Isolabella: Back to the old school

A regular reviewer of restaurants always hopes to discover the next new thing, so imagine my excitement on learning that I would be dining at Isolabella. Per its website, the venue is one of London’s “top Italian restaurants.” A bold claim, to say the least. If pictures speak a thousand words, then the one of its website leaves the viewer thinking it must be down to the food, for neither the location (on a slightly dingy side-street near Holborn) nor the décor (bland, with very uncomfortable looking straight-backed chairs) spoke to me of great things. On arrival, my initial impressions were confirmed and indeed reinforced by the greeting from a genuine Italian waiter sporting a waistcoat and bow tie. Coming to Isolabella is like stepping back in time (king-size pepper mills were present too). I did not believe restaurants like this, and which take themselves seriously, still existed in central London. The menu was similarly reassuring in its old school nature. Diners can feast on the likes of deep fried calamari with garlic mayonnaise as a starter, or gnocchi al pesto as a main. At over £7 for the former and £15 for the latter, the cooking better be good to justify such prices. My comrade (who had kindly booked the venue) and I decided to push the boat out, he opting for the veal escalope with a carbonara side, while I selected the fresh cod, both of which retailed for over £16. Mine tasted pretty good in a hard-to-fault but in no sense wowing sort of way and I liked the liberal use of black olives and capers. Portion sizing was generous to a fault. We passed on desserts (no room) and wine (being abstemious) but lingered long enough to see the place fill up. Obviously what Isolabella does, it does well, and its regulars seem to love it. Not a “top” restaurant, but pleasantly reassuring for anyone with a yen for the past.