Two Italian wrong turnings …....
By Tony Levene
I ate in what passes in London for Traditional Italian two nights in succession just recently. Pure coincidence as both were selected by my co-diners.
These are the places, unchanged in both décor and menu for decades, where you expect the waiter to assault you with a monster pepper mill, if not to burst into operatic aria mode.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this – although not to everyone's taste. But, I am sad to say (because I spent good money in both), the pair failed to excite my personal taste buds. They both seemed so far past their “sell-by” dates that I felt the kindest thing would have been to order their immediate conversion into museum exhibits.
To be fair, the first one is situated a bus journey beyond the end of an underground line so only locals are likely to visit it – although not many of those were evident when we went. So I won't name it. I was not expecting much and the food was just about tolerable – three courses with a couple of generous glasses of house wine each plus coffees came to a non-bank balance threatening £30 per person.
The next night, however, was more serious. My friend suggested Romano's in Kensington Church Street (convenient for Kensington Palace, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gardens and shopping). Despite it looking and feeling as though it has been here forever, it was only opened in 1998.
I found a rather small place, with little atmosphere other than eavesdropping on your all too-close neighbours. It would be charitable to say the waiting staff looked bored, showing minimal interest in the diners.
But all would have been forgiven had its website proclamation that founder Romano Silva, “prides himself on the freshness and originality of the meat, fish and vegetables that constitute the best of traditional Italian food. Wherever possible, ingredients and wine are imported directly from Italy” turned into reality.
Maybe something was lost in translation here, for while my experience was poor, that of my friend was abysmal. The menu is far from inspiring. There is no originality and it could have been “London Italian” in 1965 rather than 2015. I opted for Sardine alla Griglia (£6.90). Can you get grilled sardines in balsamic vinegar wrong? Yes, when it comes to a miserable portion size. It was edible, though. My friend started with Prosciutto di Parma con Melone (£9.00) – this Parma Ham with Melon was just about OK.
We should have stopped there or headed for the Pizza and Pasta sections (you can't get that wrong?) Instead, I chose Scaloppina Alla Marsala o al limone (£17.50). I am still not sure whether my escalope was cooked in marsala or lemon or both. But whatever, the selection of steamed vegetables reminiscent of school dinners ruined the meat.
And my friend went for a “special”, a calamari dish (£18) which turned out to be a inedible disaster. There were rings of rather tough squid served in some pinkish liquid. Was it soup? How was she supposed to eat this? With a spoon? Knife and fork? And how did this fit in with the vegetables? After her splashing about a little in the liquid, it went back virtually uneaten. But there was scant attempt to offer a different dish or ask what was wrong. We cheered ourselves up marginally sharing a small dish of profiteroles. With just water and one beer, we ended up with a near £70 bill for the two of us.
VERDICT: Time Expired
32 Kensington Church St, London W8 4HA 020 7937 8752
Nearest station High Street Kensington