Does the food at this Mayfair Italian match up to its warm, inviting decor?
Like most other Western cities, there’s no shortage of Italian restaurants in London, so it takes something special for a particular eatery to stand out from the rest. Babbo is memorable for its warm, inviting decor if nothing else. The chandeliers and tiled floors that greet you as you enter quickly give way to walls festooned with family photos, a winding staircase, bookshelves and an obligatory exposed brick wall. It may not be especially avant-garde, but it’s all very tasteful.
I sampled the cooking at Babbo with the help of The Youngling and Leatherface. Service was generally efficient if slightly brusque, although the thick Italian accents could be hard to understand at times, while the maître d was standoffish and a bit sniffy.
Youngling was unimpressed with his starter of assorted Italian cured meats which is a shame (sorry folks no photo of this one), but Leatherface greatly enjoyed his salmon tartare where the fresh fish was topped with a zesty dressing.
The selection of bread for the table was competent but unremarkable. More interesting was my starter of scallops served in a potato and leek cream. The scallops were fresh with a slightly chewy bite, but were also surprisingly salty – almost certainly due to the addition of lardo di colonnata. The accompanying potato and leek cream didn’t taste of much though and added little to the dish.
My main course consisted of a pan-fried sea bass fillet served with olive-filled pasta. The flaky fish was certainly fresh and well-cooked with a crispy skin, but its flavour was little muted. I also expected more from the surprisingly subdued olive-filled pasta. It’s not quite up to the standard of the bass I had at Prune in New York.
I had been severely tempted to try the taglioloni pasta with lobster in tomato sauce and clams, but The Youngling tried it out instead. He didn’t think much of the clams, but was greatly impressed with the fresh claw and tail meat which was tender with a slightly chewy bite. Sorry folks, no photo of this one.
Leatherface was disappointed with his main course of grilled king prawns served with marinated tomatoes and aubergine. Although the fresh, hefty prawns were well-cooked, he thought everything else, especially the aubergine, was bland doing little to complement the prawns.
Youngling skipped dessert as he was watching his honed musculature, but Leatherface and I had no such qualms. Leatherface’s tiramisu was sadly average in his opinion – the dessert was dominated by an excess of sponge and cream with little liqueur to give it a much needed kick. I wonder if I’ll ever find a tiramisu to top the one I had at La Tasquita de Enfrente in Madrid.
Everyone was intrigued by the odd appearance of my dessert, a Caprese-style burrata. The solid room-temperature exterior is creamy giving way to a very cold, milky liquid interior. I’ve never encountered a burrata before and it’s certainly an intriguing and fun dessert. The contrast between the two different textures and temperatures was very nicely done, but the taste was a little one-dimensional though. The taste of milk and cream drowned out the mozzarella if it was ever there at all.
The food at Babbo is by no means bad, but apart from a couple of exceptions it struggles to stand out from all the other Italian restaurants in London which isn’t good enough at this price. Its quiet atmosphere and attractive decor make it a nice choice for either a romantic meal or a business lunch, but if quality of food is paramount then at this price I’d rather head to Latium or Bocca di Lupo. If you can’t bear to wander too far from Mayfair, then the similarly priced nearby Modern European restaurant Wild Honey is far more accomplished.
Address: 39-40 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4JQ
Phone: 020 3205 1099
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday midday-15.00 and 19.00-23.00. Closed Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Reservations: highly recommended.
Total cost for one person including mineral water and coffee: approx. £55