Locanda Locatelli: Almost excellent (February 2014)

Expectations inevitably run pretty high for a restaurant that has a celebrity chef with a Michelin star and remains one of the hardest to get a table in, despite having been open for close to twelve years. Notwithstanding the booking process (forget impromptu dining here; telephone bookings only, and preferably one month in advance), we very much looked forward to our visit to Locanda Locatelli, somewhere we have eaten close to ten times since its opening. And while the experience could broadly be described as excellent, there was perhaps a palpable lack of a wow-oh-my-god-this-is-totally-amazing factor that one might expect given all the hype. Giorgio Locatelli may be the among the best Italian chefs cooking in London today, but in terms of the truly sublime, there are a clear handful of places that would rank above it in terms of overall experience. What makes Locanda Locatelli great? In summary, its sense of effortless yet timeless chic and classiness, very Italian one might say. The lighting and furnishings create a warm and calm atmosphere and the tables are sizeable and suggestive of luxury, if perhaps a little too closely placed together. The main event is the food and the broad composition of the menu has remained unchanged, namely eight-ten each of antipasti, pasta and mains from which to choose, a strong emphasis on Italian-sourced ingredients and classical combinations. When our bread basket was brought to the table we joked that its range, opulence and quantity were almost such that one didn't need to order starters. Nonetheless we did, although it was disappointing to learn that several of the dishes (from starters through to mains) were unavailable that evening. This was a Saturday night and clearly the place was busy, but you might think that a restaurant of this stature and experience would be able to plan better. Despite the setback, my second-choice starter of artichoke salad was superbly fresh and enhanced by the shallot dressing. My comrade also enjoyed her chestnut, chickpea and chilli soup, although could not help but remark the seeming absence of any chilli. For the mains, I was highly impressed again with my calf’s kidney (fried to perfection, medium-rate), potato purée and lentils, a wonderful combination. My partner also highly rated her gnocchi. We enjoyed these dishes with an exceptionally good bottle of Brunello, already showing some complexity despite just three years of age. The wine list is heavily biased towards Italy as one might expect, but there is a good range both in terms of region, and more importantly price-point. Price conscious diners can find some good options here for under £30. We still had room for puddings (tiramisu and a chocolate tasting), again both excellent, although we did note that the gap between receiving these and being given some chocolates with which to finish was surprisingly abrupt. Almost full marks for Locanda Locatelli, but there is no room for this place to rest on its laurels.