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Zafferano, Belgravia SW1

Winner of the first ever Dine Online Silver Platter Award 

It's now six years on, and Zafferano has won many far more glamorous awards including a prestigious Michelin Star. Only quite recently, the Manager, Enzo Cassini won an award for his brilliant Italian wine list. Founder Chef-Patron Giorgio Locatelli is now busy with other projects, such as the reopening of Cecconi, as well as another restaurant in Chelsea at the Churchill Hotel, although  judging from our recent return visit (July 2001) we can happily confirm that the cooking is as assured, authentic and flavourful as ever. It's a tribute to Giorgio that one of his original sous-chefs since the beginning has taken over as head chef. His name is Andy Needham - a revelation that startled my guest, Vincenzo D'Antonio, who writes those charming and informative articles about restaurants in Southern Italy for Dine Online.   But Andy is living proof that you don't have to be Italian to cook marvellous Italian food, but you do have to be an exceptionally good chef.

This is what we said back in 1996!
Most of it is just as relevant in 2001 as it was then...

Returning from lunch at Mosimann's Belgravia Dining Club the other day, I happened to pass Zafferano on my way to Knightsbridge Station. I stood in the street looking at the menu then peered through the blinds to see what sort of a place it was. The chef and manager were relaxing after the lunchtime service and seeing my face pressed to the glass they beckoned me inside. We had the sort of chat that quickly established the fact that they were really serious about what they are trying to achieve and I was determined to return as soon as possible.

You'd think that all restaurant proprietors must be serious about what they are trying to achieve, and you'd be both right and wrong. There are plenty who are trying to make a decent living with the minimum of hassle, the minimum of imagination and no great wish to communicate any real love of food they may once have had. Then there are people like Giorgio Locatelli, the chef patron of Zafferano. He loves food, he loves talking about it, he must love cooking it too, because that is what comes over, in generous ladles-full.

Located in one of London's rather salubrious areas, patronised by the great and the good, Zafferano contrives to be both elegant and stylish whilst remaining disarmingly simple and un-posh. The atmosphere is easy going, but from the moment you settle in you know that enjoyment is what drives this establishment. Home made bread sticks arrived, full of subtle flavour each one different: I never want to eat one of those dry brittle tasteless mass produced ones again. Mind you there was an amazing olive oil for dunking, Sicilian, spicy and dark iridescent green like Duckham's racing oil. There were also little sandwiches of Tigella bread, like pitta but nicer. 

Please now read the main review!

I continue to be struck by the freshness and vibrancy of the ingredients at Zafferano. Vincenzo was also impressed by the quality of the Italian provender that's available in London to restaurateurs who care sufficiently. For instance, the grilled langoustines were simply the best I've tasted - too often they look fearsome and  magnificent, but only as expensive decorative material. 

The menu offers plenty of choice, but is unencumbered by pedantic distinctions between antipasti or primi and secondi patti. Vincenzo insisted that we begin with pasta, although I was very tempted by the other starters, such as the chargrilled stuffed squid or the baby octopus which particularly took my fancy. The latter are simmered very gently to preserve their delicate flavour. If you want to know precisely what al dente means, try this dish. These plump infants put up a token resistance as you bite into them. They yield swiftly, with nothing chewy left behind, just a sweet sea-brine flavour that spreads itself around the palate.

Vincenzo was very pleased with his ricotta parcels with aubergine and walnuts - the flavours were clear and well defined. I had ravioli parcels filled with a new potato puree that I can only describe as miraculous,  they were so smooth - and fragrant with fungal flavours. The best pasta ever.

My main course was thin slices of pork fillet rolled around a herb stuffing. It tasted good, but the meat didn't quite melt in the mouth, although the sauce was excellent and the zucchini in a light tempura were a delight. Vincenzo had large pan fried prawns, gamberoni, with borlotti beans in a piquant sauce which 'made a perfect marriage between sea and land' -Vincenzo's words, of course!

We drank glasses of the most beautiful Pinot Grigio from Friuili, Vie di Romans. It's late picked, giving 15%  alcohol, but it's nutty and complex too. Well worth a fiver a glass, or £35 for a bottle. We continued with a lusty young red Vitiano 2000 from Umbria at £23 a bottle which perfectly complemented my pork - Vincenzo didn't complain about it with his prawns either! 

Back in 1996, I tried the Tiramisú which was served in a shell of the lightest pastry that crunched and gave texture to an otherwise very light mousse-like texture. It was both different and delicious. It's still on the menu, but this time we tried the tarts: an orange and pine nut tart came with Cointreau Ice Cream, and was light and refreshing. A dark chocolate terrine with chocolate ice cream provided a suitably wicked conclusion to my indulgent feast.

It's really gratifying to be able to report on a restaurant that hasn't simply sat on its laurels. If anything Zafferano has steadily ploughed on, producing consistent quality dining. In six years we've never had one critical email from a reader, but we've had plenty from readers thanking us for the recommendation. Enzo has maintained an admirably high standard in the front of house department; the service is not only highly professional but charming and friendly too

Clifford Mould  July 2001

The Cost of your Meal:
For keen foodies on a tight budget, there's the three course lunch available for £23.50, or £19.50 for 2 courses. The lunch menu includes almost everything that's on the dinner menu. There are also plenty of very nice wines under £20 a bottle.
Dinner: 2 courses £29.50, 3: £35.50 and 4: £39.50 

Zafferano, 15 Lowndes Street, London SW1
Tel: 020 7235 5800

Open 7 days a week

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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