It’s Friday, and we’re talking to our friends about where to meet for dinner on Saturday. They feel like having Italian food. “Good luck with that,” I think. I can count on one hand the reliably-good Italian restaurants in London, and they’re always fully booked on Saturday night.
Well, the last laugh’s on me, because our friends worked some magic: Saturday night dinner reservations at Locanda Locatelli at 9:30 pm. I’ve never been to Locanda, but I know it’s expensive, and the food is supposed to be good. So off we go.
First impressions are good. The room is large, but the layout allows for lots of inviting nooks and crannies. Our table has a nice, curved banquette. I love banquettes.
Generally, the menu offerings sound pedestrian, but most of them are well executed. Take, for example, the beef carpaccio and platter of cured meats. There’s a generous serving of both and the ingredients are fresh and delicious. Still, they seem more a reflection of top-notch sourcing than of top-notch cooking.
Sadly, the one starter we ordered that was served in an unexpected way (i.e., the pork sausage and risotto) wasn’t especially tasty. I wasn’t expecting the risotto to be a fritter, and while I am normally a lover of all things fried, having a crispy wedge of fried risotto to accompany a massive ball of sausage, all drizzled in a rich sauce, was just unrelentingly heavy.
And an artichoke salad with rocket and Parmigiano Reggiano was a total disappointment, especially for £15. There was no interesting blending of flavors or textures. It was as if it were a plate with three separate ingredients on it, which just reinforced my impression that it’s tough to get a decent salad in London.
We did much better with mains, which I’d say were the highlight of our dinner:
Thanks to ingenious use of lobster stock, the lobster linguine was packed with lobster flavor despite a very stingy portion of lobster meat. I greatly enjoyed this one, though the presentation was a little scary. What’s with the random lobster leg jutting out like that?
Potato-and-mushroom gnocchi with black truffle was my second-fave pasta course of the evening. Pillowy-soft gnocchi perfumed with truffle. Perfect. Presentation is what you’d call rustic if you were being generous, though.
Orecchiete was the low point of our pastas. It was a giant plate of mush, really. The pasta tasted as if it’d been sitting around a while, and again, the flavors didn’t blend at all. Jon and I make a much better version of this dish at home.
The braised lamb neck with buttery polenta ticked all the boxes for a good braise: fork tender, lots of rich fatty bits and a strong sauce for you to mop up. A little more polenta to accompany the enormous portion of meat would’ve been ideal.
Contorni were a very mixed bag. The fried artichoke (£6) was masterful, with each artichoke leaf perfectly battered and crisped, but the rest of the contorni were skippable. Fried potatoes (£4.50) were just crispy cubes of potatoes – dressed up chips, really. Regular ol’ broccoli and chili was £4.75 and lacking both kick and flavor. Sauteed spinach (£4.75) was satisfying, but it’s garlic and spinach, yes?
Worst menu moment was the tiramisu. A total crime. Stale ladyfingers doused in a runny mascarpone and drowned in amoretto. Despite sharing one portion among four people, we didn’t come close to finishing it, and I was mildly disappointed none of our servers bothered to ask why a little martini glass of tiramisu went only half-eaten.
With extras like a £77 bottle of a very tasty Sicilian red wine and a couple glasses of digestifs, our total for four came to £300 (£75 a person). It was a fun evening out with friends, but given the generally-pedestrian and unven food, I wouldn’t recommend a visit. And I definitely can’t help comparing our dinner at Locanda with my repeat dinner at Trullo just this past Monday night.
At Trullo, I paid £26 a person for a starter, an excellent pasta, a shared main of braised lamb neck, and a shared dessert (i.e., the tastiest caramel pannacotta, ever). Service at Trullo was friendly and helpful, so the only thing that was superior about Locanda was its comfortable seating and dining room, and that’s not worth the price premium, I reckon.
Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Place, W1H 7JZ; 0207 935 9088; closest Tube station: Marble Arch
If you’re looking for Italian restaurants in London, you might also be interested in:
- Bocca di Lupo (posted 25 August 2010)
- Trullo (posted 5 July 2010)
- Murano (posted 13 August 2009)
- Pizza East (posted 27 April 2010)
- Franco Manca pizzeria (posted 25 November 2008)