This is the last meal W and I shall share before she jets off home, so in a final attempt to have London impress her with its edible offerings and also simultaneously sate her all-consuming appetite for Italian food, she decides on Zafferano.
I should have paid more attention to the omens; first, W was over thirty minutes late for lunch (traffic), then once actually at the restaurant, my lunch reservation had apparently disappeared, even though I had confirmed it the evening before (I had even been assigned a window table, or so I was told); fortunately, they still managed to accommodate us. Things brightened up a little when I was greeted by the now ever-smiling Constantino who showed us to our table and took our orders. Alas, the menu had hardly changed since my previous meal, so I let W steer today’s selection.
Stuzzichino: Parmegiani e focaccia. These were the same hors d’oeuvres as on my last visit; creamy chunks of parmesan cheese and soft cherry tomato-topped focaccia. What had changed however was that I learnt (at the end of the meal though and thus too late…) that this petite platter of cheese and bread was costing me £15. Rarely do I mention prices, let alone complain about them, but I felt especially aggrieved by this. First, these items come without requesting them; secondly, at no point and by no means is one made aware of their cost; thirdly and more importantly, I am not able to eat pork, but still paying full price; and fourthly and most importantly, it is simply not worth £15 – after all, a four course lunch is £39.50. Pour l’amour du ciel!
Il Pane: Grissini, ciabatta, olive bread and brown bread. The bread selection now differed; the white bread with tomato or mushroom filling had been replaced by ciabatta and olive bread. Unfortunately, this ciabatta was more like plain white loaf in masquerade; it had neither the requisite crisp crust nor porous middle to call itself anything else. The olive bread was decent, but the olives were simply sprinkled on, rather than infused into the bread.
Antipasto 1: Spiedino di scampi e zucchini con promodoro freso. I had ordered the same dish last time, but W was pretty eager to try it for herself. A char grilled skewer of five fat, courgette-wrapped langoustines came in an intense tomato and basil sauce, garnished with a wafer-thin slice of grilled bread and green leaf salad. The Scottish shellfish were juicy and tender, matching nicely their delicate courgette jackets. The salty, fresh salad provided good contrast against the sweeter skewers. This was again tasty and well-prepared with clean, full and bright flavours.
Primo Piatto 1: Tagliolini con granchio e zucchine. An ample portion of homemade tagliolini pasta came mixed with very thin julienne courgettes, big crumbs of white crab meat and snippets of sweet chilli. The pasta had been cooked well and al dente, but was thicker than I had first anticipated (it is also known as angel-hair pasta…); nevertheless it had a pleasingly unrefined texture. A light, smooth sauce bonded the tagliolini tightly with the crab and courgettes, which were good in tandem. However, it was all a little awkward; everything collectively gave the overwhelming impression that one was eating Oriental noodles rather than Italian pasta. That does not mean it tasted badly, it just tasted different to what was expected/wanted.
Primo Piatto 2: Tagliatelle con filetto di manzo e melanzane. The next course consisted of long, thick tagliatelle ribbons with tender fillets of beef, smooth aubergine and fresh tomato. The tagliatelle too had a great feel to it, having been prepared coarser and rougher; this more porous pasta also readily absorbed the blended juices from the soft beef, mushy aubergine and moist tomato. The ingredients combined deliciously offering rich meaty and earthy flavours. The addition of grated parmesan, which slowly melted into the dish, gave it a creamier, fuller depth making this hearty and satisfying.
Pesce: Coda di rospo con zucchine grigliate. The first of the main courses was char grilled monkfish with courgettes and sweet chilli. Two medallions of monkfish tail, still on the bone, were served with grilled chucks of courgette (again) in a very light dressing of olive oil, bay leaves and sweet chilli (again). Regrettably, the fish had been awfully overcooked, leaving it dry and barren of its succulent, slight sweetness, which had been instead supplanted by the consuming singed savour of charcoal. The courgettes were undercooked (in a good way) and crunchy, but by this stage we had become bored of this ubiquitous legume – some might suggest it silly to complain about this since we ordered it, but the fish choices were limited to maybe just three, one of which I had tried already.
Carne: Petto di pollo con capperi e limone. Half a corn-fed chicken, laying on a fried frittata of aubergine and bed of wilted spinach and dressed with lemons and capers, followed. The pollo had been roasted a lovely shade of amber and was accompanied by an equally appetite tempting tangerine-yellow sauce. Thankfully, its taste surpassed its appearance; the meat was moist and succulent, whilst the skin still crispy. The thin, herby gravy of chicken stock, lemon and white wine was full of flavour, but did not overpower the more delicate bird. The bitter lemon zest and mustard-like capers provided a nice punch.
Dolce 1: Frutti di bosco con yogurt. Mixed summer berries with frozen yoghurt was the first dessert and it was disappointing and shocking in its stark simplicity; blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries chopped into a coupe were served with a small scoop of iced yoghurt. The sourness of this yoghurt made a decent counterpoint for the sweetness and subtle acidity of the fresh fruit, but there just was not enough of it!
Dolce 2: Pesche con crema di amaretti e ciliegio. The second desert of caramelised peaches with fresh cherries and amaretto cream was strongly recommended by our waiter. A circular carousel of overlapping peach slices enclosed a blanket of cherry halves and amaretti biscuit crumbs smothered in amaretto-infused cream and garnished with almond flakes and a light cherry coulis drizzle. This unison of flavours, colours and odours proved rather intoxicating and almost luxurious: the peach’s rosy pink and orange hues together with the bold burgundy of the cherries contrasted against the immaculate white of the crema; and their dense, fruity aroma was warm and compelling. The sugary peach and sour-sweet cherries were balanced by the smooth, mild cream within which broken bits of spicy amaretti could be found.
Petit Fours: Cornetto alla limone. Lemon had replaced orange as the flavour in this cornet treat. The zingy, sharp sorbet was once again very good.
Regretfully I must admit that this experience was rather soured by the service. Constantino was jolly and able as ever, but we were not in ‘his section’ and, though he popped round occasionally, someone else was looking after us. This someone else however barely seemed to understand what I was saying; evident from some of the unrelated answers he gave to my questions. Furthermore, he was quite ill-informed about the food; always appeared to wait until I actually asked for more bread, before bringing it; and having asked him for another sorbet petit four and him promising to bring it, we did not see him again until we demanded the bill or the petit four ever. By the way, this is when I noticed the aforementioned stuzzichino charge.
All this could have honestly been ignored had the food dazzled, but dazzle it definitely did not. Shone? No. Glowed? Barely. Out of all the dishes, three or four were good, but the noodle pasta was just odd, the berry-yoghurt dessert something I could make myself at home and the monkfish just plain wrong – it has been a long time since I failed to finish a dish, but I had to leave the majority of this one behind.
And the worst thing about it all is that I am now constantly subject to abject earfuls from W about how the NY dining scene utterly knocks the pants off London’s. Grazie, Zafferano, grazie mille…
15 Lowndes Street, SW1 9EY
tel: 020 7235 5800
nearest tube: Knightsbridge