With who: The International Man of Mystery
How much: £135 for 2 courses, wine and coffee
Come here if: you need to entertain a super spy or impress a client
As the result of a work auction of promises, I needed to take James Bond to dinner. Of course I wasn't dining with Craig, or even Brosnan, but our own real-life International Man of Mystery, an well bred, well educated type - at home in any situation -who travels the world for mysterious business reasons. Due to the similarities, I'd assumed that what was good for 007, would have worked for him. Unfortunately for both of us, and despite the original being quite the foodie, very few actual places were namechecked in the novels. I rejected Scotts (other than his fictional club the only London restaurant mentioned) and instead agreed on somewhere similarly classic, chic and understated - Evergreen North Italian Locanda Locatelli.
Locanda Locatelli oozes money. The staff, the decor and the clientele. They all scream, in a modest understated way, that if you have to ask the price of anything, you shouldn't be here. Now beating up a restaurant on Portland Square, next to Little Arabia and just up from hedgefund-land, for its pricing might feel a tad unnecessary. It's like attacking the child infused atmosphere of a Harvester during the middle of the summer holidays or as someone less verbose than I would put it, like shooting fish in a barrel. That being said, I feel it's important to make the point, as unless price is entirely and utterly irrelevant to you, pricing this steep can easily get in the way of even a very good meal.
Baccala’ Mantecato, that Venetian treat of salt cod blended with olive oil to a smooth paste with the lightest hint of the sea came with aromatic pomodoro tomatoes, watercress and a crumble of tasty polenta crisp. A rustic winter classic, scoffed by the ton as a way of getting the most out of the preserved fish in leaner months. A beautiful and expansive starter with tons of contrasting flavour, followed a vast and interesting breadbasket, opening well, but at £14.50 a plate, enough to give all but the most homesick of Venetians a moment's pause.
We both went for a pasta course as our main, the International Man of Mystery sampling the Strozzapreti pasta, a rougly rolled penne style ideal for holding a thicker tomato sauce full of olive and spicy soft n'duja salami. I went for perfectly cooked risotto over, slightly salty, duck ragu, served with a handful of girolles. It was good ribsticking fare, the kind that you'd expect at any trattoria across the Italian countryside, but with both at over £20 a plate when you pay the main course 'supplement', a little (or a lotto) on the steep side. The carne and pesci selections are also often recommended by regulars, small selections of pan fried or char grilled fresh fish and meats with simple accompaniments.
As you'd expect, the wine list is aimed at the high end, but there are a number of reasonable surprises and it's telling that they've won a number of awards for the long, well thought out (predominently Italian) list. It's not just the obvious regions they cover, we went for a Nero Di Troia from unfashionable Puglia in the South, it's bright blackberry and prune notes with only a hint of tannin balancing perfectly against the rustic tomato and meat sauces. You'll find a few below fifty a bottle, but you have to look hard.
Despite the vast number of night clad servers, roaming and floating between the soft white clad tables and gold banquettes like exclusive, sleek and designed water taxis through the Venetian canals, the attention to detail was mixed at best. The water server seemingly over-compensated, leaning across us to refill after every gulp of (not offered until asked for) tap, for the stingy smear of Sicilian extra virgin, poured, providenced but never topped up and the long, long wait to get the bill. Minor quibbles sure, but, as with the food itself, the caveat has to be that you expect better for the price.
Overall, it was a cracking evening, as much for the conversation and the company than the food, good as it was. Long overdue thanks to the International Man of Mystery's commitments to fighting international terror, we've agreed to go to Zucca the next time he returns from action, food fit for a double 0 agent, at prices designed for a bobby on the beat.