La Passegiata at Mercante
The Italian tradition of La Passegiata is about as Fellini as you can get without plunging into the Trevi fountain. The idea behind it is that before dinner everyone gets into their most expensive clothes and, after a quick glass of something fortifying, your entire dining group promenades through the town, taking the air in a rarefied fashion whilst showing up social rivals with sheer vivacity before settling down to dinner. Mercante, an Italian fine dining restaurant attached to the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane on Mayfair, has decided to serve as a missionary for the tradition. We showed up at the stroke of 7 (any rumours that my girlfriend and I came running up at the last minute are vicious slander) and placed in the capable hands of Peter Berthoud, an award winning London expert and historian who would lead our excursion. After a quick gargle of Aperol Spritz for that European flavour we were off out into the cool London evening. Leading us through Shepard’s Market, Peter quickly set us at our ease with a melange of quirky info and dry wit.
After deeply pleasant thirty minutes, in which my girlfriend’s fine clothes received innumerable admiring glances whilst mine earned a mildly pitying stare from a Chihuahua, we returned to Mercante for the meal itself. Bidding farewell to Peter, we settled down to eat with our appetite well and truly worked up by the walk. Mercante has the de rigeur lavishness of any Mayfair restaurant worth its salt, but extremely friendly staff and a surprisingly cosy atmosphere made for a pleasantly relaxed evening. For our starters we were immediately drawn to the aquatic, perhaps inspired by the inky be-tentacled monsters that decorated the walls. I sprang for the Seared Sea Scallops and Carrot Puree with Pickled Onion (£9.00). The scallops were juicy and fresh whilst the smooth flavour of the carrots came through strong and clear with a delicate hint of the wild taste of the onion. A little more would have been better, but it did however look very elegant on the plate. Meanwhile my girlfriend feasted on Grilled Octopus, served with marinated garden peas served with Italian heritage tomatoes (9.50), the bits of Octopus she offered me were the right side of chewy with a yielding flavour complimented by accentuated taste of the peas and tomatoes. It didn’t feel quite as distinctive as the Scallops but it’s certainly not a disappointment.
For our mains, I was drawn inexorably to the slow cooked lamb shoulder with served with peas & mint with pecorino sauce (22.00) and was rewarded richly for my choice, the lamb was tender as a summer romance (with the sauce sharp enough to evoke the recriminatory end of said romance), it was a tad pricey but I think it just about justified it. Across the table my girlfriend tucked into a homemade Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli with butter sage sauce (16.00), I wasn’t able to requisition enough to really analyse it but she seemed satisfied at any rate. For desert, I was able to find room for a Peach Amaretti semifreddo with rum baba, a sweet, strangely delicate creation that left me feeling unexpectedly refreshed whilst my girlfriend wolfed a delightfully decadent tiramisu. Mercante is not the cheapest restaurant, but it offers a good atmosphere with more than good food. More than worth getting dressed up for.