the UK Dining Guide

There's been a chef change at this smart Sloane Italian

When Grissini-london opened last year at the Hyatt Carlton Tower on Cadogan Place I was enthralled by the vivid colours, bright flavours and delicate textures of Fabio Trabocchi's cooking. He certainly did much to help put the stylish remake of this old Sloaney favourite back on the map. What with Zafferano opposite and The Halkin round the corner, this little area of Belgravia is a mecca for lovers of serious Italian cuisine. Grissini-london is an elegant dining room with pleasant views across the green space of Cadogan Place. The decor is neo-artdeco and with the soft lights in the evening, one could imagine oneself on an ocean liner.

Young chefs are always on the move and Trabocchi is no exception. Stefano Bonafé has taken over the stoves and he has been quick to assert his style and greater maturity. Here's a man whose had his own restaurant, the Hosteria Bona fé in Bologna - now run by his brother. Bonfé previously cooked at La Cirque in New York and the Antica Osteria del Ponte Milano, to name but two of his alma maters.

Immediately upon the arrival of the light focaccia loaves and the crunchy but still warm and pliant home-baked grissini, one could read the early signs of attention to detail. There's a lot of work involved both in preparation and actual cooking in many of Bonafé's dishes. The menu is manageable with seven antipasti, seven pasta dishes and eight main courses, three fish but no vegetable dish as such. Two courses are offered for £24.50 and three for £28.50.

For starters, two of us had exquisite freshly baked individual Italian cheese soufflés, served on bed of mixed roasted peppers with a garnish of leaves and fresh figs. Our partners enjoyed a brilliantly prepared carpaccio of fresh salmon with thinly sliced zucchini like tagliolini. The dressing was said to be lemon but it tasted more like fresh limes to me. If anyone dismisses such a dish as merely raw fish, they should try slicing and presenting both fish and garnish it as beautifully as this.

Next we tried some pasta in the form of a trio of melt-in-the-mouth tortelloni stuffed with ricotta cheese in a sage butter sauce, it having all the delicacy I remembered from my last visit and contrasting superbly with a risotto. This was a vivid yellow, and if anyone is any doubt about how saffron should taste, try this dish! To offset the richness there was a pungent garnish gremolada with microfine lemon zest like Capelli d'angelo - angel's hair, but as crisp as the devil's eyebrows!

The main courses at Grissini are nothing if not generous. A pan fried sea bass fillet came with stewed zucchini, aubergines onion and tomato rather like a ratatouille, with more emphasis on the suitably delicate lemon flavour than the robuster tomato of the Provencal variant. Roasted turbot was firm and flakey, its sauce owed its flavour to capers, now very much in vogue after a temporary absence from the scene.

Pan fried veal medallions were very tender and the Marsala wine reduction was intensely dark, gooey and smoky. I had a rack of perfectly cooked little lamb chops, pink and tender as mousse. They came with tiny roast potatoes and other vegetables. Much is made of the special vegetable side orders which carry a supplement of £3.50 a go, which I thought was rather steep. We found four different side dishes for four people was more than enough, and in some cases they duplicated vegetables that were already integrated into the plentiful main dishes.

Marzella Hazan, my ghuru where Italian food is concerned, describes zucchine fritte fried in pastella as absolutely irresistible. After last week in Japan and all that tempura, I thought I'd had the definitive batter, but this was even better. Ignore all the other side vegetables if you will, but don't miss Stefano's zucchine fritte, I beg you!

Italian desserts are so wonderful - how could they ever have descended to the ghastly dessert trolley? I can assure you that Grissini-london is a trolly free zone. Retro-cuisine may be making a come back, but thankfully the pendulum of fashion never quite comes back to the same place. Don't miss the Tortino al cioccolato con lamponi!. The expression "death by chocolate" has virtually lost its meaning it's been so debased by a million cheap theme restaurants. This is death by chocolate, in all its voluptuous magnificence, darkly crunchy on the outside, as hot and gooey inside as a - I'll leave that to your imagination. If you think that'd put too many hairs on your chest, try the panna cotta - burnt custard cream flavoured with amaretto with a texture as smooth as the skin on a - there you go again!

Which brings me to the wine: the list is a pretty comprehensive tour of the Italian regions, except for some Champagnes. Recently some more good wines for under 20 pounds have been added to the list. Before the meal we sat in the conservatory window on sofas drinking a pleasant piquant Frascati Superiore from San Carlo for £19.00. At the table we went on to a toasty Pinot Grigio Trentino, Santa Margherita for £20.00, and later we cracked a very fresh and fruity Rosso di Montalcino, £19.50.

Our impression was that Grissini-london is busy redefining itself in a more robust style than before, one that possibly brings it into closer comparison with nearby Zafferano. The service was exemplary - our young waiter was as well informed about the wines as he was the details of the dishes and the manner of their preparation, I could spot a maitre d' in the making.

Grissi-london at the Hyatt Carlton Tower on Cadogan Place, London SW1X 9PY
Tel: 020 7858 7171
Open for Lunch

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