Al Duca (September 2013)

Most people are aware that St James is a pretty posh part of London, and so to know of a well-priced restaurant that serves reliably good and consistent food in this area is a definite find. I have been eating here on and off for the last decade, have rarely been disappointed, and a recent lunch proved no exception. Do not be put off by the slightly tacky fake grass under the tables at the front of the restaurant (nor the building work going on opposite); once you enter, you see warm terracotta toned furnishings and wine bottles on the wall. The main event here is the food. Things started well with a delicious range of breads accompanied by lightly peppered olive oil brought to the table (and without a cover charge). Diners then get to choose from each of around half-a-dozen starters, pasta dishes and mains along with daily changing specials. At £23.50 for two courses, or £28.00 for three, this is a real steal, and we were delighted. Two of our group of three opted for the special starter of a crab salad, flavoured with chilli. The crab was fresh and the spice-hit just right. The third of our group also enjoyed his beef carpaccio, accompanied by pine nuts and delicately flavoured with lemon dressing. Mains were a similar success and Al Duca provided a very good lesson in how to prepare a simple dish effectively. I opted for tagliatelle with black truffle, mixed mushrooms and sour butter, and there were no complaints, each of the flavours standing out but also melding effortlessly with the others. My comrades were similarly pleased with their options. There were few negatives, but it is worth highlighting that the tables are perhaps too tightly packed, and almost exclusively populated by suited diners. Noise levels were correspondingly elevated and it would be fair to say, having also dined here in the evening, that this is more a place for business than for romance. The service was generally good, but somewhat over-bearing at times: I do not need a different member of staff to come by every five minutes just to have my glass of sparkling water topped up. Small quibbles from a generally successful experience.