Editor's note: In June 2013 it was reported that Banca would be converted to a branch of Roka. This opened in February 2014.
Banca has the same owners as the wildly successful Zuma, Roka and La Petite Maison, and they have now turned their attention to Italian food, in this case cooking from Milan. Banca, as its name suggest, is located in what was previously a branch of Nat West, with the bank vault converted into a private dining room; it opened in August 2012. Its executive chef is Marzio Zacchi, who cooked previously at Il Baretto and its head chef Gabriele Milani, previously sous chef at Galvin at Windows. The large dining room has a marble floor and can accommodate 80 diners at any one time, plus some seats at the bar. For a place that has evidently had a lot of money spent on it there were a couple of design oddities: the cloakroom is not by the door but at the far end of the bar, so the meet and greet people spend an inordinate amount of time scurrying from one end of the dining room to the other to fetch coats. The outer doors were kept open, which may be more welcoming but had the effect of an icy blast of wind blowing through the dining room each time anyone came or left the restaurant. The menu is long and appealing, with plenty of familiar northern Italian dishes.
The on-line wine list was extensive, with over 600 different selections available, ranging in price from £21 to £3,200 with a median price of £77 a bottle. Mark-up levels were set with Mayfair clientele in mind, averaging 2.9 times the retail price, hardly a bargain but not the worst to be found around here, the costliest square on the Monopoly board. Example wines included Spy Valley Pinot Noir Blanc 2010 at £47 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £12, Morgenster Estate Red 2008 at £89 for a wine that retails at £29, and the lovely Antinori Tignanello 2006 at £170 for a wine that will set you back £60 to buy in a shop. All this applies to the published wine list, which in fact was only distantly related to the printed list shown to us, which had only a small subset of these wines, and even some of these were missing, including the one that we originally ordered. In the end we drank a relative wine bargain: 2008 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc at £45 for a wine that would cost £26 or so in a shop.
Bread was made from scratch and was excellent, the focaccia having lovely texture, the grissini not too hard; the person in the kitchen that makes these breads, who is from Puglia, clearly knows what he is doing (16/20). Riso al salto (£9.50) is a simple family dish made from leftover risotto Milanese flavoured with saffron, the rice fried until slightly crisp, and here flavoured with Asiago cheese. It was very good, the saffron flavour not too strong, the cheese in the correct proportion, the rice just right (15/20).
Tortellini de zucca (£12) had pasta with good texture, the pumpkin filling slightly sweet, a little sage adding a pleasing extra flavour; a nicely judged dish (15/20). Risotto of porcini was pleasant, the mushrooms of good quality, the rice cooked properly, though the stock in which the rice had been cooked could have had more flavour (14/20). Turbot (£31) was carefully timed, of good quality and served with porcini mushrooms (15/20). Whole baby roast chicken with spices (£18) was properly cooked, the chicken a little light on flavour, the spicing too subtle, but served with excellent caramelised shallots (15/20). Vegetables were charged extra at a stiff £5.50 per dish (the price of vegetables in London restaurants continues its inexorable climb; I think this is a new high). Roast potatoes were not particularly good, a little on the soggy side, though at least they had a hint of rosemary (13/20).
Tiramisu (£8) was very good, with strong coffee flavour and enjoyable texture (15/20). Lemon Caprese (£8) had pleasant sponge, lemon zest adding good acidity, though the limoncella sorbet on the side was ordinary (14/20). Double espresso was a steep £4, albeit served with some nice almond cakes, and a top-up coffee was charged for in full – imagine the gross profit margin on this. The coffee itself was quite good quality, so at perhaps 30p ingredient cost there is room for some profit between here and £4, let alone £8.
Service was friendly but not entirely well organised. Topping up was fine, but one course saw the dishes confidently put in front of the wrong diner, and there was a general sense of hectic bustle at this admittedly busy service. The bill came to a chunky £113 a head, which given that we had one of the cheaper wines on the list felt like quite a lot of money. The cooking was quite assured, but the service had not yet settled down into a proper rhythm, and at these prices there is no room for imperfection.