5 Pollen Street

This restaurant has now closed.

5 Pollen Street is the brainchild of Head Chef Stefano Cavallini who had the distinction of being the first Italian chef to receive a Michelin star in 1995 for his restaurant ‘Stefano Cavallini at The Halkin’. This place is glamour personified with its art-deco inspired décor and luxurious surroundings. But this place was not cheap, and the privilege of sitting in this beautiful looking restaurant located just off Hanover Square in Mayfair came at a price.

The pasta in a stracci di pasta with rabbit ragout (£15) was nicely done and cooked al dente. The flavour of the rabbit ragout was pleasant and tasty, but it was also a little salty and slightly runny. My current benchmark for a good ragout is the pappardelle duck ragout at Enoteca Turi which, at £11.75, was outstanding. This rabbit ragout was decent, but on a comparative basis it didn’t achieve that same high standard as at Enoteca Turi. Furthermore, the presentation was dull, and at £15, the portion size was also small.

Stracci di pasta with rabbit ragout

Stracci di pasta with rabbit ragout

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Spuntino

Spuntino, another ‘tapas’ style small eats restaurant (gosh they are popping up everywhere in London), is the third offering by Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, the people behind the ever-so-popular ‘tapas’ small eat places Polpo and Polpetto. Venture number three has every reason to be as successful as its predecessors. This place, with its New York East Village speakeasy feel simply oozes cool. Its distress-tiled walls, low dangling lights and bar stool seating give it a raw, grungy feel. The frontage is non-descript as well with the restaurant’s name display being barely discernible. From the décor to the staff, this place is so cool it does not take reservations, have a phone number or a menu on their website.

As the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, one needs to queue. The layout is similar to Barrafina in the sense that you line up alongside the wall, during which time you can order snacks and drinks.

Our meal kicked off with some complimentary spicy popcorn made with chili. These were fantastic if a little greasy.

Spicy popcorn

Spicy popcorn

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Apsleys – Visit # 3

Note: Chefs Massimiliano Blasone and Marco Calenzo have now left the restaurant. Consequently this blog post may not reflect the current state of affairs at Apsleys.

Apsleys, the one Michelin starred Italian restaurant located in the Lanesborough Hotel, kindly invited me back to try their new spring menu. I went to Apsleys about six months ago for what was my second visit and had a glorious meal (for that blog post click here) and it was such an honour to be asked back again. At the helm is Executive chef Massimiliano Blasone, Sous chef Marco Calenzo, and restaurant manager Pasquale Cosmai. Apsleys is the sister restaurant to Heinz Beck’s three Michelin starred La Pergola in Rome.

We kicked the meal off with a wonderful selection of amuse bouches that thrilled. Kingfish sandwiched in sesame ‘waffles’ was a delight, with the wafer-thin texture of the buttery waffles contrasting well with the fish.

Sesame waffle with kingfish

Sesame waffle with kingfish

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Tempo

Tempo is a recently opened Italian restaurant on Curzon Street, right near the now-defunct Mirabelle. There is a bar upstairs on the first floor, and the ground floor houses the dining room which is contemporary but not flashy. The colour scheme offers up warm, beige-y tones and large paintings splash the walls. This is a pretty and comfortable restaurant, even if the tables are squished together and the seats are small. I guess space is precious in Mayfair.

I liked the menu. Subdivided between cicchetti (small eats), carpaccio, antipasta, pasta and risotto, fish and meats, side dishes and desserts over a compact two page format, it offered a reasonable range of choices without overwhelming the audience. It made me want to try a little bit of everything.

I dined as a guest of the restaurant. From the cicchetti section, an insalata di polpo, seared octopus, pomegranate with apple (£3.75) was lovely. The octopus was tender and and nicely seared, and there was a lovely freshness coming through from the pomegranate and julienned apples which well with the octopus.

Insalata di polpo

Insalata di polpo

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Apsleys – The Return

Note: Chefs Massimiliano Blasone and Marco Calenzo have now left the restaurant. Consequently this blog post may not reflect the current state of affairs at Apsleys.

Back in March I went to Apsleys, a one Michelin starred restaurant, and had the five-course tasting menu. Apsleys is the London outpost of Heinz Beck, a chef who holds three Michelin stars with his restaurant La Pergola in Rome. I had therefore expected good things. Instead, I left the restaurant feeling a little under whelmed. It wasn’t a bad meal per se, but my tortellini pasta was a bit overcooked and there were inconsistencies in the presentation of the food. I also found the tuna tartare dish with herbal infusion and green tea sorbet slightly odd.

Somehow the restaurant got hold of my post. Perhaps they had a point to prove because they contacted me several months later to invite me to dine at Apsleys again, saying that things had much improved. Interestingly, The Critical Couple wrote of an underwhelming first experience followed by a much more positive one at Apsleys. I was therefore sufficiently curious to try it again.

To start was a trio of seafood amuse bouches. From left to right, tuna tartare sparkled with the gentle hint of orange pieces. Next was a seabass tartare with cauliflower and candied lemon mounted on some finely chopped cantaloupe melon. The sweetness of the fish contrasted wonderfully with the fruitiness of the melon and the acidity of the lemon. Finally, a stunning sliver of thinly sliced scallop marinated in olive oil and lemon was served on a bed of creamy amaranth (a black corn stock).

Amuse bouches

Amuse bouches

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Assaggi

Assaggi use to hold a Michelin star which it lost this year. But to be honest, two previous visits to this Italian restaurant have always left me at a lost as to why it ever had a star to begin with. The food was decent, but unspectacular, and very pricey. In my opinion, not only was it not Michelin worthy, it wasn’t worth the price tag either. So it was no surprise to me when it was stripped off its star this year. About time I thought. I’ve never been anxious to go back but friends who wanted to try it invited me along.

Assaggi is housed above a pub in a beautiful Georgian building on Chepstow Place. But the lovely building masks a poorly decorated dining room, which, with its bad lighting and dull wall hangings makes the restaurant feel little better than a cheap café. It was also very noisy as there is no carpeting on the floor.

Culatello di zibello, the prized cured ham from Italy, was delicious. Thinly sliced, the lovely red flesh was sweet and delicate, and further enriched by the tasty pieces of white fat running through it. The ham can be ordered with burrata, a mozzarella cheese with cream (£24.40 with cheese or £16.90 without cheese). I think the combination would have worked well had the cheese been served at room temperature. Instead, it was spoiled by the fact that the cheese had only just been taken out of the fridge and was far too cold to eat. £24.40 is not cheap for a starter, and so it was disappointing to have the restaurant ruin it through careless preparation.

Culatello di zibello with burrata cheese

Culatello di zibello with burrata cheese

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Polpetto

Having recently gone to Polpo and enjoyed it, I couldn’t wait to try its recently opened sister restaurant, Polpetto. Perched on top of the legendary Soho pub, The French House, it is a tiny imitation of its bigger sister. Not only is the dining room smaller, the décor, with its hole in the wall look, is more subdued and relaxed. Unlike Polpo, Polpetto doesn’t come with its own bar area, so I can only guess that those waiting for tables must do so in the pub downstairs.

The menu is similarly designed to Polpo’s – barcaro type eating at reasonable prices. We started with several items from the cicheti (small bites) section. Our first choice was the duck and porcini meatballs (£1.50 each) which were divine. Packed full of rich duck and porcini flavour, the only slight drawback was that I got too much black pepper in one particular mouthful as the seasoning hadn’t been evenly dispersed throughout the meat. The meatballs came out piping hot – so hot in fact that it made me wonder if they had been microwaved before serving.

Duck & porcini meatballs

Duck & porcini meatballs

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Polpo

I’ve been past a Polpo a few times, and the queues have always deterred me from going. The restaurant operates a no-reservations policy during dinner time which means if you want a table, you have to go early, wait or get lucky. So I decided to try my hand at turning up at 6.30 to see if I could avoid the queue. But alas, it was to no avail. A 45 minute wait ensued, and I have to say, it wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. First, the bar is tiny with barely any standing space. Second, there were already loads of people waiting, which made the tiny space seem claustrophobic. Third, we were told we weren’t allowed to wait outside with drinks even though some people did. And finally, to make an unbearable situation worse, our drinks (a glass of proseco and coke) weren’t cold. The coke hadn’t been refrigerated, although we did get a glass of ice to go with it. Hmmm.

But when we finally did get a table, I found the food to be quite delightful and the prices reasonable. Polpo is a Venetian style Bacaro with tapas-style dining. We started with some chopped chicken liver crostini (£1.50 each) which was rich with the flavour of pure liver. This was very tasty but it could have done with a little acidity to cut the richness.

Chicken liver crostini

Chicken liver crostini

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