The traditional, local Italian restaurant of yesteryear seems to have almost completely disappeared from the cobbled streets of the West End where it once reigned supreme. In its place seems to be a host of “upmarket” burger joints, coffee shops and pubs selling Thai curries. However I Robert, located on Curzon Street, appears to be taking a step towards restoring the simple, elegant and humble Mediterranean local that has become so much rarer to find.
I Robert is the creation of Arkady Novikov, the Russian restaurateur that seems to have single-handedly created his home country’s fine dining scene, with over 60 restaurants to his name in Moscow alone. This certainly doesn’t fit the idealistic image of the local family run Italian and neither does the interior with the usual modern hallmarks of quirkiness, with pink deer heads on walls and other novelty items scattered about the place. The food however feels like a great throwback to unpretentious traditional food cooked well with fresh ingredients and served with care.
The starters here were all around the £10 mark, with the exception of the most expensive choice the Steak Tartare at £12, which I ordered. Although not strictly an Italian dish it is still eaten across the country and sticks well to the ethos of fresh ingredients simply prepared. You can tell by the texture and flavour of the meat that it was of the highest quality. It was also seasoned to perfection. No quirky presentation here but the more satisfying option of eating off a wooden chopping board with a large obelisk of raw meat taking center stage accompanied by a light salad & vinaigrette on one side and thin slices of crostini (“little toast”) on the other. Taking a friend of mine who hadn’t had much experience eating out, I was impressed he went straight for the Gallega Octopus with Chorizo and Green sauce, but was more impressed with the dish itself. The octopus was beautifully tender with just enough bite to give a satisfying chew before melting in your mouth. The broth it was served in had great depth of flavour, very rich and meaty with the chorizo giving a lot of flavour and slices of potato providing some starch. For a dish that felt exotic and satisfying £10.50 seemed very reasonable, a particular treat with a glass I Robert By Finbar Foley of young, Italian red wine.
The menu at I Robert is split into starters, pasta & mains, with the pasta options seeming to be substantial enough to work as a less expensive mains. As it was at the peak of the London summer neither of us felt we could handle the dense, starchiness of Italy’s most famous food, but prices looked reasonable at around £13 and there were some nice options such as Ravioli with oxtail and rosemary or Spaghetti with red mullet, olives and tomatoes. My inexperienced friend ordered the £20 Rib Eye Steak tagliatelle with rocket and Parmesan, and when the waiter asked how he would like his steak, to which he answered, “medium…” to which I quickly interjected “rare, he means medium rare” the chef then brought him a completely bloody rare steak. This was a massive piece of meat, albeit cut into manageable slices, and after feeling a bit bad for correcting my old friend he put my fears to rest wolfing it down exclaiming on how good it was (had the poor boy never tried a rare steak!). I couldn’t resist helping him finish off a few slices and can guarantee that I Robert’s almost miraculously tender rib-eye should not be eaten any other way.
The restaurant also offers up a nice selection of seafood and the main course Sea bass fillet, courgettes, tomatoes and fried artichokes had a simple refreshing quality that good fish dishes often pull off if done right. Fresh sea bass with a well-seasoned crispy skin and moist flesh sits at the centre of the plate surrounded by julienne carrots, tomatoes and fried artichokes twirling around the centre looking very pretty. A nice fish option and £15.50 for a course of fresh seabass is not bad at all but don’t expect particularly large portions.
Desserts here seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought and were the weakest part of the meal. It is a shame there were almost no Italian classics here when they have so many too choose from. Even though a good Tiramisu or Zabaglione isn’t going to be mind-blowingly new to many of us they work so well after a meal of Mediterranean food. Though in fairness at £5 each you haven’t got too much to complain about, the cheesecake was perfectly decent, a nice sweet end to the meal, and the crème brulée was fresh with real vanilla flavour that comes from using actual pods rather than the synthetic essence. A
lthough I Roberts may not completely fill the shoes of the traditional London Italian, it’s nice to see it working on those core values of good produce and classic dishes that are cooked well. With good value and attentive friendly service it makes for a very pleasant eating experience that won’t cost you a fortune. 54 Curzon Street, Mayfair, London W1J 8PG 020 7495 3960