This was my first visit since a major refurbishment prompted by a gas explosion in November 2014 that closed the restaurant for several months. The dining room seemed pretty much unchanged, though I gather that there was a new kitchen. The menu is lengthy and appealing, with plenty of dishes to choose from at each stage. Antipasta was priced from £11.50 to £15.50, pasta from £12.50 to £20, mains £24.50 to £32.50 and desserts £6.75 to £9.50.
The wine list was substantial and covered the regions of Italy in depth, along with a small selection from the rest of the world. Example wines were Dolcetto & Lagrein Heartland 2008 at £33 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £13, Jermann Vintage Tunina 2012 at £95 compared to a shop price of £38, and Paleo Le Macchiole at £131 for a bottle that retails at £55. Bread was good as it usually is here, with focaccia and a little mini pizza bread particularly nice (15/20 to 16/20).
Spring salad (£12.50) was simple and pleasant enough, with tomatoes that had reasonable flavour, fresh leaves and nicely balanced dressing (14/20). An anchovy salad and a green bean and red onion salad that I briefly tasted seemed of a similar standard, though had more interesting ingredients.
Linguine with prawns (£20) was flavoured with garlic and chilli. Although the pasta was well made and the prawns were tender, the dish was quite salty (14/20). I enjoyed goat ragu tagliatelle (£17.50) flavoured with chilli. The pasta had very good texture, the ragu had plenty of flavour and there was a good bite of chilli (16/20). Malfatti pasta stuffed with aubergine that I tasted also seemed good.
Compote of rhubarb and strawberry (£7.50) came with passion fruit jelly and a vanilla ice cream. This was very pleasant, the acidity of the fruit balancing the ice cream and jelly nicely (15/20). This was better than a cannoli dessert that I briefly tasted, which suffered from slightly grainy pistachio ice cream.
The bill came to £97.25 a head. I didn’t spot it at the time but our wine was on the list at £95 but appeared on the bill at £97, which was a small thing but rather naughty. As Douglas Adams wrote – “on a waiter’s bill pad, numbers dance”. With a modest wine to share a typical cost per head for three courses might be around £90. Service was efficient enough up until it came to pay the bill. At this point the member of staff to which this task was delegated proved utterly unable to divide a bill between three people. First a bill for half rather than a third of the total was presented to one of us, then a bill for a quarter of the total, then half again. Eventually a manager with a calculator managed this apparently fiendish calculation (dividing a number by three) successfully, by which time we had a veritable collection of credit card payment slips, some that had been cancelled and others not. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a shambles. The cost seemed quite hefty given we had no pre-dinner drinks, a bottle of wine between three and a salad, pasta and dessert each, the pasta attracting a £4.50 supplement if ordered in place of a main course. This meal felt less assured than previous meals that I have eaten here. I have never felt that the service at this restaurant was particularly cuddly, but tonight it shifted into farce at the end. Overall the cooking was fine but the price feels like a stretch for the level of food that appears.