Fine Italian Dining in Mayfair
Novikov Restaurant & Bar, in the heart of Mayfair, is an unusual place. It’s got a first class Asian restaurant, and an Italian restaurant, as well as a very cool and cosy lounge bar downstairs. Can one business keep up such high standards across all three enterprises you may wonder. Having tried two of the three, and with a burning desire to try the third, I would say unequivocally yes!
Our recent visit on a rainy Wednesday night is to the Italian arm of the restaurant. Instantly spotting the huge wood-fired oven, suede wall panelling, mirrors in solid oak frames and the rustic chandeliers, it feels like we are walking into a little piece of Italy. The Italian music, and tables packed full of a lively mix of families, business-folk and couples create a warm and buzzy ambience. The menu offers regional Italian dishes with a contemporary twist, and we are soon immersed in one of my favourite hobbies; menu-reading. The friendly waiting staff are efficient and knowledgeable, and settle us in with a glass of Prosecco and some delicious home-made bread and dips so we can take our time. The wine list is extensive and has a huge range of wines from different regions of Italy to choose from. We gratefully accept help and are offered wines from the Principe Di Corleone vineyard in Sicily. In the nature of fairness, we try both the white and the red, and while the white has an intense, fruity flavour which goes well with our starters, the red’s aromatic richness matches our mains perfectly.
To start with
The starters range from the traditional, such as aubergine parmigiana, and rocket salad with aged Parmesan, through to more seasonal offerings such as spikey artichoke (our waiter brings out one for us to see, and it is indeed covered in spikes!), and a good range of sea-food. I opt for smoked salmon tartare with yoghurt dressing, pomegranate seeds and a quail’s egg. This transpires to be a good and light choice, as there are another three courses to go. My companion can never resist the allure of deep-fried baby calamari, and is thrilled with its tenderness and the crispiness of the sweet paprika batter.
We feel it would be terribly uncouth to shy away from the Italian tradition of eating a pasta or risotto dish before the main, but our belts already need loosening, so we decide to share a goats cheese and our old friend, spikey artichoke, risotto. Brought out to us on two plates so that there is no child-like bickering over the last delicious, creamy mouthful, this is definitely a restaurant that caters for the small details in terms of food and service.
The main idea
Now we can see what’s going on in that enormous wood-burning oven. Well not literally, but the menu is peppered with options including a whole suckling pig, or entire kid goat! Great for a big party to order in advance, providing no vegetarians at the table. Also on offer are smaller portions, and we go for the pork, as well as a flambé veal escalope in a mushroom and brandy sauce. The pork is unbelievably tender with a delicious gravy and the veal is flambéed with great theatrics and flames by our table. Served with a mix of well-cooked traditional sides that we are unable to finish, much to our despair as it all tastes so good.
The final curtain
By this time we are utterly replete, and my companion utters words I’ve never heard him say before “I don’t think I can manage dessert”. I am still digesting this, along with my dinner, when our waiter starts describing the special dessert that he thinks I must try. It’s a green tea crème brulée and it sounds so unusual, and he’s so passionate about it, that before I know it, I’ve ordered it. My companion recovers long enough from his temporary relapse to order a mighty-fine chocolate fondant. My brulée is outstanding; the bitterness of the tea complemented beautifully by the sweetness of the cream and sugar, and served with some berries and a refreshing guava sorbet.
As we are practically carried out, so full are we after four courses of amazing food, we reflect on a lovely evening. Traditional and beautifully cooked seasonal dishes, friendly service and a lively atmosphere, combined with a fabulous downstairs lounge bar to start (or end) the evening, equate to a must-visit destination. All that remains is to try out the Asian arm of Novikov now, so that I’ve got the hat-trick.
Novikov Restaurant and Bar, 50a Berkeley Street, London W1J 8HA. 020 7399 4330