The TFYS hunt for a benchmark local Italian continues. I recently went to Manzo in South Ken:
Swordfish carpaccio with rocket salad – a lovely, pale, salty fish I don’t order enough, largely due to reading tales of three-foot parasitic worms in Kitchen Confidential. Then home-made, lukewarm fettucine with fresh Alba white truffle (take note, dal Pescatore) – a heavenly dish, although the pasta was clumpy and tepid because of the time taken to de-shell P’s salt cod. Decent Soave. Four stars.
And Napule at Fulham Broadway:
A dinky place, essentially two corridors stacked on top of each other, part of the MadeInItaly franchise. You order pizzas cooked in a little kiln by the quarter metre; hit and miss ingredients and dough that seems flabby for a wood-fired oven. Unremarkable spaghetti à la vongole. Soggy tiramisù. Bottle of Italian sweet white after nondescript house red – Valpolicella, I think. Two stars.
Not to mention La Famiglia and the wee Sardinian place in the City, Terranostra.
Now here’s three sister restaurants – triplets? – clustered on the same street in Notting Hill. They seem much of a muchness, although the main one, Osteria Basilico, is full when I ring up to book, as is the junior version, Essenza. It seems we’re stuck with the barrel-scrapingly named sister, Mediterraneo, which can fit us in at half-eight. We’re a bit late – ten minutes or so. ‘Come in!’ says a welcoming, delighted voice, above outstretched hands. ‘Wait at the bar!’
An accurate description, at least. No seats. No room for seats. Just a bar, with approximately three bottles of wine behind it, in front of which they compel us to wait, so that we’re blocking a passageway the width of a papardelle strand. Waiters hurtle past with trays of plates and glasses, constantly banging into us. ‘Sorry.’ Sorry. ‘Sorry.’ Sorry. It’s almost operatic. One of my buttocks is hovering above someone’s minestrone. And despite the fact we’re at a bar, no-one seems inclined to offer us any booze.
At last the table’s ready, and here’s a bottle of dishwater Trebbiano. Two types of warm, excellent bread appear, with some nice (if cloudy) EVOO and typically acrid balsamic vinegar. A rosemary focaccia, glistening with salt crystals, and a soft sourdough which R holds to her ear, breaking it to hear the homely crackle of crust. It all only costs a quid.
The menu is an uninteresting mix of pasta-pesce-carni staples. R asks which region of Italy the restaurant specialises in. ‘All of them.’ Right. Still, a glory shines from the specials. Pumpkin ravioli with sage: one of my favourite dishes (Rick Stein’s version here is a stand-out dinner party recipe). An equally classic scaloppine Milanese would follow nicely. Could I just have a half-portion of the ravioli, since I only want it as a starter?
Oh. How come?
‘We can’t do that.’
Couldn’t you just prepare a slightly smaller portion?
Here comes the manager.
‘Oh, no, no, no. We can’t be doing that.’
But you can, surely. You’re just choosing not to.
‘OK then. I refuse to do it.’
Right then! I take comfort from the fact I’ll be reviewing this. Better find out his name.
‘Are you the police? You wanna see my ID?’
No, Flavio, I don’t want to see your ID. But then he unexpectedly relents, and a half-portion turns up. The pasta is well-cooked, the butter sauce is rich with a dopey kick of sage, but that filling… There’s a blankness there, an emptiness, an underpowered, underwhelming sense of marks missed. The ravioli have the claggy sweetness of marzipan. They’re not very good.
The scaloppine looks like a flattened scrap of cardboard, and presumably tastes like one. It’s as if the kitchen has breadcrumbed breadcrumbs: a dry, meatless crunch of grease. It comes with a wholly inadequate lemon quarter and a wretched salad of wet, shredded iceberg. R has penne with cuttlefish in arrabiata sauce: marginally better, with a decent whack of Scovilles and a generous, tender portion of cephalopod. But again, it’s all underseasoned, demonstrative of a slapdash approach, a carelessness, a reluctance to taste or test, a slack disregard for the customer.
I thought the nonsense with the half-portion earlier was bad enough. But a modicum of prima donna behaviour is more or less tolerated in chefs where cooking compensates for personality: Ramsay or Pierre White being obvious, screeching examples. The tragic mess of food at Mediterraneo in no way justifies the kitchen’s evident contempt for its customers. R and I eat barely a quarter of our main courses, but there’s no word from Flavio to acknowledge this as he removes the plates. Instead, simply:
Not effing likely, as Ramsay would almost say. One to shun.
Mediterraneo, 37 Kensington Park Rd, London W11
Tel. +44 (020) 7792 3131
Dinner for two, including drinks and service, costs £77.