The day: 4th March 2009, Dinner.
The place: 72 St James Street, London SW1A 1PH (tel: 020 7408 1440)
The venue: Luciano
The food: Italian
The drinks: Interesting wine list, heavily Italian. Also by the glass.
THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED (as this review concluded, ‘Perhaps the bar is its most useful part. It’s hard to see a bright future for the rest.’…)
Our Toptable booking calls this restaurant (unlike their business card) ‘Luciano – Marco Pierre White’, showing a burning desire to emphasise the association with the great and prematurely retired chef. It remains to be seen whether he should also be equally proud of this association…(we aren’t sure, nor sufficiently interested to find out to be frank, whether he is part patron or he just acts as a consultant).
Located in monstrously wealthy St. James, the interior is suitably chic in both large rooms, the first mainly occupied by a large bar area, and the other comprising the restaurant proper, the wall displaying many photographs of scantily dressed women, the floor made of nice wood planks. We sit at the corner end of an impressive leather upholstered bench, with soft lights and an abat-jour on the table. The tables themselves are very close to each other, but thanks to the vast space you will only be forced to breath your neighbour’s breath when the restaurant is completely full, which looks quite a feat.
The menu offers many simple Italian classics, mostly overpriced. We will be choosing from a restricted Toptable special menu which offers three courses for an enticing £21.95.
The bread arrives.
The accompanying oil is of high quality, slightly citrusy, probably Tuscan. The bread itself pleases us with some variety: ciabatta, olive bread, casareccio, rosemary, walnuts and raisins. And we cannot complain about the quality, either.
No amuse bouche, of course, and so we move straight to our first courses:
– Soup of the day
– Cold beef salad with mustard sauce
The soup of the day turns out to be a Ribollita which, for those of you who don’t know, is a traditional rustic Tuscan thick bean soup. It ought to ooze rich flavour. This one doesn’t. It is strikingly unmemorable, a typical product of soulless cooking, though not at all unpleasant, except for the slightly undercooked beans.
The beef salad is supported by the good core raw material. The unadvertised ungraceful, lame rocket mountain is redolent of 90’s memories. The parmesan is also surprisingly lame. The mustard fails to light up this dish, which is however not unpleasant thanks to the beef, and to a style that, while soulless, at least does not lack balance.
For both dishes, the portions are generous.
At this point the waiter tries to take away our unfinished bread basket. We almost faint. After making our need for bread (especially having skipped pasta) clear, the waiter will come back with a new full basket, and even with fresh olive oil. Nice touch, and even half a smile!
And here come our mains:
– Rib-eye steak.
– Chargrilled tuna with rocvket and tomato
What a good steak, the rare cooking as requested allowing the beef to express its full flavour and texture! It really is very good, and compares more than favourably, for example, with the one we had here. But the chips, oh dear, the chips, what a disaster. Typical mushy texture inside of defrosted and badly cooked stuff. Well, you too can probably tell from the picture. MPW would not like that.
Like the rib eye, the tuna, too, is good, perfectly cooked so as to be moist and succulent, and even excellently seasoned. There are no horrible chips to spoil the feast here, just once again the banal rocket salad. Were the advertised tomatoes there? We think not, and much better this way.
And finally, our desserts:
– Ice cream selection
– Torta del giorno
The ice-cream (vanilla and chocolate) is just OK, the vanilla exceedingly sweet and the chocolate lame. Uhm, to be fair we are being generous: this is just passable.
The cake of the day is a chocolate tart. The crust is good, crumbly, the chocolate is ifairly deep, though it leaves a burnt aftertaste. For the vanilla ice-cream, see above.
Overall, including a Dolcetto D’Alba Parusso 2007 at around £30 and a bottle of water, the total bill comes to £91.69 thanks to the special deal. Otherwise, you’d be looking very far North of £100.
This venue has a service problem, at least on the night we were there. The manager is utterly charmless and useless (we spare you the details), and the waiters, while professional and kind overall, look so sad that you wonder whether the manager tortures them before and after the service.
Cuisine-wise, we fail to see the point of Luciano. Nothing except for the chips was totally bad, something was good, most was deeply average. At full prices, it would not make sense to head there, we think, given the many superior Italian choices nearby. This is neither a destination venue, nor a proper neighbourhood restaurant. The very plain and unimaginative food is trattoria style, a trattoria in the middle of St. James’, at St James’ prices and, especially, without much of the flavour impact you’d find in a real trattoria (though, we repeat, we found some trattoria generosity in the portions). Marco Pierre White surely does not advice on dish presentation. We leave it to him to decide what this establishment is. Perhaps the bar is its most useful part. It’s hard to see a bright future for the rest.