Editor's note: Massimo Riccioli left this restaurant in April 2012.
Massimo Riccioli is the chef/owner of a long established seafood restaurant in Rome called La Rosetta. He has now opened an outlet in London in the new Corinthia hotel in Whitehall Place, just off The Embankment. I don’t usually dwell on restaurant design, but the hotel public areas and dining room here are exquisitely decorated. The dining room has marble columns, vaulting ceiling and extensive mirrors giving a sense of space in a really grand room. Not bad for an ex Ministry of Defence building. Noise levels are a little high due to a wooden floor (there is also a section of marble flooring near the reception desk) and background music, and tables are quite closely spaced given the size of the room. The menu was heavily oriented to seafood. Antipasta dishes were mostly £11 - £15, pasta £13 - £20 and main courses £16 - £38, with vegetables dishes each £4 extra, desserts £7 - £12. A three course lunch and pre-theatre menu was available at £28.
The lengthy wine list had well selected growers, and although it was naturally strong on Italy there were plenty of French wines from top producers as well. There were actually quite a few wines under £40, though mark-ups were quite high throughout the list. Morellino di Scansano Poggio Argentiera Bellamarsilia 2009 was priced at £30 compared to a retail price of £9, Pinot Gris Trimbach Reserve 2007 was £50 for a wine you can buy in the shops for £13 and Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 2008 was £175 for a wine that will set you back £51 retail. For the business people on expenses (and there seemed plenty of these on the evening of our visit) there were selections like Domain des Comtes Lafon “Charmes” 2001 Mersault at £395 for a wine that retails at £144 and the lovely Coche Dury Mersault 2006 at a distinctly unkind £825 for a wine you can buy in a shop for £236.
The meal began with some rather odd nibbles. A mussel with a little cabbage and pumpkin was pleasant enough, but blueberry lasagne with gurnard sauce was just odd, while aubergine with cherry tomatoes and Parmesan needed a much better quality aubergine to carry this off (12/20 for nibbles). Bread was made from scratch, and varied in standard. I liked the olive bread, but what I guess was a rusk was rock-hard, and white bread merely pleasant. Some of the bread was quite salty, which as it turned out was a recurring theme (14/20 bread).
Linguine with scallops was the best dish of the night. The pasta had good texture, nicely coated and was served with generous quantities of high quality sweet scallops, a hint of basil and even a subtle use of Szechuan pepper, adding just a little bite (15/20): seasoning was on the bold side, but I didn’t mind this level of salt (some might be less keen). My wife’s crab salad was served on a base of really salty polenta, and the salad of courgette with mayonnaise itself was pleasant but very stingy on the crab (which was odd given the generosity of scallops in my starter). Perhaps 12/20.
The main courses were where the meal went off the rails. Sauteed monkfish cooked in Riesling was served with chard, yellow tomatoes and fresh hazelnuts; this piece of fish I tried was a little chewy, but this hardly mattered since the dish was very salty indeed, so much so that my wife did not want to eat it (10/20). My red mullet and langoustine dish had some quite nice langoustines served in their shells, but these also suffered from really high levels of salt (given how much I like quite salty food, for it to be too much for me takes some doing). Worse, the red mullet was not good at all, flabby and tasteless (10/20). To be fair, the waiter immediately enquired as to what the problems were, and took the dishes away without fuss. To his considerable credit, Massimo later popped out and agreed that the piece of mullet was poor, and later produced a separately cooked piece that was indeed just fine. It would have been nice if this problem had been spotted in the kitchen though, rather than by the diner. We were also given a taste of another dish, red prawns (gamberi rosso) with a little chilli; while these were not a patch on the ones I have eaten on the Mediterranean coast, they were certainly pleasant and properly cooked (14/20).
The pastry cooking was on much more solid ground. Zabaglione was made with Vecchio Samperi (perhaps the best marsala) and was served with savoiardo sponge fingers. The zabaglione, not an easy dish to get right, was actually very good (if a fraction cold by the time it arrived at the table) and the sponge fingers were excellent (15/20). What was billed as cherry soufflé with chocolate sorbet appeared to be a chocolate fondant with cherry sorbet, but was very pleasant (14/20). Coffee from the Monmouth Street Coffee Shop was very good though served in a miniscule portion of espresso, and had an excellent biscotti with it.
Service was very good tonight, with a friendly waiter, nice sommelier and no problems with topping up or getting attention. Our bill was £79 per person with a modest bottle of wine and pre-dinner drinks, and this did not include the main courses, which were not charged for (without any prompting incidentally). It would be easy to run up a bill of £100 a head here. The pricing is certainly on the high side, but I would have less problem with this if the cooking had been more consistent: seafood is expensive to buy, and the dining room is exquisite and doubtless cost a fortune to renovate. However as it stands this was a lot of money for what was delivered. I can imagine that this restaurant will be a “love it or hate it” place, not least because, based on my experience, you could be lucky and eat well (the pasta and desserts), or unlucky and have a shocker (our main courses). This inconsistency makes it difficult to score, but also difficult to recommend.