"Oh my God," declared my wife after Giorgio Locatelli had stopped by our table. "He's so attractive."
It was an involuntary remark--she simply couldn't help herself--but she regretted it almost as soon as it had left her mouth.
"You're going to give this place a bad review now, aren't you?"
Alas, much though I'd like to cut this strutting, Italian stud down to size, Locanda Locatelli, his restaurant on Seymour Street, lives up to its Michelin-starred reputation.
Locanda Locatelli is situated in the Churchill Inter-Continental hotel and our evening began inauspiciously when we turned up half-an-hour early and were advised to wait in the Churchill Bar & Cigar Divan. The fact that London's hottest Italian restaurant is associated with such a non-descript, corporate hotel is a bit weird, almost as if the Stork Rooms were located in the Gatwick Holiday Inn. Why not the Sanderson or the St Martin's Lane? As Caroline and I waited for our table, we had to contend with a stream of Americans puffing away on Monte Christos, bragging about their latest deals. At one point, two very louche-looking ladies sauntered past and leered at me suggestively. Times must be tough if they're hoping to pick up a man accompanied by his pregnant wife.
However, from the moment we were shown to our table, at 9.30pm on the dot, things began to perk up. The Eurotrash design by David Collins leaves a little to be desired, but I suppose it has a kind of seedy glamour. It's a footballer's wife's idea of sophistication--or should that be a TVAM weather girl? Tania Bryer was seated at the next-door table, a fact which seemed to cause the waiters no end of excitement. Still, it could have been worse--much worse, in fact. Tony Blair has been known to dine at Locanda Locatelli in a T-shirt.
Among London restaurants, it's second only to the Ivy when it comes to celebrity sightings, but Giorgio Locatelli claimed to be completely democratic in this respect.
"We let everybody in," he said.
"You don't let everybody out though, do you," quipped Caroline.
This was a reference to an incident last year in which the manager wouldn't let a couple leave after they refused to pay their bill. On the recommendation of their waiter, Mr and Mrs Silver had ordered the spaghetti with white truffle--a "chef's special"--and were horrified to discover it cost £30. The manager locked them in and a full hour elapsed before David Silver eventually forked over the cash.
"We voted him our best client of 2002," laughed Giorgio. "The publicity was incredible."
Apart from Tania Bryer, Caroline thought she recognised Dale Winton at the table opposite--and Locanda Locatellli is very much that sort of place. It's not C-list exactly--Madonna is a regular--but it's a million miles from the old-fashioned elegance of somewhere like the Caprice. The staff really ham up the Italian thing, too. When I told the head waiter I was ready to order, he snapped to attention, whipped out his pad, and said, "Prego!" Even the owner, a man who's lived in London half his life, sounded like Furio on the The Sopranos.
The food though--you can't fault the food. I haven't eaten at enough places to say whether it's the best Italian restaurant in London, but it must be near the top. The only place I think is comparable is Olivo's on Eccleston Street and Giorgio used to be the head chef there. Caroline had an artichoke and parmesan salad to start with, while I went with a beef and goat's cheese salad, and Caroline followed up with an aubergine pasta while I opted for venison with fried cream. Yes, that's right, fried cream. What could be more carcinogenic than that? Lobster with a foie gras garnish? This is heart attack food with a capital punishment. But make no mistake. It's worth dying for.