Italian haute cuisine
often peered into Diverso when strolling
down through Piccadilly but haven't
quite had the courage to cross the
threshold. Perhaps the smoked glass
plate window reinforces the sense
of exclusivity, isolation even, or
maybe the very location (nearly opposite
the Ritz) signals the probability
of a heavy assault on the wallet.
A more careful look at the menu outside
should have dispelled some of these
doubts. Of course it ain't cheap,
who wants a cheap Trat
bang in the middle of Piccadilly?
So when a friend suggested we should have lunch there I was glad of the chance
to see what Diverso is really like. The first impression as you enter is that
of an al fresco space. It's a bit like one of those Florentine town
houses, all rather austere and impregnable viewed from the outside, but once
within the courtyard, you enter an oasis of calm and refreshment after the
hurly-burly of the city. Well almost, as our entrance happened to coincide
with a spectacular cadence of high Cs from Signor Pavarotti, disappointingly
not in person on this occasion.
Immediately on being shown to our table some olive paté, slivers of
fresh Parmesan and fresh, light bread appeared, which could be said tp justify
the two pound cover charge. With a glass each of crisp white house wine quickly
dispensed, we were happy enough to start perusing the Menu, which is the same
for lunch as for dinner. Then Ferdinando, the manager, suggested that perhaps
we would like a surprise starter? What a good idea, this means cutting down
the choosing time, which is useful at lunchtime for those not entirely at their
leisure. What soon arrived was simply breathtaking: some scallops wrapped in
Italian bacon - a collision of vivid flavours - and a pancake filled with a
crabmeat stuffing. The casing had been perfectly gathered together just like
a medieval money bag, tied at the top with a green lace fashioned from a sliver
of leek. All the dishes are served in huge brilliantly coloured ceramic bowls
of varying hues - I just love that sort of thing!
I noticed about six fish dishes on the a la carte menu, and there were three
special dishes of the day, of which two were also fish. I had a duo of pasta
- spaghetti with a lobster sauce and tagliatelle with porcini. I rarely have
pasta as a main course, for much as I like it, I find that a large main portion,
however good, can get a little tedious - same texture, flavour and colour.
At Diverso, they positively encourage you to mix pastas to provide contrast
and diversity, so I could have had a trio of pastas. There was plenty of lobster
in the spaghetti which was exceptionally tasty and the change of colour and
texture provided by the funghi gave the whole thing even more of a lift.
My friend had a simply stunning looking Mediterranean mixed grill with huge
langoustines, king prawns, chargilled Dover sole and more scallops which all
came in a really delicious sauce and needed every inch of yet another large
decorative ceramic bowl. Next time I go, perhaps in the evening, I think I'll
try one of their meat dishes. I particularly liked the sound of an Angus entrecote
of beef with mostarda e lampone - preserved raspberries with mustard
- or there is calves liver with smoked ham and avocado, or even breast of duck
with raspberries and honey.
The desserts at Diverso are first rate examples of the traditional range of
Italian puddings - Amaretti ice and biscuits, Tiramisu, and home made sorbetti,
for instance. We shared some ripe and juicy sliced mango with mango ice which
was creamier than a sorbet but lighter than an ice cream. They have a particularly
good range of digestives; I tried a wonderfully smokey and rich Grappa made
from Merlot. The service is very professional, lightened with typical Italian
charm and friendliness. Diverso is a very pleasant, smart but somehow easy
going place where there is an obvious delight and pride in good cooking and
The cost of your meal
Starters: mostly Stg 7.50 - 8.50, zuppe from Stg 4.50; pasta dishes Stg 8.00
- 12.00; main dishes Stg 8.90 - 21.50 but mostly between 12.00 and 14.00. Puddings
are all Stg 4.00. Cover charge Stg 2.00. The average price of a three course
meal with half a bottle of wine is about Stg 40.00.
Diverso, 85 Piccadilly W1. Tel: 020 7491 2222. Open Monday - Saturday
Midday to 3.00pm and 6.45pm to 11.30pm. Sunday 6.30 - 11pm.