Babbo: Nice – but at a price (June 2014)

Think Mayfair and think high-end Italian and the likes of C-London (in my opinion, terrible) or Cecconi (excellent) come to mind. Despite Babbo being owned by a football lawyer, the restaurant is about as far from bling and razzmatazz as one could find. On the contrary, if anything, Babbo feels somewhat out of place, being operated more like a traditional family-run Italian restaurant, yet located just one block away from the jewellers of New Bond Street. Our welcome on a recent weekday lunchtime was enthusiastic on the part of all the staff and it was also refreshing to see that my online request for a quiet table had been heeded. Seated right towards the back of the restaurant, I was able to see the place quickly filling up, being populated by a mixed crowd, suited workers, shoppers, tourists and seemingly some regulars too – typically a good sign. Despite being busy, we were not made to feel at all rushed, having time to peruse the menu and enjoy the decor, the latter being under-stated chic, namely plain walls and photos of presumably famous people who had dined here. The food is traditional Italian, the emphasis being on home-made recipes from across the country. Diners may choose from around ten potential starters, pasta dishes and mains, and a slightly smaller number of desserts. I was highly impressed with my house salad of crab and avocado, accompanied by a robust tasting collection of varied lettuce leaves, the whole dish brought to life by a wonderfully light yet scented dressing. My comrade also praised his starter of tomato gazpacho and prawns. Our next dishes continued where the starters left off: for me, a richly flavoured risotto with prawn and tarragon; for my comrade, tortelli, inventively served with a lemongrass velouté – which he described as excellent. These were accompanied by a refreshing glass of Gavi, one of around a dozen wines available by the glass. The only catch: as the title of the review implies, Babbo ain’t cheap. Gone is the intimate family-feel and back is the Mayfair location when the bill arrived. All in, with bread, water, coffee and service included, we were pushing £120. The experience may have justified the price, but at this level, Babbo should be considered more as a special occasion rather than a weekday lunchtime location.