Artisanal food trucks, arty pop-up joints and south American/Asian fusion establishments continue to redraw London’s food map. Classic Italian cuisine must fit somewhere in this, having long been a regular fixture on the London food scene. Italian dishes and focus on high quality raw materials symbolises something constant; a stable reference point in a sea of experimentation.
San Carlo Cicchetti, named after the small side dishes “cicchetti,” often found in Venice eateries, is in many ways a deeply Italian concept, down to the venetian marble bar and chic cream coloured leather seating. But the refined tapas-style versions of Italian classics are a novel concept for me. When we visited the Piccadilly branch (there is also one in Manchester) on a weekday evening in mid-December a mix of locals on first name basis with the waiters, businessmen unwinding with a glass of wine, and groups of well healed friends resting their legs after a day of shopping filled the restaurant. It was an inviting atmosphere, with the round tables and a long white leather sofa stretching along one of the restaurant’s walls giving it a communal feel.
At first the all-male Italian waiting staff felt like a cliché, but they quickly prove their worth with an excellent grasp of the lengthy menu, and with attentive and authoritative service throughout the evening. I aim to take as few decisions as possible at restaurants, as I expect the waiters to know more about their food then I do, so their ability and willingness to offer well thought out suggestions was encouraging. Cicchetti’s parade dish is the ravioli filled with truffle and pecorino and it’s not hard seeing why; it’s the evening’s standout dish with a perfectly balanced creaminess that had us both scraping our plates.
A personal favourite, Melanzane alla Parmigiana, had great texture but was too salty, while the Burrata cheese wrapped in prosciutto ham was a high quality no fuss entry. As expected the wine selection is carefully sourced and impressive. The wine we were recommended complemented the perfectly cooked rack of lamb particularly well. If you believe that food should be a feast for the eyes Cicchetti will not disappoint, the small servings would not look out of place in an episode of The Trip.
While still reeling from the ravioli we also tried the seared tuna with vegetable caponata, which was perfectly cooked but somewhat uneventful. Our gluttonous approach to the mains meant there wasn’t much room left for desert, but we had to try the poached pear with ice cream and the profiteroles, covered in chocolate. The pear and ice cream did not disappoint, while the profiteroles would have benefitted from a more pronounced chocolate taste.
One thing Italians have perfected is the digestivo; a small glass of alcohol after the meal to help digestion. We chose limoncello, which was a perfect way to end a meal where the service and atmosphere were flawless, and where the food, bar some minor glitches, showed that there is plenty of life left in classic Italian cuisine. You won’t find London’s next food trend here, but if well-made classic Italian dishes and tapas are your thing, Cicchetti is unlikely to disappoint. And the ravioli filled with truffle and pecorino is a must.
Review: San Carlo Cicchetti