Assunta Madre: Fresh fish; fundamentally flawed (September 2015)

In a world seemingly increasingly preoccupied with local food and minimal carbon footprints stands Assunta Madre, resolutely sticking its metaphorical two fingers up at these concepts. Reading about this restaurant prior to dining here on a recent weekday evening, I was reminded of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho, a statement on excess and incongruity. Assunta Madre’s USP is that they fly their fish in directly from Italy so that diners can partake only in the freshest fish, caught the same day in the Mediterranean. Such is Assunta Madre’s mission that they do not open for lunch, only for dinner. At lunchtime, the fish would not have arrived and so, obviously, would not be as fresh as their ever so discerning diners might require. Although booked by a comrade of mine who had visited four times prior, I went there with high expectations, curious to know whether I really would be wowed by such an offering of the freshest fish. Entering the restaurant, which is located on a quiet side-street in Mayfair, one is definitely impressed. The catches of the day are laid out on a bed of ice, just as at a market stall or fishmongers, for arriving customers to view as they progress into the main dining room. It was a pity, however, that the initial impression did not live up to the ultimate experience. Service throughout was friendly and well-meaning with the servers happy to provide constructive advice and pairing suggestions, but waiting times between courses were achingly slow (despite the place not being overly busy) and the fish itself – well, it was not as good as billed. Our starter of squid and chicory was competently executed but not sufficiently differentiated to set itself apart from similar options elsewhere. We next partook in some sea bass with pasta in a white sauce. The dish arrived at our table half cold and seemed to lack singularly in flavour. Finally, the piece-de-resistance, a whole scorpion fish fully deboned was presented to us as our main. Our server duly informed us that the cheeks were the best part and once we had helped ourselves to an initial portion, the main plate was whisked away so that said cheeks could be extracted. All well and good, but only the cheeks returned, leaving us with a much smaller than anticipated portion. At least the green bean and tomato side was excellent, but this somewhat misses the point. In the final analysis, if you are flying in fresh fish from Rome, it ain’t going to be cheap, and at this price, it should really have been much better. Maybe we were unlucky on this occasion (and my comrade commented that it had been a notably more disappointing experience than his previous visits), but I will certainly not be rushing back.