Il Ristorante

171 Knightsbridge, London, England, SW7 1DW, United Kingdom

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The Bulgari Hotel opened in mid May 2012. It is one of a small group of luxury hotels opened by the Italian Bulgari jewellery chain, which since 2011 has been owned by LVMH. Its main restaurant is Il Ristorante, and the head chef here is Robbie Pepin, who previously worked in Monaco at Alain Ducasse’s La Trattoria and at l’Andana in Tuscany, and the Four Seasons in Florence. Prior to that he had worked in London at The Oak Room and at Aubergine.

The basement room is extremely smart, with a grand staircase leading down to a carefully lit, airy space with well-spaced tables. A three course lunch menu was available at £30, but the à la carte has main courses pricier than that. The wine list was a mix of Italian and French producers, with wines such as Malvira Renesio Roero Arneis 2009 at £42 for a wine that you can find in a shop for about £18, Auguste Clape Cornas 2008 at £90 for a wine that retails at £35, up to grander wines such as Meo Camuzet Grand Cru Cote Nuit Clos De Vougeot 2007 at £240 for a wine that will set you back about £105 in a shop. The average gross profit margin was 70%, which is hardly kind but is below many places in this area of London, equating to around 3.3 times the cost price.

There were no complimentary nibbles, though there was a list of (chargeable) small dishes that could be ordered. Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and was excellent: focaccia was soft and delicate, olive bread good, grissini having delicate texture (16/20 bread). Gnocchi (£24) is a simple thing, yet few places do it well; often it is mushy. Here the dumplings had lovely light texture, served with very impressive red prawns that were carefully cooked and with good flavour, and a few chanterelles. A somewhat tasteless cocoa bean puree was the only thing that rather let the dish down (still easily 15/20).

Artisanal pasta (whatever that really means) was served with tomatoes and grated Parmesan (£18). The pasta had excellent texture, the tomatoes with it having good flavour, the seasoning accurate; this was a simple dish, but often the skill of a kitchen is shown in how it executes such dishes (16/20). Risotto Milanese (£20) is a classic, and here the risotto had lovely texture, the rice having absorbed good chicken stock flavoured with saffron and bone marrow. This was very good, though compared to the best versions of this dish I have eaten in Italy, the stock could have had greater intensity, and too much salt was applied, even to my normally salt-friendly taste. Still, this was a very good risotto (15/20). Sea bass (£38) was served with olives, basil and mixed vegetables. The fish had very good flavour, as well it might given its price, and was carefully timed, the vegetables delicate and nicely cooked (15/20).

Tiramisu (£12) had deep coffee flavour and yielding texture, tasting to me much like some of the better tiramisu I have eaten in Italy (16/20). Limoncello baba (£10) was a variation on the rum baba that is a staple of the Amalfi coast. I prefer rum, but nonetheless here the bread base was moist and the Chantilly cream light (16/20). Coffee was of very high quality, as well it should be at £6, served with a rustic accompaniment of sbrisolana, a crunchy tart of hazelnuts that is a specialty of Mantova.

Service was classy. A couple of staff used to work at Apsleys, the sommelier at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester. Throughout the meal the waiters were attentive, friendly and efficient, with the topping up of bread, water and wine seamless. The bill, with a good bottle of wine and pre-dinner drinks, came to £90 a head. Of course this is hardly cheap, but the room is beautiful, the ingredients high quality, and the service spot on, so this did not feel to me out of proportion to what was delivered. The cooking to me seemed to hover between 15/20 and 16/20 level, and its surprisingly rustic Italian dishes were very well made. I liked this restaurant a lot more than I expected to.

Further reviews: 03rd Apr 2013

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