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Ziani

45 Radnor Walk, London, England, SW3 4BP, United Kingdom

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This family-run Italian restaurant has been tucked away in a residential Chelsea street since December 1984. Space is at a premium, with very small tables that are tightly packed. Assorted black and white photos adorn the walls, taking up almost every space and adding to the slightly claustrophobic feel. With a tiled floor the noise levels are high, and expect to get to know your neighbouring diners if you, for example, want to move your arm to lift a fork, which requires a certain amount of synchronisation between tables to accomplish. Lighting was murky, hence the matching photos. The clientele was of quite mixed ages, with young people on dates through to the distinctly middle aged (that would be me), The lengthy menu notionally highlights the food of Venice, though it did not seem to me obviously regional, but rather generic Italian fare. The old fashioned feel extends to that relic, the cover charge (£1.50), which here accounted for a few olives and some very basic bought-in bread rolls.

The wine list had just 38 wines, and rather bizarrely offered tasting notes but no vintages, which is absurd given that several of the wines were quite expensive. The list ranged in price from £15 to £145.50, with an average price of £30. As far as I could tell, the mark-ups were modest, averaging around 2.3 times the retail price, low for London. Examples were Curtefranca Bianco Bellavista at £35.50 for a wine you can find in the high street for around £13, Brunello Di Montalcino Col d’Orcia at £69.50 for a wine that retails for around £32, and Antinori Tignanello was priced at £145.50 for a wine that on average will set you back about £69 in a shop. However, to give you an idea of the range, a Tignanello 2009 retails at about £62, a 2004 at £93, a 1987 at around £146, which is why the vintage is important to know just on price/value grounds, never mind the difference in quality and whether it is ready to drink or not. Nobody in their right mind is going to buy a wine at this sort of this price without knowing the vintage.

A starter of scallops with mushrooms and rocket salad featured good quality mushrooms that had been pan-fried, with fresh rocket. The scallops had not been trimmed, so were served with coral, muscle and all, which I find rather lazy, but they were actually cooked carefully (just about 13/20). Rolled salmon with marinated crab meat and toast was very simple but enjoyable, a generous amount of fresh crab wrapped in smoked salmon, marred only by a couple of small pieces of shell (13/20).

This seemed the sort of place to try the old classic spaghetti Bolognese, and it was actually very good. The spaghetti had very nice texture, the meat was of decent quality and the seasoning was spot on, with fresh parmesan grated at the table (14/20). Fettucine with scallops featured more good pasta, though in this case the scallops were a little overcooked (12/20). A side salad was very basic indeed, with supermarket quality lettuce and tomato, and a rather clumsy dressing (barely 11/20). Tiramisu had acceptable texture and a reasonable punch of coffee flavour, though it was not stellar in quality (12/20). However it was hard to fault profiteroles with cream flavoured with zabaglione and dipped in chocolate sauce; the choux pastry was fine and there was a hint of sweet marsala from the zabaglione (13/20).

Service was conducted at the gallop. Menus appeared immediately, and moments later we were asked what we wanted to eat and drink. The pace of dishes arriving was also brisk, and indeed tables were being turned around us. Needless to say, when the bill was requested, it arrived preternaturally fast. Douglas Adams once wrote that the laws of mathematics apply throughout the universe, with the sole exception of numbers on an Italian waiter’s billpad, and no matter how long I looked I could find little relationship between the bill and what we ordered except for the wine; however the total seemed about right. With a good bottle of wine the cost of the meal was £81 a head. In theory, starters were priced between £7.50 and £10.50, pasta £10.50 to £13.50, main courses £15.50 to £20.50, vegetables extra at £3.50 and desserts £3.50 to £6, with coffee just £2. With judicious ordering and a modest wine a bill per head of around £60 would seem achievable, which is not outrageous but seems just a little high for the level of food delivered, which hovered between a 12/20 and a 13/20 for me. However this is Chelsea and the regulars were certainly packing into the tiny tables, so it is hard to argue with the commercial formula here.

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