Billed as a ‘neighbourhood restaurant’ serving rustic, relaxed Mediterranean food, I Robert is another venture from experienced restaurateur Arkady Novikov (his eponymous larger offering is just a couple of streets away), and that experience shows. We were immediately greeted and settled at our table, almost in one smooth movement. Nestled in comfy chairs in an alcove, it felt remarkably cosy at the same time as giving us a good view of the room via the staggered vertical mirrors down the alcove walls.
The relaxed, informal mood of I Robert is signalled by quirky elements of the interior design, the classic elegance of which is broken up with modern art, clusters of vintage photos in the loos, and a plush stag head with a zip mouth ‘mounted’ on the wall. The restaurant name is, in fact, derived from one of the paintings on the wall, with its rabbit subject informing the theme of many of the subsequent acquisitions. Upstairs the opulence is more obvious, with rooms available for private hire that echo the feel of the palazzi of Florence or Venice, all blues and golds and chandeliers.
The informal dining mood of the restaurant, however, is far from having had any repercussions on service. Too often casual dining is a euphemism for sub-par or even nonexistent service—not here. I Robert’s staff are clearly the best money can buy, with all the friendliness and helpfulness one could ask for alongside such subtle attention that it feels as though they never intrude. Andrea, our waiter, was consistently spot-on with his suggestions and charming to boot.
The food has had equivalent care taken over it, with my starter of ricotta and pear ravioli’s exquisitely delicate little fruity parcels the perfect balance in the buttery—almost creamy—dish. My friend’s burrata was rich and dense and beautifully spiced, a welcome addition to its native flavour. There is evidently the same focus on sourcing the very best ingredients here that there is at Novikov.
After a surprise mid-course of potato-filled ravioli in a smoky four-mushroom sauce, our red mullet and Iberico pork arrived to further impress the skills of the kitchen upon us. The fish’s feather-light flavour was offset by pesto and mashed potatoes, while the presa cut of the pork was, as promised, more like red meat than the usual pork offerings; rare and bloody, the flesh was almost sweet against the savoury vegetables and sauce.
We finished off—or so we thought—with refreshing dulce de leche-like buffalo milk ice cream and a strawberry and rhubarb tart that was confectionery delight embodied. Sitting back, groaning in overstuffed pleasure, suddenly Andrea appeared with more surprise additions. I think both our eyes widened in slight alarm at the prospect of doubling up on dessert when we were already bursting at the seams, but they were too tempting to leave—a light creme brulee perfectly balanced between crunch and softness, and a dense cheesecake covered in wonderful stewed strawberries. My friend said he ‘could have eaten a bucket’ of the strawberries alone for his meal and been happy.
The wine list was well sourced to match the food and not so long that it takes half the evening to get through it. We particularly enjoyed the dessert wine offering, especially the dark, almost treacly Aleatico.
I’ve used the word ‘exquisite’ already in this review, but it bears repeating to summarise the whole experience; I Robert is thoughtfully and perfectly formed, more intimate and calmer than its bustling larger neighbours but with just as much pride in its kitchen, service and surroundings. I really don’t see how anyone could go wrong with a visit to this modest gem.