the UK based Restaurant and Hotel Review
Santini, 29 Ebury Street London SW1
Tel 020 7730-4094
Louise Elgin is a girl who enjoys a spot of luxury
Italian food has to be one of the most delicious in the world, I for one, never tire of it. How many Italian restaurants there are in London? Heaven knows, - it's sorting the spaghetti from the bolognaise and knowing where to go, that's the hard bit.
Santini, on the night my guest and I visited was mostly full of Italians, and that has to be a good sign. It's the sort of restaurant that (unless you've got oodles of money) is to be saved for a special occasion, or when in urgent need of some serious cosseting and spoiling. Starched linen tablecloths and napkins are the order of the day here, whilst impeccably dressed staff in smart suits give ultra polite attention whilst one is being waited on hand and foot.
The atmosphere is one of professionalism and calm, and I immediately relaxed and felt very pleased to be there. We were just a stone's throw from Eaton Square, and the prices reflected that. Not that the very European mix of diners seemed the sort to bother with the incidental matter of money. The place seemed full of effortlessly stylish Mediterraneans, who looked and acted as if they'd just stepped off their yachts at Monte Carlo, and had fancied jetting over for dinner just for the hell of it.
Over a refreshing gin and tonic I gave the menu the once over. The antipasti included the usual favourites such as fresh asparagus and parma ham and melon, pasta and bean soup and baked artichoke. Prices started from £4.00 upwards to £13.75.
We were both feeling ravenous, so when the vast, attractive basket of six different breads arrived, all delicious, we greedily tucked in, although a little butter, or olive oil wouldn't have gone amiss.
I commenced with fresh ravioli with ricotta and spinach, this was excellent, really tasty with a good buttery sauce. The ravioli tasted home made and melted in the mouth. My guest's courgette flowers although crisp and delicately battered, with just the right amount of mozzarella filling were rather dry - spoilt somewhat by the lack of a sauce. I felt a little guilty as I had urged him to try it having had a delicious version in Italy. Still we shared my butter sauce and that went nicely with it.
We had asked the wine waiter to help us select something to drink - Italian of course, and red as it was such a cold winter's night - nothing else would have done. He chose a Lungarotti £20.75, that was light and a good accompaniment to what we had ordered. Apart from the house wine at £15.50, and a few other mid-priced bottles, the predominately European selection rose alarmingly steeply.
To follow there were three sections of the menu to choose from. Pasta, which came with various seafoods from crab, £12.50, to lobster £32.50, (about a fiver a gulp)! There was a good selection of fish including cuttlefish in their own ink served with polenta, £17.50, and seabass with herb sauce, £23.50. I was tempted by the other meat choices, which included ossobuco Milanese,£19.50 and fillet of beef in a cream, brandy and Dijon mustard sauce but chose Pollo Santini, breast of chicken cooked in a sauce of lemon, mustard and herbs. This was absolutely delicious and cooked to perfection. It was served with creamy mash and al dente broccoli, a large helping which I couldn't finish, though I enjoyed every mouthful. My guest being a vegetarian was not left with a great deal of choice in the main course selection. I think vegetarians are a bit of a puzzle to Italians, still they very helpfully came up with a tempting array of pastas, three different types served together: an excellent lightly textured gnocchi with tomato sauce, ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach that I had already tried for my starter and another type of ravioli that came with an artichoke sauce. These, he said, were a good combination of flavours without clashing on the palate.
The pudding menu caused us a few problems as everything sounded tempting. All priced at £6.50, we were wooed by the likes of creme caramel with lemon, warm dark chocolate cake with amaretto sauce and classic Tiramisu with espresso sauce. My guest decided he couldn't come to any final decision so greedily chose the warm apple tart with vanilla sauce, which he pronounced very delicate and tasty, and the pear and almond tartlet with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, which he also liked - but the apple tart won first prize. Not to be left out, I went for the ricotta and sultana tart with orange sauce; this was light, flavoursome and quite superb. I could have happily ordered another one, but unfortunately my stomach was flashing alarm bells at me - maximum input had been reached!
After coffee and brandy we sauntered on our way, replete, and full of dolce vita. Santini doesn't come cheap, but really that's a side issue at an elegant restaurant in this league. Anyway, the feel good factor makes a large bill somewhat easier to swallow.
Louise Elgin - March 2001.
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