us amused.  A quick bready aside - it is truly fantastic here and made even better by a deliciously nutty / fruity olive oil.  An example of the knowledgeable staff was when we asked the waiter where the olive oil was from.  He suddenly became very misty eyed as he reeled off directions (literally) to a little farm in Sicily.  Clearly he could have been talking bollocks and we'd have been none the wiser.  Somehow though, I think he really did know the road off which the olive grove was located.

It was tough choosing what to eat, especially as they had one of my favourites burrata, which is a form of particularly milky mozzarella that tastes like heaven and originates from a small area in Puglia.  It comes in a ball the size of two fists and when you cut through the outer skin, milky, cheesy creamy goodness oozes out.  LL serve it with a salad of tomatoes and it is outstanding - I had it last year when we went for my birthday (there's a theme you see).  Anyway, I decided I really should try something new so went for potato gnocchi with mushrooms and black (summer) truffles.  The dish was delicious although the truffles weren't quite as truffly as I'd hoped.  I know that black truffles are not as pungent as their whiter cousins, but still I'd hoped for a bit more depth of flavour.  Having said that, the gnocchi were unbelievably light and fluffy and the overall dish worked well - light and subtle.  Silverbrowess' smoked mozzarella on a tomato and rocket salad was equally fantastic.  The cheese smoked perfectly - enhancing the flavours rather than tasting like a lump of coal.  The tomatoes had obviously been shipped in from Italy as it's impossible to get tomatoes of that size tasting that good in the UK.  Not great for food miles, but fantastic for the taste buds.

For main course I had envisaged that the herb crust on my mackerel would have a bit more crunch to it than it did.  That's not to say it didn't taste great, it just wasn't quite what I'd been expecting.  Nonetheless, the two fillets sitting on top of a slightly sweet/sour caponata were large and perfectly cooked.  When paired up with the roast potatoes and zucchini that we ordered as sides, it was fit for a king, or at least a birthday boy.  Silverbrowess opted for a pasta that more or less was a puttanesca, except it was a puttanesca at LL which meant the tomatoes were delicious, the capers enormous and anchovies plump and tasty, with their saltiness enhancing their flavour rather than overpowering it.

We were both far too full for dessert and so opted for coffees and teas and the complementary (is anything ever complementary?) petites fours.  Silverbrowess was convinced there were fewer petites fours than there had been previously, I wasn't so sure, but then again I was finding it difficult to focus on anything much as I needed to figure out how I'd walk again given I was so sated.  My haziness wasn't helped by the delicious half bottle of Barolo Paesi Tuoi - half bottle because I was drinking alone and didn't want to be (too) greedy.  Another quick aside, this time on wine.  I know that I know nothing about wine but I do like it.  However, I suffer from that well noted fear of wine lists and sommeliers.  I'm gradually getting to know more and was confident I'd like the heavy Barolo but was petrified when I tasted it that it was corked and I wouldn't know.  It initially tasted slightly acidic which I hadn't expected and was about to say something to the sommelier and expose my ignorance to the world. However, I decided I'd wait and let it air for a bit and then try again - when I did, it was beautiful, like drinking a full bodied merlot.  The hint of vinegar had disappeared.

This is a truly amazing restaurant that I believe delivers good value.  Now obviously being my birthday I wasn't paying but I have a sneaking suspicion that our food (two courses each) plus a few bottles of water and the wine came in at the £100 mark.   For what we ate, for the service (excluding the earlier ordering hiccup) and everything else I think it's pretty reasonable.

Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7JZ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7935 9088
Google Maps
Google Earth

What others think
The Observer - Locatelli's name and food has a massive reputation
The Guardian - Locatelli is a great chef...top-dog cooking
The Economist - Swoon-worthy


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