David Hudson reviews Babbo
39 Albermarle Street, W1
020 3205 1099. www.babborestaurant.co.uk
London has enjoyed a boost in its number of upmarket Italian restaurants over the last couple of years, and we have favourably reviewed both Bocca di Lupo in Soho and Heinz Beck’s Apsleys restaurant at the Lanesborough Hotel.
To that number can also be added Babbo (Italian for ‘daddy’), which arrived in the heart of Mayfair at the beginning of the autumn last year.
Babbo boasts an interior that perfectly suits its well-heeled address (on Albermarle Street), being a mixture of the cosy and luxurious. There’s exposed brick along one wall, dark wood flooring, and pale olive paintwork. A multitude of framed, black and white photos depicting Italian family life add a homely feel, while ornate chandeliers and a baroque flower display should help attract all those ladies who like to lunch after a hard morning perusing the nearby boutiques of Old Bond Street.
Babbo does not seek to re-invent the wheel, but rather, to offer the very best in traditional Italian cooking courtesy of chef Douglas Santi, who has worked previously under the legendary Alain Ducasse.
We kicked off our meal with the Babbo stone crab salad and tomato chutney (£12.75) and bread salad with tuna belly, lobster and ‘Sanmarzano’ tomato (£11.75). The presentation for both was faultless. The dainty crab salad, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, offered a delicate marriage of flavours, although it was a tad over-chilled. The bread salad with tuna and lobster, however, was amazing. My colleague followed the latter with Tuscan-style beef cheek in red wine sauce (£27.50), which came served on a bed of polenta. This was a rich, stewed-style serving of beef that fell into thick flakes when broken by a fork. It was a sublime delight.
I opted for the restaurant’s signature dish – Lasagne al ragout di chianina (£17.50) – a mixed meat lasagne prepared to a 100-year-old recipe handed down from Santi’s grandmother. It was, simply, the best lasagne I can ever remember, and it packed quite a cheesy, parmesan-punch. That said, even the most perfect lasagne is, at the end of the day, lasagne, and one taste of my colleague’s beef cheek told me that he had made the better choice. If I were to return, I think I’d opt for something a bit more adventurous – for there was no lack of choice, with plenty of pasta, risotto, seafood and meat dishes.
We finished the meal with a traditional tiramisu served with cardamom ice cream (£6) and a sweet, creamy burrata ‘Caprese-style’ (£6.50) – a fresh, soft cheese made from mozzarella and cream, which we hadn’t come across before. It came served with a skinned, sweet cherry tomato and small sprig of basil. It was an unusual dessert combination but one that worked well. The tiramisu was also top-notch, and the cardamom ice cream strangely minty in flavour.
Service throughout our meal was very attentive, although this might have possibly been partly due to the fact that it was extremely quiet on the Monday night of our visit. The staff were keen to assure us that it does get busier at other times.
Babbo is pricey and is definitely aimed at the Mayfair set. However, the food is very good indeed and the surroundings perfectly welcoming. Other Italian restaurants may have opened with more fanfare, but Babbo definitely deserves its own following.
Posted: March 2010