IT London in Mayfair: Authentic and refined Italian dishes in a swanky restaurant
Let’s be frank. I won’t call anyone out but dining in fashionable Mayfair restaurants can be a tacky experience, and the food isn’t always the operation’s priority. Gennaro Esposito, though, is a serious chef. His Vico Equense flagship restaurant is a revered, acclaimed establishment, but even the more informal and trendy IT format proved that there’s actual substance in it by gaining a Michelin star last month for the Milan outpost.
Comfortable suede seats, swanky marble tables and golden details make up the vibrant dining room, which is overlooked by a busy kitchen and a raw fish counter. Despite the Neapolitan origins of the chef, the menu is a celebration of all Italian cuisine, from North to South. We kick off with a spritz – our sommelier was aptly from Padua, where the cocktail comes from (Venetians would argue it’s actually theirs) – and a glass of Trento Doc Ferrari Perlé 2013 (think champagne, made in Trentino, Italy).
One of the most wonderful things a human being can eat is a Mazara del Vallo red prawn. Raw. And my eyes light up as I see it listed on the fish market section of the menu. Sweet and buttery, with a little tang from salt and olive oil, this is a true culinary joy. Whatever comes next, I’m already satisfied with tonight’s dinner.
We try the aubergine parmigiana and the chef’s iconic Pesce Bandiera Anni 80 e Zuppetta di Olive. The latter is a fantastic starter: an 80s-style (progressive fine-dining that now looks pompous and obsolete) breaded and fried scabbardfish dish, with a Nocellara olive soup and fennel purée, that plays with different textures (fried / purée) whilst maintaining the consistency of the fish flesh. The parmigiana is executed correctly and is a pretty good snack to entice your taste buds.
Whenever the chest of bread goes empty, a waiter replaces it with a new one: the struggle of having to ask for more bread – Italians can understand this – doesn’t exist at IT London. The meal continues with another true highlight: Spaghetti al Pomodoro. Their homemade Vesuvius cherry tomato sauce – which is sweeter and more acidic thanks to the volcanic terroir where the tomatoes grow – is masterfully combined with perfectly al dente pasta and basil. I’ve never tasted it so good in London.
For mains we have a monkfish, cooked on the Josper oven grill, which keeps the fish moist and gives it a smoky flavour. It comes already sliced, making it very easy to share, on top of a clam and friggitelli (sweet chilli pepper) sauce. Then, a rack of lamb shows how the chef not only masters fish and pasta dishes, but also has great understanding of how to cook meat: it’s pink, tender, and accompanied by a delicious tarallo purée with ‘nduja and aubergine. We have it with a glass of nebbiolo Perbacco Vietti 2016. As we dine, we see a Tomahawk steak passing by, along with a veal Milanese and thin-crust pizzas: all these plates really make us want to come back for more.
There are eight desserts on the menu. It’s so difficult to choose that we decide to have three. A tiramisù gets a contemporary reimagining, the coffee poured on top of a chocolatey sponge, with drops of chocolate and mascarpone surrounding it. The chocolate profiterole is the more refined of the dishes, but the must-have is certainly the babà. This classic Neapolitan pudding is airy and very light on liquor: you can just dig in without feeling overpowered.
Cooking Italian food in London for a high-end restaurant has always been problematic. Giorgio Locatelli’s celebrated Locanda is one of the very few – if not the truly only – examples of a successful venture of this kind. The only other ones that achieved a michelin star are Assaggi, Zafferano and Semplice (Apsley, Murano and River Café do not fully count). We are talking about four of 199 restaurants that got at least a single star since 1974 (yes, I went to check all of them).
IT London has just opened but it has already managed to mix the allure of a Mayfair restaurant (there’s even a live DJ, but the music isn’t annoying) with simple Italian authenticity as well as more refined cooking techniques. The front-of-house team provide a seamless service but what really impresses is the quality of each dish.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at IT London, 28-29 Dover Street London W1S 4LX, call 0207 734 7001 or visit their website here.