Zafferano is a fixture of Italian cooking in London. In 2012 it lost its Michelin star, which I found surprising, as my meals here have been very consistent. At the time of writing, three courses cost £46.50 per person. The wine list is extensive, with the best part of 400 wines available. The list ranges in price from £22 to £3,600, with a median price of £120. Mark-ups are not particularly excessive by central London standards (around 2.7 times retail price) but the list is heavily weighted towards the high end; only 8% of the list is below £40, and 58% of the list is over £100 a bottle. This reflects the affluent clientele that Zafferano aims for.
They are obsessive here about the quality of ingredients, with many of these flown in from Italy three times each week. Chef Andy Needham (who left in late December 2012) even had an electronic hook-up to his agent in Italy, who showed him pictures of produce at the markets that morning for him to select; however Andy leaves in mid December 2012 and there is yet to be a permanent replacement. The best dishes are the salads and pasta and I often order three courses of antipasta, pasta and then main course, skipping dessert (desserts here are excellent, but not as good as the pasta). The risotto in particular is made in the traditional style and is excellent, such as a very good seasonal asparagus risotto that I tried in June 2012, and a lovely pumpkin risotto that I ate in December 2012. The salads are uniformly superb due to the fine ingredients. An example dish that stands out is tagliatelle of wild mushrooms, with perfect pasta and beautifully cooked wild mushrooms. The menu changes regularly with the seasons.
Bruschetta is in a class of its own here, the bread char-grilled rather than toasted to give it a smoky flavour that complements the wild mushrooms. A lovely touch at the end might be a miniature ice cream cone with superb passion fruit ice cream. The wine list is no longer a bargain, but has well chosen Italian wines as well as some French heavyweights. Falanghina Vesevo 2009 was on the list at £29 for a wine that you can buy for around £7 in the shops, Jermann Vintage Tunina 2008 was listed at £89 for a wine that costs £29 in the shops, while for the many investment bankers that frequent Zafferano there are choices like Masseto Ornellaia 1998 at £960 for a wine that costs £361 to buy retail.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and the service exceptionally well drilled and very friendly. There is the bonus here of celebrity-watching for those that indulge in such things: Mick Jagger is a regular, for example, and we were once seated next to Madonna and Guy Ritchie. Service is in the charming hands of Enzo Cassini, one of the best maitre d’s in London. I have been coming here on a regular basis since its opening, and stopped counting my visits when I got to 100.
Here are brief notes from a sample meal.
Bruschetta is superb here, with char-grilled bread brushed with garlic and then packed with wild mushrooms (16/20). A salad of beetroots was prettily presented, both red and yellow beets with carefully dressed baby spinach leaves and garnished with hazelnuts (16/20). Excellent endive was served with pear and Gorgonzola dressing; in this case some more cheese flavour would have helped (15/20).
Scallop with baby leeks and saffron vinaigrette had a lightly cooked scallop with the leeks providing an earthy contrast to the sweetness of the scallop, and the saffron flavour was well controlled (16/20). White truffles were served with both excellent tagliolini and creamy risotto made from scratch (most London restaurants pre-cook their risotto). A nice bonus dish was an off-menu dish courtesy of the manager, Enzo Cassini. An egg from Italy fried and served on a bed of polenta with wild mushrooms and white truffle. The egg itself was lovely, the yolk almost red in colour – you do not get eggs like this in your local supermarket. The mix of the polenta and mushrooms worked well with the egg, all enhanced by the lovely scent of white truffle from Alba (17/20). We skipped dessert.Book