Dolada is a basement restaurant which opened in February 2009 (the site was previously Mosaico, and indeed ultimate ownership is unchanged). The new chef is Riccardo De Pra, part of a family which owns a hotel and one Michelin star restaurant in Italy (Ristorante Albergo Dolada). The room is nicely appointed, with marble tiled floor, subtle lighting and a neat use of mirrors to enhance the sense of space; paintings by a contemporary Italian artist adorn the walls. Starters are £8 - £28, main courses £17- £26, desserts £7-£12.
The Italian wine list featured some serious growers. Examples include the lovely Vintage Tunina from Jermann at a hefty £85 (retail price around £25), Antinori Tignanello 2007 at £140 for a wine that cost about £40 in the shops, up to Solaia at £470 compared to a retail price of around £75 or so. At the lower end Jermann Pinot Bianco 2007 is £43 for a wine that costs about £13 in the shops, and Collio Pinot Grigio 2007 is £50 compared to a shop price of about £10 or so. These are pretty severe mark-ups, more even than Zafferano, which no-one could accuse of a generous mark-up policy these days.
The bread is slices of white and brown, and apparently made from scratch; this had very pleasant texture (15/20). A nibble of a little roulade of lamb with a basic salad had very well flavoured lamb (from the estate of the restaurant owner) though the salad was not exciting (15/20) and rustic bean soup with a tomato base (14/20).
My starter was “new” spaghetti carbonara i.e. deconstructed into its component elements: pancetta, pasta, a slow cooked egg (half an hour at 60 degrees C) and Parmesan. This was mixed together by our waiter and was enjoyable, the pancetta particularly tasty, the pasta having good texture (15/20). This was a lot better than my wife’s complex salad of langoustines, basil and prawns, which in addition featured cauliflower, endive, almonds, orange, tomato and some oddly limp fried onion. One piece of langoustine was soggy, another fine, but there were just too many competing flavours on the plate, prettily presented though it was (12/20). An intermediate course of asparagus mousse with steamed egg served in a cocktail glass was rather uniformly wet in texture and for me needed some other textural element (12/20).
I then had a saffron risotto, which was pleasant though not a patch on the one I had in Milan last week. The rice was fine, but serving the risotto on a flat plate meant that it quickly became cold, and the gold leaf as a garnish did nothing for me (14/20). This was better than the cod with mixed vegetables, which was cooked well but had gnocchi that were severely over-salted (something you will not often find me saying); overall around 12/20. My veal cheeks cooked in Merlot wine were enjoyable and tender, served with rather ordinary vegetables including broccoli (13/20).
For dessert my parfait of red berries had nice texture but needed deeper fruit flavour, which was frustrating given that the garnish of raspberries had excellent flavour; the spun sugar decoration was a 1980s relic that seemed to me out of place on this quite modern menu (12/20). Better was a pineapple pannacotta with good texture and served with a sliver of pineapple (14/20).
Petit-fours were an impressive set of caramelised fruits on sticks and a series of more conventional nibbles, including very good shortbread biscuit (15/20 for the petit fours and the strong coffee). Service was attentive, as well it might have been given that I counted just two other tables of diners (plus staff from the restaurant’s PR agency).
Overall I found the cooking quite capable, inventive in places without being strange, and showing generally good technique if I ignore the gnocchi. Sourcing is good e.g. the fine lamb, the excellent Doladino olive oil. The elephant in the room is the price: at £95 per head plus service, with a moderate bottle of wine and no pre-dinner drinks, this is more expensive than Michelin starred Italian restaurants in London, and nice enough though it was, this is some way from Michelin star food. It is as if they did their business plan in 2007 and priced accordingly, yet have woken up in a 2009 economy and hoped no-one would notice. The practically empty dining room (admittedly on a Monday night) suggests that, even in Mayfair, there is a limit to what you can charge for this level of food. This is a shame as I think the chef can cook quite well, but I don’t think he will have a large audience for long at this price level. Even the lunch menu at £32 is very expensive even compared to numerous Michelin-starred places in central London. If they radically reassess their pricing then they may do OK, but the value for money factor is seriously out of kilter at present.