Editor's note: Mennula closed in May 2013.
This Sicilian restaurant is on the site of what used to be Passione, in busy Charlotte Street. The narrow dining room is split into two parts, and has the regulation wooden floor and plain cream walls. Chef Santino Buscigli is from Sicily, but was not in the kitchen on the night of my visit. The menu had antipasti at £8.50 - £11.50, pasta ranging from £6.50 up to £18 for the truffle risotto, main courses from £17.50 to £26, with set menus for lunch and pre-theatre at £19.50 for three courses, or £17.50 for two courses.
The six page wine list is entirely Italian, and features a few wines from Sicily. We drank the excellent Felsina Bererdenga I Sistri Chardonnay 2007, which was priced at £44 for a wine that has a retail price of around £17. The lovely Antinori Tignanello 2006 was listed at £135 compared to a shop price of around £52, and at the upper end of the list, Massetto Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 1999 was £550 for a wine that will set you back around £360.
As we browsed the menu we snacked on enjoyable arancini (rice balls), which had a risotto centre flavoured with cheese and lightly fried shell (15/20) and good green olives. Appropriately, there were also some excellent smoked almonds (Mennula means almond in Sicilian).
I began with seared salt crust tuna with sweet and sour red onions. This was a successful dish, the tuna of good quality and the onions a good foil for the fish (14/20). Also good were carefully seared scallops on a bed of Puy lentils, with baby spinach, a little chilli, and almonds (14/20).
Unfortunately the last savoury course was a mixed bag. Risotto with Umbrian black truffle was very good, the rice having good texture and flavour from a proper stock, the black truffles fairly generous (14/20). Yet linguine with lobster, basil and tomato suffered from seriously overcooked lobster, more Michelin tyre than Michelin star, and pasta that was a little under done (11/20), while gnocchi with almond, tomato and basil pesto were simply a soggy mess (10/20).
Desserts dragged the meal back into positive territory, with a selection including Sicilian cannoli filled with sweet ricotta cheese, plum and frangipane tart with custard and spiced Sangiovese granite, and chocolate and almond torte (14/20).
Service under the smooth Angelo Todaro was very good throughout. The bill came to £67 per head. Overall this was an enjoyable if uneven experience (the chef not being in the kitchen probably did not help matters), but the place felt genuinely welcoming.