The luxurious Il Ristorante in London's newly opened Bulgari hotel has a refreshingly uncomplicated menu, where head chef Robbie Pepin serves high quality produce in a straightforward way. Janet Harmer reports
The arrival at Il Ristorante in London's Bulgari hotel - down a grand, sweeping staircase - is easily one of the most glamorous in town. In fact, every element of the newly opened 85-bedroom property exudes style and sophistication, where silver - a nod to the company's silversmith origins - is the unifying theme of the design throughout.
Diners pass down the vast stairwell into the 80-seat restaurant, which, with its rosewood floor, curved walls, and silver fabric walls, has the feel of a sleek ocean liner from the 1930s.
An unprecedented amount of money must have been spent on achieving this level of gloss and glamour, yet the space does not feel stuffy or over-the-top. Music from the bar above and engaging, friendly staff ensure the experience of eating here is relaxed and informal.
In such a luxurious setting, there is always the worry that the chef might get carried away and produce a menu full of exclusive and over-worked ingredients. Thankfully, this is not the case at Il Ristorante as the focus of head chef Robbie Pepin's food is very much on showcasing high quality, but often simple, produce - much of which is sourced from Italy and the south of France - and serving it in the most straightforward manner.
Pepin, who hails from Scotland, but has spent the past 15 years in Europe (13 years in Florence and most recently as the launch chef at Alain Ducasse's La Trattoria in Monaco) is thrilled to be back in London, having spent the earlier part of his career working in the capital for Eric Chavot, Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White, among others.
"I'm keen to produce a really fresh style of Italian food and show that with some wonderfully sourced ingredients, you really don't have to overcomplicate dishes," he explains.
For instance, fresh almonds - rarely sourced in London - make a simple but unusual addition to a starter of seafood salad with red Mediterranean prawns from Sicily, squid, octopus and clams (£24). Another starter, a trio of stuffed Mediterranean vegetables on a bed of aubergine caviar with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, tomato water and thyme, offers another light start to a meal. It features a tomato filled with a tomato marmalade, an onion stuffed with confit of olives and thyme, and a courgette with buffalo ricotta, basil and brunoise of courgettes (£17).
Freshness is an ongoing theme throughout Pepin's menu, with cream and other saturated fats largely eschewed, and vegetables forming a key element in many dishes, such as a plate of artisanal pasta served with a selection of different tomato varieties (£18).
Among the eight main courses, lightly roasted cod receives a flavour punch from a herb crust of tarragon, dill, basil, chives and parsley and the accompanying caponata (£28), while sea bass is served with a delicate vegetable broth and a selection of lightly cooked turnips, green beans, carrots and courgettes (£38).
Meanwhile, the meat dishes are served simply, with a chicken breast given a citrus boost with lemon confit and spring vegetables (£28) and the Bulgari version of Milanese double piccata (veal) enhanced by capers, lemon and pine nuts (£29).
A stand-out dish from the selection of accompaniments is the panisse fries (£5), made from puréed chick peas. The crispy outside provides a perfect foil to the smooth interior and an unusual alternative to chips.
Diners wishing to continue with clean, light flavours for dessert can opt for wild strawberries in their natural jus and mascarpone sorbet (£14), while those who wish to indulge themselves can go for the boozy limoncella baba (£10) or a traditional tiramisu (£12 or £18 for two).
The Bulgari Hotel
London SW7 1DW
0207 151 1010
Sample dishes from the menu
Delicate Val di Gorbio courgette cream, ricotta ravioli, burrata and crispy bread £9
Large Riviera salad: baby greens, raw vegetables, sweet bell pepper, marinated anchovies, bottargo and tomato bruschetta £14
Bresaola by Salumificio Pennigotti £18
Baked monkfish and braised fennel £26
Grilled lamb chops, aubergine caviar and olive sauce £32
Beef fillet, polenta, rosemary jus £38
Sicilian cassata £10
Zuppa Inglese £12
Chocolate and lemon gianduotto £14