Some restaurant locations seem blessed and some are cursed. Pick the right spot and even a semi-competent restaurant can thrive, but other locations seem doomed whoever operates there. On a quiet stretch of the Chiswick High Road between Stamford Brook and Turnham Green is a building where I can barely count the number of failed restaurants that have occupied it. Even a very capable chef was unable to keep Pug going, and soon it morphed into the execrable Frankies. That in turn was replaced by Braganza and then a hapless pizza place called Brick Oven. Another year has passed and this became yet another failed venture. However, just as in haunted house movies where the structure was built atop an old Indian burial ground, there always seems to be someone willing to assume that the place must be fine really and be prepared to buy it, whatever its chequered history.
The latest people to come to this site and think: “Ooh, that seems so cheap, I wonder why?” are an aristocratic Italian family. The Bianchi Bandinellis are the current proprietors of the Tuscan Villa di Geggiano, which has been in their family since 1527 and now hosts weddings and corporate events, as well as concerts in its gardens. They have renamed the London premises Villa de Geggiano, and even put a villa-esque frontage on the building. The original Tuscan villa near Sienna, which in its current form was built in 1768, has some interesting history, and was the setting for the Bernardo Bertolucci film “Stealing Beauty”. The wine produced in the vineyards of the villa is served in the London restaurant.
This is an all-day establishment serving traditional Italian food that opened in October 2014, with a menu more ambitious than its predecessors on this site. Much of the produce e.g. the cured meat and cheese, is imported from Italy, the bread supplier is the same one that provides for River Café, and they also make their own focaccia from scratch in the kitchen. The head chef Lazarine Kroni is from Sicily and had worked previously at restaurants including Giusto and C London as well as in Italy and New York; this is his first head chef role.
The wine list was concise, with just over two dozen bottles ranging in price from £17 to £56, with a median price of £25 and an average mark-up of just 1.6 times retail price, which is a steal by the standards of London. Example labels were Fontodi Meriggio at £23 compared to a retail price of £17, Tenuta di Vaigiano Palistortirosso at £25 for something that can be found in the high street for £20, and Fuligni Brunello di Montalcini 2008 at £56 compared to a shop price of £34. The estate wine is relabelled by Berry Bros & Rudd as their house Chianti, and has been exported to the UK since as long ago as 1725. I tried the 2006 vintage and it was very pleasant.
The restaurant is quite large, serving a hundred diners in the main room, plus additional seating on the terrace and in a private dining room. There is a separate bar and lounge and a small delicatessen. I went on a Friday evening less than two weeks after opening and it was packed, with walk-ins being turned away at the door when I arrived.
Tagliatelle with ragu (£9) was enjoyable, the pasta having pretty good texture and the ragu itself packing reasonably intense meaty flavour (13/20). Chickpea cream soup (£7) with rosemary and olive oil was pleasant, having a respectable level of concentration of flavour and being properly seasoned (12/20). The focaccia was a touch dry, and the bought-in brown bread had reasonable flavour but did not taste as fresh as it might. At a later lunch the focaccia tasted rather better.
Tuscan sausage (£9) on a bed of spinach was pleasantly spicy, the sausages imported from a small producer near the original villa. The sausage was a touch salty even to my taste, but had plenty of flavour, and the spinach was a good foil for the richness of the meat (13/20). Spinach and ricotta ravioli (£10) was flavoured with sage and butter; the pasta had nice texture, the combination of spinach and ricotta cheese working nicely together (13/20).
Tiramisu (£6) had a good kick of coffee (13/20), whilst crème brulee (£6) scented with orange could have had a touch more vanilla but was also fine, with a lightly caramelised top (13/20). Service was a bit stretched on this busy evening, but dishes came at a steady pace, and our French waiter was friendly and capable.
At a second meal, papardelle (£11) with wild mushrooms had pasta that was a fraction on the firm end of the spectrum, with plenty of mushrooms though seasoning that this time was a little on the tentative side (12/20). Marinated chicken (£12) was cooked properly though had limited flavour, served without any garnishes (12/20). A salad of radicchio, walnut and pear with balsamic was reasonable, though for me the dressing needed more vinegar (12/20). Tiramisu as before had a reasonable punch of coffee flavour (13/20). The bill was £31 a head with just water to drink. If you had wine then a typical bill may be more like £40 a head or so all in. On average the food I tried was between 12/20 and 13/20 level, but I will give it the benefit of the doubt.
So, will the curse of this site be lifted? It appears to be pretty successful so far, and the new owners seem to have taken a radically different approach to the last few who have tried here. They appear to be trying for a combination of simple food, at a fair price, with good value wine. Who would have thought of such a radical idea? Where is the breathless PR machine and the flashy interior design that is de rigeur for London openings these days? The owner’s rather lower key approach seems to be working so far and I wish them well.