A bohemian rhapsody in Chiswick
Doing its best to mimic a Tuscan villa, albeit in the altogether less bucolic environs of Chiswick High Street, the outdoor terrace is swathed in olive trees, terracotta pots and a hefty dose of bella figura.
Inside, there’s that cluttered type of kitsch, almost bipolar design that shouldn’t work but somehow does Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a velvet sofa sits next to a Renaissance-style armchair, a plaster bust between them; velvet-covered stags’ heads stud the walls; large, out-of-scale tree trunks coated in turquoise velvet dot the dining room like a tactile acid trip, while an eclectic art collection lines the walls.
It’s not surprising to learn that the interior is by Jimmie Martin, the outrageously innovative designers who boast Rita Ora, Liam Gallagher and Madonna among their clientele. An oasis of vogue.
A cavernous white palazzo (formerly Frankie’s, owned by Frankie Dettori and Marco Pierre White) the restaurant opened four years ago with the aim of bringing a taste of the 16th-century Villa di Geggiano to a city where Italian food all too often falls several slices short of a salami: pizzas of various thicknesses and the abhorrence of a pineapple topping, rustic Roman cuisine a la Stevie Parle and Giorgio Locatelli and soggy spa bol, but very little in between.
The multi-national staff are all welcoming and professional, although it was unusual not to find any Italians on the night we visited Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a shame, as I’d been secretly hoping someone would wield a giant pepper mill over my Milanese.
We loved the comfortable lounge for pre-dinner drinks, although a bog-standard bowl of peanuts was the rather disappointing accompaniment to a glass of prosecco (wot, no olives?).
The ÃƒÂ la carte menu, however, is true to the maxim that Italians do eat better, with six or seven dishes offered per course: autumnal pappardelle pasta with wild Tuscan boar sits alongside ox tongue with salsa verde, quail”s egg and light horseradish sauce and raspberry bavarese with pistachio ice cream.
A few tweaks could be made: the excellent, meltingly fresh burrata was served in an over-zealous sea of purÃƒÂ©ed courgette and mint, punctuated with a paltry three croutons and matched with a so-so Sauvignon blanc.
Octopus carpaccio was superb, despite the visual disappointment of a 1980s-style drizzle of balsamic reduction, anointed with minute dice of potatoes (a nod to the traditional ingredient in an Italian octopus salad) and sweet Sicilian datterini tomatoes. The accompanying Gavi was a good match.
Next up was some highly forgettable gnocchi with tomato sauce: soggy and under-seasoned, with a dollop of buffalo mozzarella to ease the pain, but the following course was good Ã¢â‚¬â€œ free-range Scottish lamb cutlets with a salad of heirloom tomatoes and another drizzle of balsamic reduction served with a Chianti Classico that was a tad heavy as a pairing Ã¢â‚¬â€œ an apt choice, though, given that the winery of Villa di Geggiano may well have been the first to bring Chianti to England in 1725.
For me, the meat was a little overdone but the flavour was on point and it was good to see a dish kept simple. Our dessert was an interesting combo of sweet little Italian cantaloupe melon balls and a scoop of Campari sorbet: quite literally a bittersweet ending.
Despite it being a Tuesday night, the restaurant was buzzing, with locals and visitors alike soaking up the lively atmosphere and creative decor: it’s popular with media luvvies and ravenous rap artists such as Snoop Dog and Will.I.Am hotfooting it from the nearby recording studio.
Although in parts the menu flatters to deceive, Villa di Geggiano definitely offers a more adventurous taste of Italy than you will find in most London restaurants.