Giorgio Locatelli opened his own restaurant in February 2002 after his stint as head chef at Zafferano, where he led the kitchens from 1995. He had previously worked at The Savoy under Anton Edelman in the late 1980s and in Paris in the early 1990s at Laurent and Tour d’Argent. The Locanda Locatelli menu had anti-pasta priced at £9.50 - £13.50, pasta between £9 and £20, main courses at £23.50 to £32.50, with side dishes £4.50 extra, and desserts £6.75 to £12.50. The dining room seats around 70 diners, and on this visit the lighting was subdued to the point of gloom, making it tricky to even read the menu. I have no idea why restaurant managers do this.
The wine list was extensive, with over 500 selections, mostly from Italy but also featuring wines using Italian grapes from around the world. The list ranged in price from £15 to £848, with a median price of £79 and an average mark-up of around 2.7 times retail price, which is pretty fair for central London. Example wines included Orvieto Tragugnano Sergio Mottura 2011 at £38 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £14, Jassarte Guado Al Melo Azienda Agricola Castagneto Carducci 2006 at £59 for a wine that retails at around £22, and Tignanello Antinori 2006 at £155 for a wine that will set you back £77 in a shop. Bread is good here, from the bread sticks to the soft focaccia (6/10).
Salad of artichoke with shallots, Parmesan and rocket was pleasant, the rocket excellent though the pickled artichokes were a touch sharp (5/10). Better was a salad of potato and green beans with shallot dressing and a shaving of black truffle, the vegetables carefully cooked, the truffle lifting the dish (6/10). Linguine of lobster with tomato, chilli and garlic was enjoyable, the lobster tender, the pasta having good texture, though the chilli was subtle to the point of invisibility. The tomatoes had good texture, the seasoning on the edge between bold and over-salty, but for me this worked well (6/10). Ravioli of veal with veal stock was also good, the fresh pasta having very good texture, the meat good, though the stock could have had more intensity (6/10). For dessert, ice creams were well made, though an Amalfi lemon Eton mess had pleasant meringue but was a little lacking in lemon freshness (barely 5/10). Coffee was good, as it should be at £4.75 for a double espresso. If you ask for a top-up of your espresso then that is another £4.75 on top; given that a coffee costs a restaurant perhaps 20p this seems to me sheer greed. The bill came to £109 a head for three courses and a nice bottle of wine. Service was capable, with topping up efficient, though it never felt particularly friendly. Overall this is much as I remember Locanda Locatelli: a well-drilled, efficient operation with good food at a high price point. It is a bit pricier than Zafferano and less good than Apsleys. Locanda Locatelli is a place I can admire rather than love.
The notes below are from March 2010 and earlier.
This is one of the hardest places in London to get a reservation. At least at The Ivy they answer the phone before sorrowfully giggling at the notion you might want to eat there some time the same year; whereas here they sometimes don’t bother answering the phone at all (they reportedly get 2,000 calls a day). The most practical way to do it is to go around in person – they are actually within the Churchill hotel on Portman Square. The reason for the crush is that this is the hallowed dining room of Giorgio Locatelli, the original chef at the superb Zafferano, and boy has his PR company done a good job.
Beneath the hype, the experience is actually very like Zafferano, with many dishes identical but in a more spacious, if less cosy, dining room. I would have to say that, based on five visits here, it is hard to separate this from Zafferano on the food (the breads are better at Locatelli, the salads have the edge at Zafferano), and Zafferano is more consistent; perhaps Giorgio trained Andrew Needham at Zaffs too well. On my five visits we had four very good meals and one complete shambles in terms of service when Giorgio was not present and the staff had presumably decided they could get away with anything. Assuming this was an isolated experience, the place can be recommended although the pricing is steep, reflecting the high demand. Below are notes from my most recent meal.
Locanda Locatelli has always had excellent bread, and this was the case tonight, with excellent white rolls, black olive bread, garlic and foccacia having lovely soft texture; even the breadsticks were superb (bread 7/10 to 8/10). The all Italian wine list stretches over 28 pages, with considerably more red than white choices; the cheapest wine I spotted was £22 a bottle. The excellent Jermann Vintage Tunina 2006 was listed at £82 compared to a retail price of about £29, Teroldego Rotaliani 2006 was £38 compared to a shop price of about £12, and the superb Antinori Tignanello 2006 was £142 for a wine that costs about £52 in the shops. At the upper end of the list, Antinori Soliai 1988 was £540 for a wine that costs about £154 to buy. Wine topping up was adequate, if not quite as slick as one might hope in a Michelin-starred establishment.
A salad of artichokes, rocket, shallots and Parmesan Reggiano (£13.50) featured excellent artichokes, though they had been doused in too much vinegar at some point in their preparation, but the rocket and dressing for the leaves were good (6/10). A salad of broad beans, rocket and ewe cheese (£9.50) was topped with a cheese biscuit and again had good leaves and dressing, but unforgivably had broad beans that the kitchen couldn’t be bother to pod, lazy enough in a pub, but here? 5/10 for the salad if I pretend the beans were properly prepared.
Linguine with langoustines, tomato, garlic and chilli (£19.50) was capable, the pasta having nice texture, the garlic adding good flavour, the tomato flavour coming through well and the chilli subtle, the shellfish themselves properly cooked, though this dish was a fraction less good tonight than I recall (6/10). Better was gnocchi with morels (£16.50), with genuinely excellent gnocchi and morels that had plenty of earthy flavour (7/10).
Wild sea bass (£29.50) was undeniably excellent, a generous fillet of fish that had lovely flavour and careful seasoning, timed very well, though oddly served on a bed of soggy lettuce yet with a very good mixed leaf salad on the side (6/10 but the fish itself was even better). Duck breast (£28) was served on a bed of spelt, with broccoli that didn’t taste of much, and garlic and chilli that were subtle to the point of invisibility. The duck was nicely cooked and had a lot of flavour (5/10). Vegetables are a rapacious £4.50 each, in this case a small plate of perfectly good and undeniably profitable roast potatoes (5/10).
Coffee was £4 (a quite small portion for the double espresso), initially served with a very good chocolate, a fruit jelly and an almond biscuit, but a top-up of coffee was charged at a further £4, which I find outrageous, given that the coffee costs maybe 20p or so and there were no further petit fours offered (to be fair they relented on the surcharge when I moaned about this).
Given that tables were being turned on a Tuesday night, it is hard to argue with the business logic of the pricing here. However, objectively the prices are simply out of line with what is being delivered, when you consider its competitors. Our bill for two, with one bottle of quite good wine, three courses, no pre-dinner drinks or dessert wines, no dishes with supplements and a coffee each came to £111 per person plus service. This is just too much in my view, but the punters still crowd in.
Below are notes from a meal in May 2007.
Locanda Locatelli has an appealing menu of Italian dishes, and a comprehensive Italian wine list that has a few relative bargains e.g. Vintage Tunina from Jermann is £54, which is only twice retail price. There was jazz very quietly playing, but it was unobtrusive. The room here has slightly odd decor. The chairs opposite the banquette seating are swivel chairs, which seems a bit Austin Powers for a dining room. There are several large mirrors on the wall, but they are convex distorting mirrors rather than regular ones; odder still, they have strings of lights behind them, reinforcing the subtly disco image that the architect was perhaps aiming for. Fortunately the cooking offers no such distraction. Breads here are home-made and are excellent: focaccia is superbly soft, garlic bread tastes of garlic and olive bread of olives – the texture is lovely (8/10 bread).
There are no nibbles but a starter of linguine with langoustines has fine texture and a sauce that tastes strongly of tomato but only subtly of garlic and chill, and has very well-timed and tender langoustines, garnished with a langoustine shell. This was very good indeed (7/10), better than my wife’s very pleasant home-made pasta with ricotta whose pasta seemed to me a fraction harder than ideal (5/10). Rolled pork was wrapped around herbs and then sliced, served with cooking juices and deep-fried courgette, as well as a simple fresh green salad (6/10). Dessert featured Amedei chocolate, in the form of a rich mousse, a light parfait, a sponge and a white chocolate ice cream, garnished with a simple but very light sugar tuile stick. These were very well made indeed (7/10). Service was exemplary all evening, though the espresso is hardly generous and top-ups were not forthcoming. A very accomplished experience.
My notes from the less successful evening in 2003 follow for comparison.
Trouble in paradise tonight. With a 19:30 booking we left the restaurant just before 22:00, having managed to be served just two courses. The food was generally fine, with excellent Italian breads (better than Zafferano) at around 6/10. Fettuccini with porcini mushrooms had good texture, the porcini fresh and well cooked; a quibble would be that the pasta was cooked just a fraction too much, but still 4/10. Pasta with red mullet and olives was also to a high standard, with excellent texture (5/10). My main course of wild sea bass with artichoke puree is a straight lift from Zafferano, and no bad thing at that, the fish fresh and timed well (6/10). However the tuna with rocket salad (also a Zafferano regular) was rather disappointing tonight, the thick slab of tuna rather chewy at one end of the steak. The rocket and cherry tomatoes were good but not as fresh or full of flavour as the exquisite ones at Zafferanos (4/10).
This sounds fine as a meal, but the service experience was dire tonight. During the interminable wait between starter and main course I had to practically stand on the table to get attention to get wine an water refilled, while when the main course finally appeared the vegetables with it (roast potatoes) failed to arrive, and took three reminders to various bemused waiters to even check for. Similar chaos ensued all around us, with other diners increasingly tetchy as their dishes failed to arrive. The waiter was singularly unapologetic about the whole thing, and only when I spoke to the manager at the end was there any real concern shown. Even the wrong bill was finally delivered, which was in line with the rest of the service experience. These sorts of slips are all the less excusable when considering the high prices here, which are a bit higher than that of the utterly consistent Zafferanos.