After a long interlude with just an acting head chef after Andy Needham’s departure, Daniele Camera took over the kitchen here in September 2014. He was formerly head chef of Alloro and is from Turin. He came to London after his studies and worked initially at a long-defunct restaurant in Beauchamp Place, and then at The Capital Hotel under Eric Chavot before moving to Alloro.
The dining room at Zafferano is large, with a further room at the back and additional seating at the bar and outside in decent weather. At capacity the room can comfortably seat 140 diners, and on a busy night the restaurant will get through more covers that this.
The wine list is extensive, mostly Italian but with a small selection of labels from around the world; even from Armenia in one case. The 350 odd labels are slanted heavily towards the high end, reflecting the Belgravia location and customers. The median price of a bottle of wine is £110, ranging from £25 to £4,800 in price. The average mark-up is an egregious 3.5 times retail price, one of the highest in London, with prices as aggressive for many of the top wines as the cheaper ones. Chateau Ausone 2006 retails at £486, yet was listed here at £2,290 (plus service of course). Pinot Grigio San Michele Apiano 2012 was £53 for a wine that retails at £13, Cresaso Corvina, Zenato 2007 was a relatively palatable £85 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £41, but Antinori Tignello 2006 was a sky-high £260 for a wine that will set you back £75 retail.
Salad of endive, goat cheese and walnuts was dressed with balsamic vinegar. This is a very simple dish, and the endive was crisp and slightly bitter as it should be, the dressing a nice balance to this, the goat cheese adding richness (14/20). Crab and avocado with fresh tomato dressing was a classic combination, the avocado ripe, the crab fresh, the tomato having good flavour (15/20).
Tagliolini with white truffles from Tuscany featured perfect, buttery pasta with lovely texture, topped with a generous shaving of truffle. This is a tricky dish to mark, being as simple as it is, yet it is hard to see how it could be made a great deal better (17/20). Obviously you should expect to pay a hefty supplement for white truffles, the world’s costliest fungus – this dish was £60, but at least they were generous with the truffle.
Desserts did not maintain the standard of the savoury courses. Rum baba with pistachio ice cream was tolerably moist but lacked rum, and the pistachio was not a perfect foil (13/20). Apple tarte tatin had nicely made pastry and the fruit provided enough tartness, but it was not hot enough when it was delivered (13/20).
Service was very slick this evening. I had not been for some time and did not recognise most of the waiting staff, but topping up was excellent and the waiters friendly. The bill, with good wine and two white truffle dishes, came to a hefty £173 a head. If you shared a modest bottle of wine and avoided the truffles then a more normal bill might be £90 a head. This is hardly cheap, but the overall experience was very enjoyable and the cooking, desserts aside, very good. The restaurant had been drifting along for some time in the absence of a proper head chef after Andy Needham left, and it is good to see a sense of direction now. Although the kitchen is not yet firing on all cylinders, hopefully this will improve as Mr Camera settles in. Certainly the savoury dishes tonight were of a high standard.