Little Italy: Thinking big

London institutions do not come much better than Bar Italia. A stalwart on Soho’s Frith Street for 70 years, it was the first place in the area to make proper coffee – the Italian way – and it stayed open all night. Many a memorable evening in my past ended there. The aspiring family behind the venture did not, however, rest on its laurels and opened a restaurant next door in the 1990s. That both have remained constants amidst the ongoing reinvention of Soho is testament to their success as well as a reflection of the Polledri family’s ongoing involvement. The passion they bring to Little Italy is abundantly obvious. This is a highly professional venture with top-notch cooking but contains a strongly personal touch too. When my dining comrade and I visited on a recent weekday evening, Little Italy was full, with diners also making use of the tables outside. We sat inside and enjoyed the spacious and light-filled room. In terms of food, the menus change on a roughly monthly basis, reflecting not only the desire of the chefs to experiment but also the importance of seasonality (asparagus featured as one of our dishes). The ingredients are sourced from long-standing suppliers, with a clear emphasis on quality. Diners can choose from a range of around half-a-dozen antipasti and pasta dishes before moving onto more substantial meat and fish main options. A pizza menu and keenly priced lunch/pre-threatre selection are also available. To begin, I opted for prawns and my comrade for asparagus. Although the former was described on the menu as deep-fried, the dish did not taste at all greasy and packed notable tenderness and flavour intensity, with the accompanying garlic chilli offering just the right level of kick. Meanwhile, the baked fontina cheese which paired with the asparagus worked as a superb foil, crunchy freshness combined with rich creaminess. Next up came ravioli, evidently homemade and decidedly tasty. Each was a succulent bite of pasta containing ricotta, served in a beautiful sage and butter emulsion. Full plaudits for our mains of steak and sea bass. The piece-de-resistance, however, was saved until the end. I am not normally a fan of sweet desserts, preferring cheese, but I would readily have eaten more of both the deeply decadent tiramisu (one of the best I have ever sampled) as well as my comrade’s berry-topped panna cotta. There is no shortage of interesting wine options to pair across the menu. Pricing overall is reasonable, particularly given the quality of the experience. And, when you’re done with eating, there is dancing until 3am, or the option to pop next door for a coffee. The Polledri empire has justifiably stood the test of time, and there is every reason to believe that its success will endure.