Editor's note: it was reported that this restaurant would close in late October 2015. It is now a steak house called Zelman Meats.
Tucked away in a Soho cut-through, Rex and Mariano opened in December 2014. The restaurant is a casual seafood venture backed by the investors behind Goodman and the wildly successful Burger & Lobster chain. Rex Goldsmith has run the well-regarded Chelsea Fishmonger since 2004. Mariano is the Italian gentleman who links the restaurant up with the Sicilian suppliers that the restaurant uses (alongside UK fish suppliers). supplying such exotica as Sicilian red prawns.
The dining room is simply decorated, with an open kitchen. The casual theme seems overly contrived at times – the tables are lovely marble ones, but covered with what appeared to be cheap brown wrapping paper. While a seafood restaurant is nothing new, it is unusual for the ordering to be done directly on an iPad rather than via waiters (the service charge is a lowly 5% to reflect this; presumably those iPads need charging). I am not entirely convinced by this idea; I am an avid iPad user, but when (as in our case) one of the buttons on the ordering app does not respond then you need to talk to a waiter anyway. On the plus side, you can control the sequence and pace of your meal, as you order dishes when you want them rather than all at once. There were a few simple wines, nine in all offered by the glass up to a litre in volume, ranging in price from £24 to £42 in terms of bottle volumes, with an average price of £31 a bottle. Bread was seemingly made in-house and was nice, a choice of brown, white or focaccia, all with good texture (13/20).
Langoustines were a touch on the small side but were fresh and cooked well enough, avoiding any hint of the cotton-wool texture that can easily happen with these when overcooked (13/20). Tuna tartare was enjoyable, served with avocado and a little chilli to liven it up, the tuna of good quality (13/20).
A small sea bass was properly cooked and had perfectly nice flavour, albeit this was a very simple dish without garnish other than a slice of lemon (13/20). Sicilian red prawns were cooked all right but were quite small and lacked the flavour of the best versions that I have encountered in the Mediterranean (12/20).
I was a bit surprised to see a side dish of artichoke appear as a whole globe artichoke, which had to be dismembered piece by piece, a cumbersome task. More conventional were reasonably crisp triple-cooked chips (13/20). There was no dessert menu beyond a couple of sorbets. Coffee is from Eros, and was intense and dark.
The bill for lunch was £27 a head with just water to drink. Seafood does not come cheap so this did not seem excessive, but the cooking is very simple indeed, so the inevitable question “Could I not just have prepared this at home?”, springs to mind. The waiters we encountered were cheery though the iPad lacked much in the way of chirpy spontaneous conversation. Overall Rex and Mariano delivered reasonable quality seafood, simply prepared, at a fair price. However I think there are elements, as noted, that could be tweaked to improve the overall diner experience.