The De Pra family has given a subterranean Mayfair restaurant its Michelin-starred Italian hillside formula where the ingredients of the classics have room to shout. Mark Lewis reports
For 90 years, the De Pra family has run a prestigious hillside inn in north-eastern Italy, whose restaurant, Dolada, currently holds a Michelin star. In January the family went international when it took over the management of a 90-cover basement restaurant in London's Mayfair.
Despite being accessed by a flight of stairs over the road from Brown's hotel, Dolada takes care not to feel subterranean. Mirrors at eye-level reflect the buttermilk, mahogany and teak tones of the room. And Murano glassware and contemporary Italian paintings add further splashes of colour and sophistication.
Head chef Riccardo De Pra was taught his craft by his father before heading overseas to broaden his culinary horizons. His travels took him to Japan, South-east Asia and England where he spent time at London's Halkin and Hyde Park hotels, and at the White Hart Inn in Nayland, Suffolk.
Like Dick Whittington, De Pra has come to London to make his fortune. "In Italy, you can only run a restaurant if you are a hard-working family business - even then you'll never make money," he says.
He labels his cooking as "100% traditional food cooked with modern knowledge and technologies". Many of his dishes are Italian classics whose high-quality ingredients are allowed to shout about themselves. Space is also found on the menu for a few enjoyable culinary conceits, though these, too, are premised on truth of flavour. The 12-strong brigade delivering his vision is largely Italian.
De Pra has inherited a healthy respect for seasonality from his father; and he has been impressed by the quality of British produce available to him. His salumi, cheeses and Doladino extra virgin olive oil come from Italy, but other ingredients are sourced here in the UK. From Dorset comes lamb that he reckons is a match for anything the Dolomites can produce. From Oxfordshire, De Pra sources the fresh herbs that transform many of his dishes.
By day, Dolada caters for business lunchers who can enjoy three-course meals (for instance, bresaola, rocket and Parmesan salad; swordfish, wild herbs, French beans and mange-tout; and orange crema Catalana) for £21. There is, he says, "little transformation of ingredients". He means the cooking is simple.
At night, De Pra turns on the style for what he terms his gourmet customers.
Dinner begins with Farmer's Greeting (tasting menu only), a palate-cleansing blend of rocket, horseradish, wild mushrooms, petals and 12 kinds of herbs, sprayed with a rose infusion.
More flavours of the Italian countryside are showcased in a rustic starter of salumi and cheese with breadsticks, pickled vegetables, and a sweet, marbled fig (£10). Cromer crab muscles its way on to the starter menu, but it crowns a Mediterranean mound of tagliatelle, black truffle shavings and diced tomato (£22).
Most main courses are reassuringly simple. Gamey roasted lamb tagliata (£21) is served with fried wild mushrooms and leavened by a zingy beetroot and goat ricotta ravioli. And cotoletta alla Milanese is a thick cut of best end of veal, on the bone, rolled in breadcrumbs and pan-fried in clarified butter to produce pink interior and a golden casing.
So to the conceits. "New" spaghetti carbonara (£16) delivers the true taste of this trattoria standard, but arrives at table deconstructed, for assembly by your waiter: a nest of pasta receives Pecorino, pancetta and an egg poached at low temperature for an hour (a tip picked up in Japan), which meld to make a rich, authentically cream-free sauce. The glu-glu pizza (tasting menu only) is a pizza shot - imagine a yard of ale with four blown-glass chambers containing liquid mozzarella, basil, tomato and olive oil.
Caramelised fruit lollipops draw dinner to a light-hearted close.
Dolada's wine list is completely Italian, and divided by type rather than region. A 2007 Anselmi San Vicenzo is recommended for the Cromer crab, a 2007 Jermann Bianco Vinnae for the salumi. The lamb is complemented by a lusty 2006 Sandro Fay Nebbiolo.
An evening set meal offers four courses for £26; or the Dolada tasting menu is £58.
Dolada, 3 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4HJ.
Tel: 020 7409 1011.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Dolada soup: beans, parsley and vegetables, £12
- Aubergine and Robiola ravioli, fresh almonds and tomatoes, £16
- Traditional tortellini in brodo, £14
- Seafood risotto, £18
- Roasted wild sea bass with artichokes and Prosecco, £26
- Angus beef barbecued on hazelnut wood, £24
- Panna cotta with pineapple salad, £8
- Red berry parfait, £10
- Egremont apple tart with pistachio ice-cream, £18 for two