Xier and XR: The two faces of Carlo Scotto’s ambitious Marylebone restaurant
Whether it’s a grandiose operation such as Hide, or the smaller but very successful Bubbledogs, there seems to be an appetite for two-in-one ventures. One more affordable – and lucrative – the other more refined, to aim at the stars. On paper, it makes perfect sense. Does it always work?
We went to try Carlo Scotto’s new restaurant in Marylebone. First, we checked out XR, his ground floor bistro, then Xier upstairs, the 30-cover tasting menu room. Despite being quite different, they have a lot in common: the good and the bad. I find the positives to be much more interesting than the negatives, that’s why I like to focus on those.
XR offers a brilliant brunch, uncomplicated and fun. Ten minutes into the meal, we were surrounded by food. On the left, two mini lamb burgers with gruyère cheese and foie gras mayo; behind, scrambled eggs with truffle. On the right, enoki mushroom and truffle arancini; behind, salmon tartare, guacamole and yuzu dressing, and also buttered salad with salted ricotta. It wasn’t the amount of food that made an impression, but the creativity and attention to detail. Scotto nailed it with the burgers utilising the foie gras mayo; and the scrambled eggs were fluffy and moist, just like they should be. Truffle is good, truffle everywhere “because I can” can become a gimmick. In the arancini, you couldn’t really taste it – they were delicious nevertheless.
Then the salmon. It was so salty – and dark – that I couldn’t even tell that it was salmon; to the point where I thought it was tuna. But it wasn’t. The marination made it purple and firmer (and saline). It was almost not edible – thankfully the guacamole balanced it out a bit. If pulled off properly, it’s a good idea. Finally, the salad (a bit overdressed) and a glass of champagne completed the feast.
For the mains, there were three options: we tried the Harissa Chicken and the cod with jerusalem artichoke crisps. Both courses were a bit dry and overcooked – naturally, the two things go hand in hand. It’s comfort food but it should be prepared with more care.
The two glasses of wine coming with the set menu were surprisingly delightful, especially the grüner veltliner by Martin & Anna Arndorfer – the other being a chianti by Vittorio Innocenti. The meal ended with a Royal Sundae Cup, with praliné ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramelised peanuts and chantilly cream. At £35 per person, this brunch is a winner.
Xier is more refined. Consistent with the ground floor, the atmosphere is a bit outdated. Both dining rooms are designed in a way that would have felt contemporary in the early 2000s. The tasting menu is long and ambitious – but it has issues. A Red Prawn Crudo was overly dressed with salmon caviar, raspberry, yuzu and seasoning. Admittedly, the red prawn is one of my absolute favourite things to eat, especially raw, but its sweetness and delicateness were completely overshadowed. A Rose Cured Salmon with foie gras followed. The salmon was softer and more natural than the one from the brunch – not sure if it was a different marination or if they addressed the issue, either way it was good news – but the pairing with the foie gras was vain.
Europe Meets Asia juxtaposes gnocchi with warm kombu tea, but the excessive amount of ginger subdued the umami, which we expected to enjoy. A refreshing palate cleanser reset the tastebuds, though it came on a granita that tasted of nothing more than crushed ice. At this point, we had two sets of options to choose from, for the mains, and we went for one each.
Black Cod in Caramel Miso was the menu’s first great dish, where technique and flavours were finally well balanced. On the other hand, the john dory with burnt aubergine was overcooked and that’s a sin, its dryness the same as the cod from the brunch.
We continued with the highlight of the dinner: the pigeon with beetroot and foie gras. The meat was pink, tender and tasty; the flavours and texture of all the elements complemented each other. The other option, Organic Beef Fillet, with burnt onion and leeks, met our expectations.
Xier’s tasting menu ended with Sweet Tooth, five mini desserts, all nicely done but not so easy to share – be prepared to go spoon against spoon with your fellow diner.
Carlo Scotto is a talented and ambitious chef, with a strong front of house team. His strive to impress can throw his cuisine off balance and sometimes even the cooking’s foundations fall short. However, with less pressure and self-pride, and more focus on the basics, Xier/XR could become a great restaurant.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina/Laura Denti
To book a table at Xier or XR, 13-14 Thayer Street W1U 3JR, call 020 7486 3222 or visit their website here.