Locanda Locatelli opened back in 2002, with Giorgio Locatelli striking out on his own after gaining a star for Zafferano, an accolade he swiftly gained on his own here. For a time, this was one of the toughest reservations to get in London. The premises is attached to the Churchill hotel although it has its own entrance; if you pop to the bathroom then you exit the restaurant into the hotel itself. The dining room has well-spaced tables and banquette seating. The menu has plenty of choice and is appealing, though the dishes are ambitiously priced. Giorgio himself does not pretend that he is behind the stoves here anymore. The executive chef here is Rino Bono, who has worked at the restaurant since opening. His head chef is Sergio Fontana, who has worked here since 2007.
The wine list is Italian and very extensive, detailing labels from every region of Italy. Sample offerings were Iselis Argiolas Bianco 2017 at £48 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £13, Bricco Mirasole Mascarello Giuseppe E Figlio 2019 at £82 compared to its retail price of £25, and Liste Damiliano 1998 at £149 for a wine that will set you back £58 retail if you can still find it. For those with the means there were plenty of grander offerings, including a good selection from Gaja, and wines such as Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri 1998 (a great vintage) at £790 compared to its retail price of £379 and the glorious Masseto Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 2000 at £1,890 compared to its current market value of £779.
There were no canapes, or even a little tray of olives, which is unusual in a Michelin starred restaurant, but must help the profit margins. There were good bread sticks, apparently made in the kitchen, and a nice bread basket selection, including a focaccia with quite good texture, and an enjoyable tomato bread. A broad bean salad with sheep cheese had pleasant and properly double podded broad beans, plenty of rocket leaves and a large Parmesan crisp disc on top. The leaves and beans were fine as was the cheese disc, but I would have to say that the dressing on the salad was less good than at, for example, Zafferano, who do a very similar salad (barely 14/20). Better was lobster linguine with a sauce of tomato, garlic and chilli. The pasta was nicely cooked, the lobster was reasonably tender and the sauce had just a hint of bite from the chilli (15/20).
Wild sea bass fillet came with the skin on and coated in a tomato crust, artichoke puree and Vernaccia (a Tuscan white wine grape) wine sauce. It seemed to me a little odd to leave the fish skin on because you then had to scrape off the crust, skin the fish and then eat the separate fish and crust. If the skin had been removed before the crust was applied this would result in a more integrated dish. Still, the fish was cooked nicely enough, the artichokes were good and the white wine sauce was fine (14/20). On the side, roast potatoes had a nice touch of rosemary but were very soggy in texture. I know that it is not easy to produce roast in a kitchen given the need for pre-cooking due to speed of service, but these were pretty sorry for themselves. I won’t embarrass them with a separate score. Scallop risotto had rice which had nicely absorbed its stock, but the thin slices of scallop did not have much in the way of natural sweet flavour, and the dish seemed to be almost unseasoned, meaning that the overall effect was rather bland. By comparison, the risottos at l’Amorosa and Zafferano are much better (13/20).
For dessert, white chocolate and peach souffle had quite light and airy texture, but the peach flavour was rather missing in action. There were a few tiny pieces of peach in the souffle but otherwise you would struggle to identify that this had any fruit element at all, with the white chocolate being the dominate flavour. A lemon sorbet on the side was enjoyable (13/20). A lemon dessert was served in a beaker and had lemon cream, pecan biscuit, confit lemon zest, a base of yoghurt crumble and coconut ice cream (the default was crème fraiche ice cream but they kindly swapped this, as I thought that the crème fraiche might be rather bland). This was a good dessert, the lemon not overly sharp, the mix of textures working nicely (15/20). Coffee was Illy, which seems to me rather down market for a starred restaurant these days given the abundance of speciality coffees now available in London.
Service was generally good, with a keen sommelier and a nice manageress who previously ran the front of house at Olive in Munster Road. Reception was more chaotic, with the preternaturally slim receptionist entirely unable to find our reservation (which had been confirmed the day before) and requiring intervention from someone more experienced. The days when Locatelli was a nightmarish reservation appear to be past, as I had made the reservation just a week before (unthinkable in its heyday) even on this Friday night there appeared to be plenty of empty tables available. The bill came to £172 a head, albeit with us sharing a very nice bottle of Antinori Brunello Pian delle Vigne 2014. Still, with linguine at £25.50, risotto at £30.50 and sea bass at £42.50 this was never going to be a cheap evening. If you shared a modest bottle of wine and had three courses and coffee then a typical cost per head is going to be perhaps £125, and you could easily spend more. This felt to me like a restaurant that was coasting along, to a degree living off its past reputation. At this price point that makes it hard to recommend.