'The worst part of it was how it showed up our (lack of) willpower to resist the menu'

Novikov Italian

Mon—Sat midday—12.45am, Sun midday—11pm

The style:

Novikov has been a popular dining option since Arkady Novikov opened it, his first foray into the London restaurant scene, back in 2012. Its generous building is split into an Italian restaurant downstairs, an upstairs Asian one, and a busy bar in the basement. Novikov’s Italian restaurant is a sweeping, open room, with a welcoming faux-rustic feel—thanks to the chopped wood accents and the market-like produce arrangement by the kitchen—amongst understated elegance.

The Italian restaurant has just introduced its new lunch menu for summer by Head Chef Marco Torri, focusing on the finest seasonal ingredients, which is what WLL editor Olivia and I were dropping by to test out. Never let it be said we don’t work hard for you!

The crowd:

The restaurant was more sparsely populated at lunchtime, when we arrived, devoid of its usual crowd of socialites and evening regulars. While the buzz of the full room can be invigorating, it was refreshingly peaceful to share it only with several large tables of businessmen and a few well-heeled groups of women.

The food:

The starters read like a list of idealised Italian small plates, there is a strong pasta and pizza offering, as you would expect, and a good selection of meats and fish as well. There is also a set lunch menu starting from £21 for two courses, which was surprisingly exciting and varied too (set menus so often being made up the duller, run-of-the-mill options). This one, though, had delicious-sounding dishes that weren’t even on the a la carte; I was sorely tempted by its Veal and pata negra ravioli with a rosemary jus or Crespelle filled with mushroom, ricotta and black truffle for my main course.

In the end (and after much deliberation) we both stuck to the a la carte, however, starting with the Warm polipo and potato salad for Olivia and the Burrata with datterino tomatoes on my part. The burrata was creamy—if a little bland for my cheese tastes—and the tomatoes appropriately sweet and tart by contrast, the whole being a beautifully simple beginning to a meal. The polipo salad was the real eye-opener; chunky, textured morsels of octopus in the most immaculately flavoured salad that immediately converted me.

Next Olivia chose the Beef fillet tagliata, which came generously-portioned and again perfectly seasoned, and I had the Tagliatelle with pancetta, broadbeans and rocket on our waitress’ recommendation. The flavours of it were subtly earthy in what remained a delicate dish, and—although by this point we were both feeling the effects of eating our way though the bread and nibbles presented before our starters—I cleared the plate with pleasure.

We agreed with each other that there was no way we could now fit in another course—certainty that soon evaporated on having the pudding menu tantalisingly dangled in front of us. It is genuinely one of the most irresistible dessert lists I’ve ever seen. I immediately zoomed in on mochi, which when made correctly I cannot resist, and Olivia went for Banana crumble with salted caramel ice cream, all of which was delectable.

The drink:

Having started with a well-made cocktail each as we agonised over our food decisions, we then tried a mix of wines of our own choosing and on our waiter’s advice with the different courses. They didn’t fail us, all having interesting complementary flavours to our food and easily drinkable.

Really, no one put a foot wrong; the staff were charming and helpful, the food was excellent (if not always vastly unusual) and clearly sourced from prime ingredients, the drinks were faultless, and the atmosphere was summery and relaxed—we felt unhurried enough that we spent twice as long over our meal as we intended to! Additionally, with the set menu option you could actually eat here for a very reasonable price, and even have a full four courses for a measly £29.

The worst part of it was how it showed up our (lack of) willpower to resist a delightful menu, even when already bursting at the seams. The opportunity to enjoy Novikov at a quieter time and at such good value, though, is one I would definitely recommend and perhaps even find preferable to evening visits—I’ll certainly be going back to try the set menu options I didn’t this time.

Novikov, 50A Berkeley St, London W1J; www.novikovrestaurant.co.uk; 020 7399 4330

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