This Knightsbridge restaurant is located in what was once an artist’s studio. Its entrance, despite the address, is actually in Lennox Garden Mews, just off Walton Street. The restaurant, named after an Italian clown, is actually a revival of a place of the same name that was running in the 1980s right up until folding in 2012. The new version, under new management, opened in May 2014. At street level is a bar, with the main dining down a flight of stairs; there is also a terrace with seating outside. The large windows of the listed building mean that plenty of natural light comes into the room on a summer’s day despite it being partly subterranean. However I wonder how bright the room, with its walls newly painted black, will seem in the depths of winter. Lighting was not quite right, with parts of some tables well illuminated by directed spotlights, other table settings gloomy.
The head chef is Stefano Stecca, originally from Rimini in Romagna and who moved from Italy to London in 1999. He previously worked as sous chef at Zafferano, and also at Rosmarino, 5 Pollen Street and headed the kitchen at the short-lived Brunello. The main room seats around 50 diners, and there is a mezzanine level that can accommodate a further couple of dozen guests. Starters were priced between £9 and £19, pasta £10 to £14, main courses £18 - £24, side dishes £3.50 and desserts £6 - £8.
The wine list had good coverage of the wide variety of wine regions that Italy possesses. Example wines were Ronco dei Tassi Vigna Lauro Pinot Grigio 2012 at £27 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £8 or so, Vintage Tunina 2011 at £80 for a wine that retails at £36, and Elio Altare Barola 2005 at £120 for a wine that will set you back £69 in a shop.
The menu is classical Italian, and is full of familiar favourites. Bread is partly bought in, and partly made in the kitchen (focaccia, grissini). The two different bread servings that we had were rather erratic: the first one had somewhat stale focaccia, the next one tasting fresh. The bread, when it was fresh, had good flavour.
Cold tomato soup with Devon crab had lots of flavour from its tomatoes, the soup accurately seasoned and the white crab meat tasting very fresh (15/20). Seared tuna was served with jam made from Tropea red onions from Calabria and aged balsamic vinegar. This combination worked nicely, the tuna very lightly cooked, the vinegar balancing the sweetness of the onion jam well (14/20).
Saffron risotto with peas, asparagus and beans was excellent, the stock for the rice having deep flavour, the risotto texture just right, the vegetables good and the saffron flavour controlled (16/20). Papardelle with duck ragu and Pecorino cheese had tender pasta, but for me the duck rather lacked flavour, the seasoning underpowered (13/20).
For main course, wild sea bass was grilled and served with parsley sauce and spinach rather than the advertised Swiss chard. The fish had good flavour and was accurately cooked (14/20). Even better were a pair of huge gamberoni prawns, beautifully cooked and served with a slightly spicy tomato sauce (15/20). On the side, roast potatoes were very good, crisp and flavoured with rosemary, and a rocket and Parmesan salad had excellent, peppery rocket (14/20).
A dessert of cherries from Italy and ricotta cheese ice cream worked nicely, the cherries having plenty of flavour (14/20). Classic tiramisu had good coffer intensity (14/20).
The front of house team was headed up by a former Le Gavroche manager, and was very slick indeed on the night that we visited, with topping up of water, wine and bread faultless, and the waiters coming across as enthusiastic. The bill for two came to £112 a head with a bottle of good wine between us. If you ordered three courses and a more modest wine than a realistic all-in bill would be around £80 a head. Of course this is hardly cheap, but you are in Knightsbridge, the ingredients are of good quality and the staff plentiful and carefully martialled. I enjoyed our evening, and will happily return. They are not clowning around in the kitchen here.