When a restaurant – anywhere but especially in central London – can claim over a quarter of a century in its present incarnation, and over forty years of total life including other premises, then it must have something going for it.
Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion Restaurant is a bit of a mouthful to say. But the mouthfuls (and plates) it serves are more than worth the effort.
This is Italian food and Italian food as previous generations would have known it. Those seeking cutting edge cooking to challenge pre-conceptions, should look elsewhere. There are no surprises, so diners will not be able to discuss amazing culinary finds, new techniques or hitherto unknown foodstuffs.
Instead, the emphasis is on traditional food – pasta, fish, meat and vegetables. It screams simplicity – you get what you order.
But while the menu and cooking style is “retro”, the Poland Street (off Oxford St) restaurant is daisy-fresh. This eaterie, first opened in 1971 by the eponymous Vasco and Piero, is certainly not stale. The pasta, gnocchi and similar dishes are all hand made on the premises. But, more important, dishes are made from the minimum of ingredients, and the menu changes every day so you can’t look it up online.
We were a group of six, eight is probably the most it can cope with without special arrangements. The main restaurant is pretty crowded – and with the potential for 65 diners, there’s not much space between tables. Nevertheless, the ambiance is such that you are never aware of others nearby.
My starter was Umbrian ham and melon – at £11.50, one of the most expensive dishes on the antipasto list (which starts at £6.50). There is nothing here to go wrong with such simple ingredients, and it did not go wrong.
I had lamb for my second course – £21.50 and most main dishes are around this price point. It was extremely tasty, served rare (none of the health and safety nonsense whereby some places ban diners from anything other than medium to well done) but I felt the portion was a little on the mean side. Vegetables – sadly – are an extra at £4 a dish. Desserts are around £6.
Wine starts at £17.50 a bottle and there’s a great choice under £30.
Most of those in my group said that while the food was great, portion size needed a rethink, especially for leisurely evening meals. There are no fixed price menus, nor any lunchtime deals – a weakness when up against so much serious competition in the area. And others have commented on the size of the dishes so it’s not just greedy me!
But these are all faults it can put right. Let’s hope it does because to lose Vasco & Piero would be national tragedy for both England and Italy.
Verdict: Good food but stock up on the bread.
Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion Restaurant
15, Poland Street,
London W1F 8QE
020 7437 8774
Nearest station – Oxford Circus