A great Italian restaurant that keeps it old skool in a very good way, amid the once seedy streets of London’s Soho
Italian restaurants really don’t get the attention they deserve in London. Sure people rave over hip places like Lina, a few doors down from our office, with its ‘sit at stools’ vibe, but the basic ‘Italian’ went out of favour many years ago.
Soho of course used to be packed with Italian ‘Trats’. When Garibaldi, the man not the biscuit, came to power Italians came here fleeing the wars and restaurants and coffee shops soon came too.
A decent, unassuming, off the blogger radar, Italian restaurant in Soho is now something to be savoured. A place you can visit regularly, see familiar faces, linger long over lunch and roll back to the office slightly the worse for wear. Well, that’s what I like to do anyway.
Family run 40 Dean Street has been knocking out great food for twenty years, which is an eternity in today’s blink and you’ll miss it restaurant world. Inside it’s cosy, which is a somewhat damp word, but there really is no other way of describing it.
You feel as at home as in a Nona’s front room, with seats that actually favour comfort over style. There are no postcards of Mount Etna on the wall, nor photos of Frank Sinatra, but you feel there could easily be. I am pretty sure when I went in last Friday I could hear Dean Martin crooning over the speakers.
They do pizzas and pastas, and while I think pizza places need to be pretty much dedicated to 100% pizzas, I want to see a wood burning oven not an electric one, it’s a menu does at least cover the bases.
It’s all about the classics, including Aubergine Parmigiana starter which I like to eat at home but never have out because restaurants always serve it hotter than the surface of the sun. So instead, and after a reviving Negroni, I have fried squid rings.
I can tell straight away these are hand cut rings, they are uneven, and the batter is uneven too, this is a good sign. Crisply and thinly coated, the rings get to shine with just a splash of lemon. The sweet chilli sauce I find a bit too sweet and not really authentic, but the aioli is good and garlicky. It’s a generous piled portion as well.
Meanwhile J, no stranger to a long Soho lunch himself, has the beetroot and goats arancini enjoying the sweet earthy bite of the beetroot against the sharp cheese. Arancini are a good use of leftover risotto rice, and for once it’s nice to see ones that don’t simply use mozzarella.
These are filling starters and as I don’t usually go for the big meat and fish courses, the glory days of Antipasti, Primi AND Secondi are sadly behind me, I always go to pasta. Today I came out of the office craving a Spaghetti Vongole and I knew I’d find such a classic dish at 40.
So simple, it just needs fresh made pasta, first class clams, a knowing hand with the chilli, and that splash of wine to thin out the clam juices. The secret, I believe, is undercooking the pasta by a minute, so that the pasta absorbs the pan juices in the final mix.
This is 99% perfect, personally I would have just added a last minute dash of pasta water to loosen the dish a bit more, but it’s a minor quibble. The clams are generous, juicy and redolent of the sea. Crisp, cold house white wine washes it down a treat. I am drinking with one hand and holding the fork with the other, it’s how one should always eat in Italy.
Seafood is on J’s menu too as he dives into a rather glorious looking plate of Ravioli lobster in shellfish bisque sauce. It’s a powerful bisque, he reports but he’s not complaining. Well-stuffed ravioli and after eating the lot, so is he.
My tiramisu was the real deal, but not boozy enough. However I seem to say that about every tiramisu, so perhaps it’s my problem and not the restaurant’s.
Salted caramel cheesecake with pistachio ice cream, hits the spot for J though, it certainly looked good and he cleared his plate.
Come evenings 40 Dean Street has candles on the tables, no doubt frustrating Instagrammers but I think this may well be a good place to escape from them.
Proper unshowy, very satisfying, Italian food and fair enough prices make this a restaurant for the more dedicated diner, one who wants that classic local restaurant reassurance and vibe on a semi-regular basis.
And that’s just the kind of restaurant Soho still needs and why I will be back.
40 Dean St, London W1D 4PX