Piccolino, Heddon Street

Published on View London on 19th August 2011:

Piccolino has a reputation of being a venue with great service, and while that proves to be true there are a couple of hang ups with the food.

The Venue
Piccolino is a chain of twenty two Italian restaurants with venues across the country. It promises neighbourhood dining in a chic yet informal setting and the Heddon Street branch encapsulates that with a rustic charm that’s given a contemporary hit from brass lighting, red leather banquettes and brushed wood chairs.

Being close to Regent Street, its central location is easily accessible for shoppers and tourists alike and the size of the restaurant easily accommodates the passing trade. Outside is a sheltered alfresco area that shares the buzzy atmosphere of other nearby venues, while inside is an open plan space with views into the kitchen.

The Atmosphere
At the start of the evening the restaurant is filled with families but as the night progresses, the clientele gets younger with small groups of friends starting to drift in. Further on into the evening you’ll see those who’ve finished work and had a few drinks in the nearby bars start to take their seats for a late supper, but no matter what time it is, there’s a steady stream of guests entering, maintaining a pleasant hubbub. Despite being so busy, the staff still seem to be able to take time to smile and joke with the customers – there’s even the occasional wink.

The Food
Some Italian restaurants seem only to serve pizza and pasta; Piccolino is definitely not one of these. But while the menu is extensive, the food can be a touch hit and miss.

A starter of grilled asparagus with a neatly trimmed poached egg makes a healthy alternative to the calamari fritti, which is a little greasy. For mains, the A3 menu offers the staples of pizza, pasta, risotto and salads for only a few pounds more than the starters, and there are also fish and meats to choose from at around the £20 mark. The nodino di vitello (veal chop on the bone) offers an authentic taste of the homeland with a parmesan and rosemary breadcrumb crust, though you can also have it grilled with rosemary and lemon butter. There are of course the usual – and perfectly decent – cuts of steak on the menu, with ribeyes, sirloins and fillets being the most popular. The accompanying chips are matchstick thin but not quite crispy enough to be fries.

For around £7, you can choose from ten desserts or for around £6 there’s a decent selection of gelatos and sorbets. The torte di limone delivers a sharp tang thanks to a limoncello filling that’s balanced out by sweet candied lemons sitting on top. The panna cotta is richly flavoured with vanilla (which is certainly no bad thing), but it does overpower the slightly over poached rhubarb somewhat.

The Drink
There’s a good selection of table wines here, from sauvignon and chenin blancs to riojas and merlots, with a fair few options available by the glass and the carafe – a trend that’s always nice to see, especially when they extend to proseccos and champagnes too. Coffee is, as expected of any Italian restaurant worth its salt, very good indeed. And it packs a powerful caffeine punch – just what you need with a belly full of pasta.

The Last Word
If you’re looking for the neighbourhood restaurant with great service and undemanding food, this would be it. But if you were looking for great gastronomy, then you’re probably unlikely to find it here.


Published on View London on 25th July 2011:

In the first floor of a converted stable block is an airy French restaurant which overlooks Marylebone Church Gardens. The perfect blend of décor and views takes you somewhere that’s very far from the heart of Marylebone village.

The Venue
Orrery: A mechanical model of the solar system. Named after Charles Boyle, Fourth Earl of Orrery (1676 – 1731), for whom one was made.

That’s the first thing you will see on the menu but the restaurant isn’t really mechanical at all. The windows on the ceiling and all along the main wall allows plenty of natural light to flow in, providing a sense of the outdoors without any of the bother from insects and the weather.

The elegant venue is effectively split into two sections, the booths and the tables. The tables reside by the window with lush carpeting underfoot and views to match. The booths offer more privacy with panels intersecting sections of the restaurant. Both are equally well filled at dinner times.

The Atmosphere
Early diners may find the restaurant a bit library-like. The staff exchange in whispers and with few people around, the guests also find themselves talking in hushed tones. After 8pm however, things really start to pick up. Groups of well-heeled guests arrive in groups, presumably straight from work. The food is ferried out of the kitchen and down the aisles at top speed but despite the efficiency of the service, you might still find yourself waiting on your mains due to the volume of demand. At least there’s plenty of complimentary amuse-bouche between the courses to keep you going, should that happen.

The Food
The menu is set, rather than a la carte, but there’s a good selection to choose from nonetheless. The set menu starts at £30 and goes up to £48 for three courses depending on which of the offers you are taking up. There are also tasting menus available for £55 and £59.

A wild garlic velouté with garlic croutons makes an easy introduction to the meal or if you like, a pâté de Campagne with apple chutney and toasted brioche. There’s just the right amount to fill you with anticipation for the next course. For main, there’s a hearty roast rump of beef with shallot tart and red wine jus, or perhaps a creamy soft herb risotto with shaved Parmesan. It must be said that the menu isn’t terribly adventurous but fits well with the elegant French theme of the restaurant. To finish, the orange panna cotta with blood orange sorbet makes a fine palate refresher, although there’s also an excellent selection of cheeses from the trolley.

The Drinks
There are cocktails like the Kir Royale to choose from but wine is their main gig. The drinks list at Orrery is very extensive, containing vintages of wines and Champagnes, as well as everyday tipples. Prices start from around £20 a bottle and go up to almost a thousand pounds at the top of the range. The sommelier walks the floor and is happy to recommend wines according to the menu. Most wines are only available by the bottle but rest assured that they are expertly decanted.

The Last Word
Although service by individual staff is more than hospitable, as a team there is definitely room for improvement especially when it comes to the speed of the service. The food, although not overly inspiring, has been carefully considered and crafted.

Black and Blue

Published on View London on 6th June 2011:

Black and Blue is an informal new venue in Chelsea that’s good for catching up with friends over generous portions of steaks, burgers and other meaty things.

The Venue
Located on King’s Road, Black and Blue is the latest venue in the chain, and the brainchild of Nick Hill and Alan Bacon. Their aim is to create an upmarket but casual steakhouse, which has plenty of dining options for everyone. The entrance of the restaurant creates an open plan layout – it feels like a café rather than a restaurant. The doors open across the entire width of the entrance giving a good view of the bar and the restaurant within. A couple of tables outside the front of the restaurant offer opportunities for alfresco dining but inside there’s plenty of natural light from a ceiling window. There’s a good selection of tables and booths creating a casual atmosphere without being too informal. On one side, the walls are painted very boldly, with a few slightly faded blocks of colour offering a nod to the great man himself (it used to be called Picasso), whilst the other side sees subtle reminders of what’s on offer, with Picasso-esque etchings of cattle adorning the wall.

The Atmosphere
For a steak restaurant, the clientèle is surprisingly female-heavy and most are quite young – in their 20s and 30s. Small groups of three or four seem to stream in regularly, along with the occasional family, which is unlike the usual heave of the after-work crowd found in the bars down the road. The venue is busy without being overwhelmed and the acoustics make conversation easy. Facilitating that conversation is the staff with their attentive service – frequently offering to top up your drink and asking if you need anything else.

The Food
There is a very large selection of starters to choose from (priced at between £5 and £9), with bar style snacks and some other more formal options too. The pâté of foie gras with toasted brioche, for example, wouldn’t go amiss in a high end restaurant but you can also keep things simple with mixed olives, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The pan-fried Scottish scallops are beautifully presented in their shells but showcase the difficulty there is in achieving perfection during cooking. The crayfish and guacamole salad is fantastically fresh and benefits from cooling crème fraiche, but it’s just a little under-seasoned.

For main, there are salads, steaks and burgers as well as other meats and fish. The steaks – sirloin, fillet, rib-eye or côte de boeuf – are served with fries, a separate and very rustic salad and additional sauces, and all are priced between £16 and £30. The steaks are really what Black and Blue wants to be known for, but if you fancied something else, the rack of lamb is also rather good and similarly priced. It comes with mash, green beans and small pots of condiments on a wooden board.

The dessert selection is very concise but there is the option of a cheese board for a little extra. You will, however, be rewarded for choosing the rich and moist chocolate brownie or the creamy, well balanced New York cheesecake.

The Drink
There is a small but good selection of wines to go with dinner as well as liqueurs for afterwards, to be enjoyed at the table or at the bar. The wines come by the glass as well as by the bottle, which is great if you’re being sensible. If you find choosing difficult, the staff will happily recommend something and will even let you sample a little to help you decide.

The Last Word
For a local Chelsea diner, the venue isn’t bad and the service is great. There’s definitely room for improvement with the food though and that’s something to look forward to.