Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Review: The New Weekend Brunch Menu at Theo's Simple Italian, Hotel Indigo
Experiencing the new four-course brunch menu at Chef Theo Randall's newest restaurant in London, Theo's Simple Italian, brought back wonderful memories. Although the restaurant itself is new, my associations with Hotel Indigo (where the restaurant is situated) and Theo Randall's cuisine are not.
Years ago, we treated my father-in-law to a birthday dinner at Theo's restaurant at the Intercontinental, Park Lane. A few years after that, my best friend got married in London and we all met at Hotel Indigo for an informal "after-party", if you will - and had one of the best nights I can remember.
So, last Saturday was a convergence of two worlds, if you'd like, and I'd scheduled in a visit with that same friend afterwards, who now lives just a minute away from the restaurant!
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Theo's Simple Italian was the fresh, bright and airy decor: big windows, chevron-panelled walls in light wood, marble tables, and cow parsley all made it a beautiful place to chill out and spend a Saturday afternoon.
I was so busy snapping photos of the beautiful interiors that I hadn't noticed Theo walking into the room. Embarassingly, he quipped a friendly greeting to me upon walking past, to which I replied without so much as a look up from my camera. Whoops.
In person, the chef is friendly, warm, and inviting - surprisingly so. With a disarming smile, he treated us to a ravioli-making demonstration before disclosing his favorite brand of pasta-maker (Imperia, if you're interested) and his tip for cooking dried pasta ("Always subtract three minutes from the recommended cooking time"). He is as excited and passionate about how we cook our pasta in our own homes as he is about how he makes it in his own restaurant: sentences were peppered with, "Never, never, ever ..." and "Always, always make sure ..."
The new, four-course brunch menu at Theo's Simple Italian officially launches on Saturday, September 24th and is inspired by relaxed, Italian weekends - complete with plates designed for sharing and carefully selected wines to match.
With Head Chef Fabio Gauglione at the helm of the restaurant's kitchen, we began our brunch with a selection of focaccia and the antipasti platter of dreams: the creamiest buffalo mozzarella (that tasted like clouds exploding in my mouth - seriously), marinated artichoke, Prosciutto di Parma, and more.
I'd be happy to drop into Theo's Simple Italian for this antipasti alone: this, plus a bottle of wine shared between friends, would make the perfect afternoon escape (especially if we sat in that dreamy table by the window!).
But my favorite part of the meal was the Primi course. Why? Because pasta. Pasta, pasta, pasta. Ravioli of cime di rapa made with ricotta and sage butter, the seafood pasta pictured below (which would be my primi course of choice when - not if - I head to Theo's Simple Italian again) and the pappardelle con ragu di manzo - fresh pasta with slow cooked (for six hours, mind you) beef in Chianti and San Marzano tomatoes. I know the whole premise of the restaurant is about sharing (which we did), but sorry ... not sharing next time.
There is an unmistakable difference in taste between fresh and dried pasta. For one thing, it seems to pick up the rich tomato and butter-based sauces better. The texture is entirely different. I remember when John made fresh pasta from scratch for me for Valentine's Day a few years ago (a feat which has sadly not been repeated yet) and I was blown away by how - almost light - each strand tasted.
By the time we moved on to the Secondi - the roasted sea bream, roasted free range pork loin, and the frittata (which I thought about wrapping up and hiding in my handbag before the others could stab their forks into it - it was that delicious), I didn't think I could fit any more in.
But I did. The roast pork loin was slightly dry for my preference, but I enjoyed the mushrooms so much, I hogged the rest of them for myself (again, not sharing!).
I particularly appreciated the variety of the new brunch menu; sometimes we make compromises with ourselves when ordering e.g. "Well, I really wanted this, but since it's not on the menu, I guess I'll order that." But this wasn't the case at Theo's Simple Italian - every description sounded pleasing and every plate was a visual delight. I love knowing that there's something for everyone - perfect for pleasing large groups of family members and/or friends.
So, I must confess: I only nibbled at the mains because I heard the word dessert and, well, you know how much I love dessert.
I'm pretty sure there was a collective sigh of appreciation as this beautiful trio of desserts was placed on the tables: an Amalfi lemon tart, baked ricotta cheesecake with pears marinated in Marsala and vanilla, and a bowl of tiramisu. I'd never seen photos being snapped quicker as we all rushed to (literally) dig in!
Maybe it was the lip-pursing sharpness of the Amalfi lemon tart or perhaps it was the dizzying effects of the delicious Sicilian wine we drank - most likely, it was Chef Randall's infectious enthusiasm for the menu and the fresh ingredients - but I just kept thinking, "I can't wait to take everyone here!"
I'm looking forward to many more visits to Theo's Simple Italian and Hotel Indigo to come.
I was a guest of Theo's Simple Italian, but all tiramisu-filled opinions are my own. The new weekend brunch menu at Theo's Simple Italian launches on Saturday, September 24th and is priced at £35 per person, which also includes a glass of prosecco on arrival.
Theo's Simple Italian at Hotel Indigo, 33-44 Barkston Gardens, London SW5 0EW