LAVO is a restaurant in a Marylebone hotel called The Bo Tree, very near Bond Street tube station. LAVO is part of the Tao group, who run Hakkasan and Yauatcha, amongst other businesses. To give you an idea of just how successful this restaurant group is, they apparently run three of the top ten highest-grossing restaurants in the USA. In case you are curious, the highest-grossing US restaurant according to Restaurant Business magazine some years ago was TAO Asian Bistro Las Vegas, which turned over a little matter of $42 million back in 2016, and doubtless makes even more these days.
LAVO London opened in late September 2023 and is based on existing LAVO outlets in New York, Kas Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego and Singapore. It serves Italian food and you can tell that it is part of a large group because rather than a mere chef it has a Chief Culinary Officer (Ralph Scamardella) as well as a head chef called Stefano Lorenzini. Mr Morenzini was sous chef at Soho House before spending five years as head chef of ME London Hotel on the Strand. He moved on from there to become executive chef of TAO group in 2018. I am not entirely sure what a chief culinary officer does, but Brooklynite Mr Scamardella previously worked with Daniel Boulud at Polo in New York and then Carmines in the same city. He joined TAO group in 2007 and opened the LAVO restaurants in Las Vegas and New York, amongst others.
The menu has the usual Italian structure, with antipasti, salad, pasta and main course, and pizza is available too. The wine list had 129 labels and ranged in price from £39 to £899, with a median price of £92 and an average markup to the retail price of 3.4 times, which these days seems almost moderate in central London. Sample references were Nero d'Avola Regaleali Tasca d'Almerita 2021 at £39 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £13, Vecchia Modena Lambrusco Sorbara Cleto Chiarli 2022 at £55 compared to its retail price of £14, and Marche Bianco Campo delle Oche Fattoria San Lorenzo 2019 at £88 for a wine that will set you back £32 in the high street. For those with the means, there was Marchesi Antinori Tignanello 2019 at £347 compared to its retail price of £157, and Gaja Barbaresco 2019 at £525 for a wine whose current market value is £247.
Pizza Calabrese was perfectly pleasant, the base lacking the suppleness of a specialist pizzeria such as the nearby 50 Kalo di Ciro Salvo but nonetheless being entirely competent. The toppings with the mozzarella were spicy salami and crisp kale, which actually worked quite well (13/20). Burrata came with heritage tomatoes, aubergine caponata, a basil leaf, basil oil and a cracker. This was a very simple dish but the burrata was at least handmade and the tomatoes had acceptable flavour despite the time of year. I am not quite sure what the aubergine really added, however (12/20).
Penne pasta was flavoured with vodka (!) as well as spicy tomato and cream. The pasta was cooked capably enough but the tomato and cream sauce lacked much depth of flavour. The vodka seemed invisible from a taste perspective, which was probably for the best (12/20). Wild boar white Bolognese has Parmigiano Reggiano and notionally had black truffle. The ragu actually had quite good flavour depth and the pasta had nice texture. My quibble would be with the truffles, which did have some fragrance but I suspect may have been autumn truffles rather than true (tuber melanosporum) black truffles (14/20).
For dessert, pistachio tart was a financier with Sicilian pistachios and a raspberry sauce. I am not exactly sure where you would find raspberries at this time of year but the tart was very nice. The pastry was good and there was a lot of pistachio flavour (easily 14/20). Rum baba was a brioche bread soaked in rum with apricot marmalade and whipped cream. Again, this was surprisingly good – baba is a tough dish to get right and frequently ends up either being too dry or goes the other way and is drenched in rum. In this one the balance was about right (14/20). Coffee was a brand called Mozzo and was inoffensive.
The bill came to £133 per person. Service was not quite as slick as I had imagined it might be. The manageress Laura was excellent, but our waiter seemed oddly distracted throughout the meal, repeating questions and forgetting to top up wine. No big deal for sure, but at this price point you might expect something rather more professional and polished. Overall, Lavo London was pleasant enough. The surroundings were very smart indeed and clearly some serious money had been lavished on the place; I just wish a tiny fraction of that had been spent training our waiter better. The food was generally pleasant though the value for money factor was very debatable. It did not seem to trouble the packed downstairs dining room of fashionable young people. Based on the experience of a friend who had lived in New York, the original Lavo was very much about being a trendy place that happened to do food, and certainly the London version has that feel about it too. It is hard to recommend for the food alone, but plenty of fashionable young people seemed to be enjoying themselves, so doubtless it is fulfilling its function.