At its latest site in London's newest shopping centre, Westfield, Italian restaurant chain Spaghetti House has undergone a revamp that will satisfy the range of tastes within most families. Emily Manson reports.
Let's face it: a Spaghetti House restaurant hardly conjures up visions of haute cuisine or fine Italian dining. Its iconic site on the corner of London's Goodge Street, which first opened in 1955, has been a haven for generations of theatregoers and tourists alike. For me, it's a reminder of the treat I was given after visiting the dentist as a small child. Big bowls of fat spaghetti served by Italian waiters, and chequered tablecloths were very exciting back in the 1970s.
But it takes more to impress these days. With London having become an international culinary Mecca in the intervening three decades, it's about time the chain had a revamp, and revamped it has been; nowhere more so than its latest site, in London's Westfield shopping centre.
With head chef Gaetano D'Avanzo imported from Naples, Peppino Esposito, the new operations director - a former director of Ken Hom's Oriental Restaurant Group - and new restaurant manager Mauro Scomerza, whose background includes stints at InterContinental Park Lane, Marco Pierre White and One Aldwych, it's clear the group is really serious about changing its image and offer.
Although it has kept the open kitchens and pizza ovens, the family-run company has really gone to town. It's not so much a nip and tuck as a full facelift. The business is still recognisable but gone are the chequered tablecloths and Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling. They've been replaced by clean lines, glass fronts, a wine wall and deli-style shelving stashed with olive oils and strategically placed pasta jars, giving it the feel of an unbranded Strada or Pizza Express.
The menu is still classic Italian but added to the traditional dishes are more interesting and modern variations of pasta, pizza, antipasti and other dishes from "il forno", which have been designed to satisfy the range of tastes within most families. And this is, after all, still a very family-centric restaurant.
Carciofini al limone (marinated artichokes, £2.95) uses Sorrento lemons with just a hint of chilli, while the antipasti misto (£6.95) finds Parma ham, coppa, salame felino and cotto freshly sliced to order. A selection of rustic Italian breads includes the Sicilian carta di musica and freshly baked focaccia.
Zucchini fritti (£2.95) are frites-sized courgette strips freshly prepared and delicately battered; one of the better examples of a dish that is so often sullied by heavy batter, too much oil or overcooked vegetables.
Pastas include both dried and fresh options, although the fresh varieties are bought in, rather than made on the premises. The handmade spinach and ricotta tortelloni with porcini cream sauce (£9.75) were large, yet delicate specimens cooked al dente with a rich, creamy sauce.
To cater for the family dining element, the group has introduced pasta per gli amici - a bowl of penne bolognese for four - for £24.
From the grill, the sea bass is a whole baked fish with lemon and herbs (£14.95). Its simplicity leaves no room for overcooking and is designed to showcase its freshness and delicate flavour, rather than overcomplicate the palate with other influences.
The tiramisu (£4.50) is made on site every two or three days to a traditional recipe and is a faithful incarnation of the classic Italian dessert.
The wine list is a what's what of Italian wines in 30 bins, with surprisingly low mark-ups, from a Montepulciano d'Abruzzo at £15.95 to Gavi Aureliana DOCG Piemonte for £24.50 and a Barolo at £36.25.
This is not fine dining but then it was never intended to be. There are still some old-fashioned touches, like chopped parsley sprinkled all over the rim of a plate, which briefly transport you back to the 1970s, but this is no cheesy time warp; it's just classic Italian taverna dining.
At Westfield, the vast multiplex cinema is about to open directly above Spaghetti House, which will no doubt ensure that this new incarnation plays host to a new generation of kids trying their first spaghetti bolognese.
Spaghetti House, Westfield, London W12 7SL.
Tel: 020 8749 5252
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Carciofini al limone, £2.95
- Zucchini fritti, £2.95
- Antipasto della casa, £6.95/£11.95
- Tortellacci alla crema di porcini, £9.75
- Spaghetti bolognese, £7.95
- Tagliatelle norcina, £8.95
- Linguine vongolee in bianco, £10.60
- Tonno con pomodorini e olive, £14.50
- Branzino al forno, £14.95
- Scaloppine al funghetto, £13.50
- Tiramisu, £4.50
- Carpaccio d'ananas, £4.50
- Fragole al mascarpone, £4.50
- Torta di mela rustica, £4.50