Ital­ian cook­ing that man­ages to be sim­ple and so­phis­ti­cated at the same time

This week: Mark Palmer vis­its Sem­plice, Lon­don W1

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - The Back Page -

Bond Street is some­what de­serted at night. Which means open­ing a smart restau­rant in this part of what’s still, just about, May­fair has to be risky un­less you think lunch alone can take care of busi­ness. When I ring to book a ta­ble for 8.30pm, I’m told by the man­ager that noth­ing is avail­able un­til 9pm. He sug­gests we have a drink “some­where” be­fore ar­rival, stress­ing that Ris­torante Sem­plice has nei­ther a bar nor a wait­ing area of any kind. Fair enough, al­though if I were run­ning a restau­rant I would want a bar area of some de­scrip­tion as a fall-back when book­ings go wonky.

“So, where would be good to have a drink?” I ask and he comes up with the West­bury Ho­tel, which is right down the other end of the street, at least a 10-minute hike away. Then we shall ar­rive on the dot of 9pm, I tell him. And we do, paus­ing briefly to in­spect the win­dows of Pronup­tia across the road be­cause I am get­ting mar­ried in May and, al­though I gather my brave wife-to-be is sorted on the dress front, there seems no harm in point­ing out some likes and dis­likes well be­fore we reach the al­tar rail.

“Ac­tu­ally, I rather like that,” she says, as a Rolls-Royce Phan­tom glides past and parks on a dou­ble yel­low just be­yond the restau­rant. “That would get me to the church on time.”

We move on and are greeted by the man­ager, Gio­vanni Baldino, who used to work at Lo­canda Lo­catelli, where the chef, Marco Torri, also spent some valu­able years (be­fore tak­ing over at The Grey­hound in Bat­tersea). The third mem­ber of the team, and the money-man, is Marino Roberto, who’s big in the fash­ion world and lives in Monte Carlo. All three are in situ this evening, with Marino oc­cu­py­ing the ta­ble near­est to ours, where he’s joined by three other Ital­ian men. Good­ness, I love the way Ital­ian men ges­tic­u­late over the small­est is­sues.

In fact, I would guess that we are the only Brits in the room. Noth­ing wrong with that but, un­less a few more in­dige­nous lo­cals can be per­suaded to eat here, I fear the worst. If they do, they won’t re­gret it. This is Ital­ian cook­ing that man­ages to be both sim­ple and so­phis­ti­cated at the same time. Grown-up Ital­ian.

Some peo­ple might re­gard the decor as brash, but I wouldn’t. There’s plenty of pol­ished ebony, soft leather and a whole wall of wavy, gold carved wood that would not look out of place in the Burj Al Arab ho­tel in Dubai. Ta­bles are dressed sump­tu­ously in starched cream cot­ton. Cut­lery is by Sam­bonet, glass­ware by Riedel.

Be­fore our first cour­ses ar­rive one of the wait­resses, who, like their male coun­ter­parts, all wear dark suits, white shirts and sil­ver kip­per ties, brings us a bas­ket of warm bread and then re­turns with a bot­tle of olive oil to fill a lit­tle dip­ping bowl. Shortly af­ter­wards, our starters ap­pear, care­fully or­dered to test Marco’s reper­toire.

The Brave One has clear chicken broth with sev­eral tortellini stuffed with chicken bob­bing about on the sur­face. It’s the per­fect choice if you’re not too hun­gry. My pasta with veni­son ragout and black cab­bage sauce is far more sub­stan­tial, and equally per­fect. I would have been happy just with this and a green salad but, by the time the Fas­sone beef ar­rives, I am pleased that’s not the case. Fas­sone is a breed from Pied­mont and is won­der­fully ten­der, with loads of flavour.

We also have the calf’s liver, which is pu­ri­tan­i­cally sim­ple but doesn’t quite work, mainly be­cause the liver is cut too thick, giv­ing it an overly spongy tex­ture. With­out the ex­quis­ite melange of veg­eta­bles and sautéed spinach un­der­neath the meat, we would be kick­ing our­selves for not or­der­ing the rab­bit or shoul­der of lamb, both of which had looked promis­ing on the menu.

A slight dis­trac­tion per­sists through­out the evening in the form of the money-man jump­ing in and out of his seat when­ever he no­tices some­thing needs do­ing on a nearby ta­ble, or when a cus­tomer needs di­rec­tions. Own­ers should ei­ther pre­tend to be nor­mal pun­ters or re­gard them­selves as paid-up mem­bers of staff. To be both at the same time is dis­con­cert­ing for all con­cerned. At one point, he sees me whis­per­ing con­spir­a­to­ri­ally and leaps up with more than a spring of para­noia.

“Ev­ery­thing is al­right?” he asks. It’s not a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion.

“Ev­ery­thing is fine,” I tell him. And, I might have added, would be even more fine if you could be less of a jack-in-the-box, and I’m sure it’s an­noy­ing for your mates when their host keeps leav­ing the ta­ble. Any­one would think you re­ally, re­ally want to be known as the boss and that the anonymity of Monte Carlo is get­ting you down.

“I worry,” he says, scru­ti­n­is­ing our ta­ble with an anx­ious eye.

I quickly re­as­sure him and I mean it. Cer­tainly, there are no wor­ries about the pud­dings. We have chest­nut mousse with a kumquat salad and warm cheese tart with caramel ice cream. Both are far lighter than they sound and both prompt fur­ther whis­per­ings that go un­no­ticed by the boss, who is busy ac­com­pa­ny­ing a cus­tomer to the ladies.

I can’t help think­ing he’s just the sort of fel­low you’d want as an usher at your wed­ding but here, off Bond Street, this over-ea­ger­ness to please and de­ter­mi­na­tion to act as an es­cort might be taken the wrong way.

Ris­torante Sem­plice, 10 Blen­heim Street, Lon­don W1 (020 7495 1509). Din­ner for two, in­clud­ing wine, £85. Marks’ ver­dict: 6/10

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.