Something special in the City that you don’t have to be a banker to enjoy

There was once an advert for NatWest bank, long before the current Nationwide campaign, where a little old lady complained that her High Street bank had been turned into ‘a trendy wine bar’. The message being that NatWest were never going to do that, but of course they soon did.

The number of High Street banks that are now restaurants is too large to count. Banks in the City are a different animal though. These glorious old temples to wealth, exuding as they did power, strength and the promise of responsible chaps at the helm, were never designed to be somewhere to pay your gas bill or take a bag of small change to be turned into notes. They hung on for a long time.

Piazza Italiana is in the former home of the British Linen Bank, a grade II listed building, and takes up what used to be the Telling Room now restored to its original 1902 grandeur with a fantastic ceiling, droopy chandeliers and lots of Doric columns.

In fact, once inside you could easily imagine yourself in a grand old-school Viennese coffee house, or a fine Parisian restaurant off the Champs Elysee. It really is quite gorgeous and welcoming and while the space is large, each table feels intimate.

Weekday lunchtimes it probably has a mostly City crowd for what seems a remarkably well-priced lunch menu, but tonight on a Friday there’s hardly a suit in sight.  A real mix of ages and fashion.

At the next table a young person is using a powerful portable light to Instagram her food. As I feel so mellow in the pleasant space I resist the temptation to go all Larry David on her, but really? 

Chef Remo Mazzucato is Sicilian, but the dishes come from all over Italy on a menu that is nicely compact and comprehensible. A lot of classics, a lot of crowd pleasers. We eat a selection of fine breads from a curious table stand, more suited to a seafood platter, and which blocks our view of each other, while soaking up the ambience and a decent carafe wine

I am always pleased with Vitello Tonnato. This Piedmontese antipasti of thinly sliced veal enveloped in a creamy, tuna and anchovy mayonnaise-like sauce, rarely disappoints. Traditionally the veal is boiled in stock, but here it’s been slow-roasted and is delicious. Capers add a vinegary twang and the cherry tomatoes are actually soft and full of flavour, not the hard tasteless things so often served these days.

P has tuna too but it’s Tartare Di Tonno; marinated Yellowfin tuna tartare, dobbed with avocado mousse, slow-cooked egg yolks, some shallots, chives, baby parsley and served with ciabatta toasts. She loves it and it is so pretty I take a discreet photo, but lacking my own personal floodlight, it doesn’t really do it justice. So I’ve since binned it. All photos here have been taken from the restaurant website.

Talking of Instagram, Italian food has a problem with it. Delicious as most pasta dishes are, they are rarely lovely to look at. Often brown in colour and ‘messy’ they don’t photograph very well, even if they taste superb. In the world of social media, this is not a good thing.

Piazza Italiana has opted for a solution you’ll now find online everywhere; a ‘grammable event. Tagliolini Al Tartufo – Tagliolini pasta, theatrically spun in a pecorino wheel at the table and so just the thing for a hot video for the ‘Gram. 

We watched as other tables went for it, their phones held high, but we both dislike tableside shenanigans so P went for the Tagliolini Al Tartufo served straight – Tagliolini pasta in a cream truffle sauce dusted with black truffle shavings, which she lapped up while repeatedly telling me how gorgeous it was, I tried some, and she was right.

My spaghetti al vongole demonstrated my point about Italian food rarely being photogenic, it was rather murky.  That I think was down to the tomatoes being incorporated into the white wine, parsley and garlic sauce, rather than being left in pieces.

It didn’t affect the flavour, which was seaside perfect, although a bit of bread or a spoon would have been useful so as to consume the sauce with more ease. Some fragments of shell crunched on my teeth a bit, and if I was being really picky I’d say the pasta had come out of the pan about a minute too soon. Still though, very good.

Desserts obviously offered the usual Tiramisu, but I have yet to find one sufficiently boozy for my depraved tastes, so I had Pomodoro Dolce Alla Fragola, the Piazza Tomato, which was so realistic I wondered at first if I’d been mistakenly served a starter.

It’s a strawberry entremet, with honey, basil and mascarpone mousse and a liquid strawberry centre, coated in white chocolate and served on a bed of chocolate ‘soil’. Hestono Blumenthalo ahoy! It was very pleasant, although I ate the green stem as well, assuming it was ‘fake’ but it wasn’t. ‘You don’t eat that bit’, a passing waiter helpfully informed me as I spat it out.

No confusion with P’s Apple and custard Millefoglie; some layers of crispy puff pastry, dense vanilla custard, caramelised apple and green apple sorbet. Again she loved it, and she’s not normally a sweet person, sorry I should rephrase that, she doesn’t normally like sweet things. The apple cuts the sugars nicely. Another perfect dish, to end on.

The cooking at Piazza Italiana is really very accomplished and remarkably well priced for the area and the drop-dead gorgeous room it’s served in. 

The website also advertises their Private Jet food service, a rather posh offer that is offset by the fact the restaurant cheerfully also offers a ‘Kids’ Menu’ that doesn’t condescend to the bambini. I rather fancy it myself to be honest, as it’s that interesting. You can also have bottomless brunch on a Saturday, which is very declasse with bottomless pizza and pasta and free-flowing prosecco.

I don’t really know how many people will head to the heart of the City for dinner, it’s not a touristy area nor a hot spot for clubs and bars, but Piazza Italiana is so gorgeous inside and the food so well-priced and well done, it’s certainly worth the trip. In fact you can bank on it. (Groan)

38 Threadneedle Street
London, EC2R 8AY