Living In A Gangster’s Paradise
After conquering Russia, multiple restaurateur Arkady Novikov is now looking to other countries to conquer. Or, according to some, disappoint.
In a huge Mayfair space, Novikov has split the room and the big name critics. At the front, the pan-Asian restaurant. Downstairs, a vast Italian one. On the one hand, AA Gill loving it. On the other, Jay Rayner declaring it cack-handed.
We sit between the two. A grilled veal chop is as perfect as you’ll find in London, yet zucchini fritti are listless and not a patch on Byron’s standard offering, and the impromptu final course, a slice of strong cheese with honey, would be a classic Italian combination… if it wasn’t melted or dotted with raspberries. Very good raspberries to be fair but, for the same reason you wouldn’t add pickle to a fruit salad, it’s a jarring combination of mutually exclusive flavours.
Aside from that, there are few grumbles. Tagliere misto di salumi is generous portions of good mortadella, coppa, and prosciutto and an absolute knockout finocchiona. A vast basket of breads appears, swiftly followed by an oily but delicious tapenade and a dish of excellent Ligurian olives. It’s like discovering a previously unknown Italian grandmother and you’ve casually mentioned you’re peckish.
The food continues to flow. Pappardelle al ragu di coniglio is a rich, buttery pleasure, dotted with sweet nuggets of rabbit. The veal is dazzling, while a grilled lamb chop, all decent crust and perfectly pink insides, pushes it a close second. Desserts then prove an impossibility, which is a shame as: a) the cakes they bring round look damned impressive; and b), it gives them an opportunity to do terrible things with cheese and raspberries. All is forgiven though with a bloody marvellous Vermentino-based grappa and potent bullet of an espresso.
The pan-Asian side may well be a disaster – let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time food crimes had been committed in London under that particular banner – but the Italian side gets a distinct thumbs up. I’d go back – and it’s not often I say that.