Friday, February 10, 2012

Downtown Mayfair London

First some history. Many of you may have heard of a place called Harry’s Bar in Venice. This place still exists and is legendary. It’s not legendary just because the very rich and very famous – think Ernest Hemmingway, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Nicole Kidman, Orson Welles, Truman Capote and so on and so forth - listed it as their favourite bar but, because it has the honour of inventing a famous cocktail, the Bellini, and an even more famous dish, Beef Carpaccio. Not many places in the world can claim this honour.

The dish, Carpaccio of beef is a plate of trimmed raw sirloin sliced wafer thin and dressed with a mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice. This was invented for an Italian contessa, who was on a diet free of cooked meat. It was named after an Italian painter, Vittore Carpaccio, who was famous for his love of deep reds.

The cocktail Bellini is a mixture of white peach juice and sparkling Prosecco, also named after the fifteenth-century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini. 

The history of Harry’s Bar starts with Giuseppe Cipriani who owned the place. Legend goes that Giuseppe loaned an American, Harry Pickering, 10,000 Lire. A few years later Pickering paid back 50,000 Lire with which Giuseppe started Harry‘s Bar. Giuseppe’s son Arrigo [Italian for Harry] and grandson, also called Giuseppe, now own the place. They also own several other restaurants and hotels around the world. The Ciprianis have just started a restaurant in London called Downtown Mayfair, which is where we are headed for dinner.

The restaurant is located in a quiet by lane just off Regent Street. It looks really grand, think old style, with chandeliers and a warm clubby feel. Imagine if you can, yourself in a really classy Gaylords, think Punjabi European, think luxurious ocean liner decor, think Art Deco.

When we arrived, the restaurant was quite empty. The wait staff is all Italian and on seating we were asked if we would like an Aperitif. Both of us asked for a Bellini. It was mixed in our line of sight and poured out. Delicious. The fresh taste of the peach and the sparkle of the Prosecco was perfectly balanced. After a few sips we looked at the menu.

The Bellini

Short, two page menu, printed afresh every day as it has daily specials and a date on it. The daily special was Pot Au Feu which is a French classic, beef stew. The menu also listed a few Sushi which were offered as starters. The rest of the two page menu was Italian dishes.

HRH the Queen chose Soppressata on Crispy Polenta and I had to choose the Carpaccio. We ordered a bottle of Poulliy Fume to wash all this down. The starters turned up in literally a couple of minutes. Soppressata is an Italian Sausage, dry cured and often made with the head of a pig. It’s similar to Head Cheese or Brawn or Tete De Veau. This was sliced thick and placed on deep fried Polenta slices. It was served warm. Absolutely delicious, hot and cold, and such a contrast of textures with the crunchy Polenta and the buttery smooth Soppressata. The quality of the Soppressata was itself outstanding, yes I agree that the restaurant did not cook it and it was outsourced, but, the quality was something an ordinary buyer would not get in a shop.

Soppressata on Crispy Polenta

The Beef Carpaccio was unlike anything I have ever eaten. This was buttery smooth, creamy and moist. Unlike many versions where the Carpaccio is disguised by placing a salad on top and dousing the salad with olive oil to give it moistness, here it came unadorned with just a few delicate drizzles of the lemony Mayonnaise. It’s really all about the quality of ingredients, if you ask me. Great dish.

Beef Carpaccio

So far so good. We were impressed and we were happy.

Main course. HRH the Queen had Veal Ravioli and I asked for a Veal Picatini with Pizzaiola Sauce. HRH the Queen’s Ravioli was top notch. As the cliché goes, gossamer thin, with a very tasty minced Veal stuffing, dressed with melted butter and a drizzle of Demi Glaze. Grated Parmesan was sprinkled on top. It was perfect. It made you want to sing with joy.

Veal Ravioli

The Veal Picatini was very thin slices of Veal fried in Burro [butter] and a sort of Tomato Pizza Sauce to which Demi Glaze had been added was poured on. Superlative. We got a bowl of Spinach with our food, nice. This was really good food.

Veal Picatini with Pizzaiola Sauce

Once we finished, the waitress did a bit of magic, she took a fresh tablecloth, rolled it up and placed it on our table. She then unrolled it and placed fresh crockery on the table ready for our desert. Next up, two waiters brought us the deserts, a Lemon Meringue Pie, a Vanilla Sponge and a chocolate cake. Also on offer was the usual Italian suspect, Tiramisu. HRH the Queen wanted the Lemon Meringue Pie while I had the Vanilla Sponge. They recommended a small bowl of berries to go with the Vanilla Sponge. Both the deserts had lots of Italian Meringue which was caramelised and both were delicious. The bowl of berries, which were excellent quality [Mulberries, Raspberries and Blue Berries], paired wonderfully with the Vanilla Sponge Cake. A great end to a wonderful meal.

Vanilla Sponge Cake

Lemon Meringue Pie

Mulberries, Raspberries and Blue Berries

A word about the restaurant. This is a restaurant that is frequented by the so called nouveau riche of the UK. This means pop stars, TV stars; Russian businessmen and their girlfriends come here. I have no problem with that. On a different scale, but with the same principle, most of the restaurants in India are frequented by the local nouveau riche. So by the time we were leaving, lots of very tall leggy girls, lots of very flashy men were filling up the restaurant. This I guess explains the presence of sushi and sashimi on the menu as it is all the rage for the international nouveau riche. The friendly Italian staff were very good. Not once did we have to ask for our wine to be poured nor our water glasses topped up. Every waiter, captain or steward passing by helped; there was no hierarchy in view.

As we got ready to leave, it started to snow. The dusting of snow as we made our way home was a magical end to a perfect evening.


  1. Thank you for expanding our knowledge of all things culinary. Kep up the mouthwatering good work.

  2. Many thanks Ravi. Glad someone reads the rants.

  3. Pictures very well taken. Lemon Meringue Pie looks fabulous.