Since my wife gave birth, I've begun to see restaurants in a totally new light. I'm not talking about whether they allow breastfeeding or how good their nappy-changing facilities are, though, God knows, those things are important. Rather, the new vantage point from which I'm viewing restaurants is that of Outer Siberia. I'm referring to those special tables that maitre 'ds keep in reserve for couples who turn up with screaming babies in their arms. At the River Café last week, for instance, Caroline and I were shown to a table that was so far away from everyone else I thought we were going to end up in the Thames.
The first thing to be said in favour of Carpaccio, then, is that when we arrived with baby Sasha in tow we were given a table that was slap bang in the centre of things. This is just one of the many respects in which this neighbourhood favourite in SW3 is authentically Italian. The staff, too, are the real McCoy. When I asked for an iced latte, my waiter brought me a glass of milk with half-a-dozen ice cubes floating in it. He probably thought it was for the baby, who was sweating away in her Moses basket between Caroline and me.
When my iced coffee did arrive, however, it was a revelation. Having lived in New York for five years, I've become rather fond of this concoction, but this is the first one I've had in London that's been up to snuff. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration--I'm quite partial to the iced lattes they do in Starbucks, not to mention their new "Double Shot"--but it was still tippety-top. The secret is to pour some full fat milk over some ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, add a couple of shots of freshly-brewed espresso, give it a shake, then strain it into a tall, chilled glass. It's hardly rocket science, but Carpaccio is the first restaurant I've been to on this side of the Atlantic that has got it right.
The hallmark of this restaurant, which is part of the same group as Como Lario and Ziani, two other Chelsea stalwarts, is simple things done to perfection. I've been to this place three times in the past month and the only thing that's left me slightly underwhelmed was a bellini. (Syrup rather than fresh peach juice--uugh.) On my last visit there I started with beef carpaccio, followed up with some lobster spaghetti and, as my main course, lemon sole in breadcrumbs. Apart from the fact that I neglected to leave any room for panna cotta, I didn't have any complaints. This is classic Italian food done very, very well.
Carpaccio won't be to everyone's taste. The décor is extremely Sloaney, as befits the local clientele. As you wash down your veal Milanese with a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio, you're looked down upon by a series of black-and-white photographs, the centrepiece of which is a picture of James Bond going head-to-head with Emilio Largo in Thunderball. What is it with Hoorays and 007? An investment banker friend of mine got married recently and at the reception afterwards organised a fireworks display that was based on a medley of Bond theme songs. 'Goldfinger', for instance, was accompanied by some spectacular yellow star bursts. The female guests weren't particularly impressed, but the men thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever seen.
On my last visit to Carpaccio I decided to leave the baby at home, but the waiter remembered my last visit. As soon as I sat down, he pointed at me and said, "Iced latte?" I nodded, very impressed, and five minutes later he came beetling out of the kitchen with a glass of milk. I didn't want to embarrass him by sending it back so I drained it while he looked on. It seems that whenever I go there I'll have to begin my meal with a glass of milk, but it's a measure of how fond I am of this place that I'm quite happy to do so.