20 Savile Row, London W1S 3PR www.sartoria-restaurant.co.uk
Always fond of fine tailoring, the original Mr George in fact, Nick tries out Sartoria to see how it fits.
I have a little secret; I never really liked Chef Francesco Mazzei’s previous restaurant L’Anima over in Liverpool Street that much, even though everyone else said they did. At lunch it was full of people in fine suits who were empty of joie de vivre, while in the evenings the bar was often too full of those same people, now drinking loudly and off puttingly.
So news that Mazzei was to take over at Sartoria was welcome, I have always liked this place on the corner of New Burlington Street, the’wrong’side of Regent Street for Soho people like myself but not so far over as to be stuck in Mayfair. Under Conran it also had the most delightful ashtrays of ceramic tape measures (sartoria, geddit?), which begged to be stolen, but I sadly failed to get the courage to acquire one and then they were sold off as a result of the smoking ban.
Now Sartoria have revamped the interior and changed the main door’s location, which confused me rather when I turned up, but while inside much has changed it still feels just right. The lights are flatteringly low, the linen is sergeant-major crisp, as well as whiter than an Oscar awards shortlist, and the same Falstaffian waiter is still trundling around the tables dispensing advice and affability in equal measure as he was ten years ago.
It basically then has the quality you only really get in central London when it comes to classy restaurants; yes out East is awfully hip and happening of course, but here is continuity and it’s relaxed and smooth and grown-up.
The padded chairs and sofa type things are all sinkably comfy and the varying size tables are set at different angles, this makes it all much more organic and friendly because wherever you sit you can see things going on.
And we can see chef himself, easily recognisable from his appearances on Saturday Kitchen, walking around and chatting to diners. He seems far happier here in this relaxed ambience than he was at L’Anima.
So, to the food. Sartoria is offering something different to the regular Italian menu, although indispensable items such as burrata are of course on it. For antipasti we share four plates of raw fish; Italian sashimi I suppose. Scallops thinly sliced and dotted with punctuation marks of caviar, red prawns sweeter than your favourite aunt’s smile. Tuna cubed, texturally stunning decorated with chives and spiked with mild chilli. Sea bass with fronds of dill to feather its nest. It has to be taken slowly and savoured.
We went for primi after, no matter how tempting an Italian restaurant’s secondi are; I cannot leave without eating pasta. Here P had hectic twirls of linguine doused in a light tomato sauce and flavoured from the essence of the half lobster that sat, split, on top. The meat had been taken out, lightly chopped and then put back in so that there were no unseemly struggles to eat it. It was delicious.
I dove into broad flat pasta strands with meat sauce, which sounds dull and prosaic but wasn’t. Keeping things simple is complicated; any fool can bury lack of skill in a mound of pretension. Here the balance of meat to pasta was on the pasta side, as it should be as the meat is really there to flavour the pasta not the other way round. I loved this dish and should have had more.
After came Welsh lamb, a remarkable plate of perfectly pot roasted meat with winter vegetables and a pair of rather large kidneys, at least I hope they were kidneys. This was a bit heavy going after the previous two courses and I should perhaps have not eaten so many of the legendary zucchini fries that came to the table. They are seriously addictive and, being fried, rather filling too. I defy anyone to resist them. However the lamb was excellent; tender and packed with flavour and the broth worth taking a straw to.
P had home-cured bacala which was mysteriously and enticingly described as having been marinated in liquorice. The cod came with charred hispi cabbage, pomme purÃƒÂ©e, red cabbage purÃƒÂ©e and beetroot crisps and was certainly different, with the fish remarkably smooth and soft and that liquorice donating just a hint of aniseed. She too had overindulged on those zucchini fries, but ate the whole plate with gusto, which is not an Italian sauce.
Just enough space for a perfect and timeless tiramisu for me and a dish that, shamefully I did not make a note of, for P and she’s not around to ask. Most unprofessional of one of us. Sorry.
We drank sommelier Michael Simms’ recommended wines by the glass and while I am no expert on wine, just someone with over thirty years’ experience of drinking it, I enjoyed all of them very much and they seemed well matched to each dish.
And I think Chef Mazzei is well matched to Sartoria, his cooking is that rare thing, Italian that doesn’t suffer from being high end to meet the price tag but retains its roots in honesty and quality ingredients so that you get flavour over flummery.
If I could, I’d eat here at least once a week and emerge happy every time. Sartoria fits me like a bespoke suit.
Photos supplied by Sartoria