Mele e Pere opened in February 2012, a basement trattoria not far from Piccadilly Circus. The entrance at street level has an attractive display of Murano glass apples and pears (“Mele e Pere" means apples and pears). You descend the apples and pears stairs, which have attractive tiling, into a basement dining area that seats 90 at capacity, with a bar to one side. The bare wooden floor and tables, mismatched tables and angle-poise lamps feel slightly at odds with the precise Murano glass display, as if the décor was deliberately “casual” as a result of careful planning rather than spontaneity. Two weeks after opening, it was already busy. Chef Andrea Mantovani had previously cooked at Arbutus, Wild Honey and Les Deux Salons.
The wine list had around 70 bottles ranging in price from £16.50 to £179, with an average price of £39. Many wines were from Italy, but there were other choices too. Mark-ups were around 3.2 times retail price, which is not unusual for central London but hardly generous. Examples of the wines listed were Camporena Chianti Classico 2007 at £28.50 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £6, the Vini Biondi Nerello Mascalese 2007 from Etna at £65.50 for a wine you can find in the shops for £28, up to the Antinori Tignanello 1999 at £179 for a wine that retails at £72. We drank Rolly Gassman Riesling 2007 at £39.50 for a wine that retails at £16. Bread is partly made in house and partly bought-in. Foccacia was made from scratch but was rather hard, though grissini were fine.Much as I like places that make their bread, in this case the bought-in bread, from the excellent Boulangerie de Paris, was actually better than the breads made in-house.
Minestrone soup (£6) was simple but capably executed, with properly cooked vegetables, decent stock and accurate seasoning (13/20). I was impressed with my spaghetti carbonara (£10), which had very good pasta flavoured with bits of bacon (easily 14/20). My rabbit (£16.50) was tender and moist, served on the bone with carrots and black olives, and some of the cooking juices. Rabbit dries out easily, but this was a well-made dish, again with good seasoning (14/20). This was better than cod a la plancha with chanterelles (£18.50), which was properly cooked but with cod that lacked much flavour, though the mushrooms were fine (13/20). Swiss chard could have benefited from more seasoning (12/20), though chips were made in the kitchen and were crisp (14/20).
Desserts did not quite maintain the standard of the rest of the meal. Zabaglione, served with lingue di gatto biscuits, had a good balance of egg yolks, sugar and masala, but was completely cold by the time it arrived (12/20 if I am being kind). Chocolate and coffee ice cream was nicely presented but had little depth of flavour (12/20). Coffee was decent. The bill came to £75 a head, for three courses and coffee, with a modest wine and pre-dinner drinks. Service was actually very good, with a friendly waiter who topped up our dinks carefully. Overall this was an entirely pleasant experience, but not one that generated much excitement for me. At this price level I would have hoped for something a little more interesting.