A new Italian restaurant on Marylebone High Street, where Cafe Luc used to be.
It's the rare Italian place that provides highly refined cooking based on superb technique, yet maintaining a rustic soul in the food. Contrast with L'Anima (which I like) that somehow loses a bit of the Italian roots in the refinement process.
The bread is fine, pretty good crust flavour overall, a notable good crust in the baguette, but the interiors of the various breads were on the dense and heavy side. The Umbrian olive oil for dipping is bolder, rich and rounded, more bassy oliveness than crisp sharp acidity, but balanced all the same and aromatic.
The lentil soup is earthy and pure, with a shiny curl of olive oil on the top, and a deep lentil flavour, with nubs of soft lentils. Little bites of cured meats - a chubby mortadella that rips easily on the teeth, topped with crushed pistacchio; a slice of flavoursome and spicy salami; and an excellent porky bite of coppa di testa, the essence of pork.
Pappa al pomodoro, a Tuscan bread and tomato soup, has the sunny concentrated flavours of tomato, the acidity balanced by the smooth olive oil, lifted by a whiff of basil and filled with tiny nubs of bread for a lovely porridge-like texture. In the centre of the soup thickened by the bread to something more of a sauce, lie three medium to small scallops, seared delicately, firm with a hint of nuanced chewiness.
The bites of king prawn underneath a chickpea soup were outstanding, very sweet, and cooked to a snappy tenderness. The soup merely very good; thick, nutty and very slightly grainy as one would expect for chickpeas.
A parcel of pasta was probably the most delicious lasagne I've ever had. Broad ribbons of pasta enclosing a cacciatore-like filling with delicious meaty livery bites, the slight tomatoey filling balanced by a creamy cloud of immensely smooth bechamel sauce. The best part -- the parcel of pasta, cooked to a crispiness at the top, yet firm and tender at the bottom, the wonderful kind of textural contrast that makes potstickers/guo1 tie1 so delightful. Sophisticated, yet honest and to the point.
Duck was slightly disappointing - the skin was beautifully crisp, but the meat a little ropey, the mashed potatoes with basil somewhat grainy, the berry sauce a little overwhelming. A stuffed cherry tomato topped with crispy bread crumbs was technically impressive though, and micro-greens, carefully bundled into a bouquet, gave a pleasant contrasting herby bite.
A crisp and tart grapefruit sorbetto, supported by lemon granita, its granular texture smoothened a bit into a slush, brought the two kinds of citrus with two different textures together seamlessly, enhanced by fragrant and bitter zest.
Vanilla ice cream with cherry compote, and a base of vanilla custard. An elemental combination of fruit and cream, the cherries full of complex flavours floral and fruity. Wonderfully "simple."
Finally, a pretty plate of little sweets: a chocolate truffle, a chocolate tart shell with custard and raspberry, a sugared cookie of some sort. My favourite were probably the florentines, a stately and crunchy combination of nut and caramel.
Tasting menu above for £62, which seems reasonable for the quality and location.
Wines were excellent and very well structured -- a sauvignon blanc from Alto Adige fumed of passionfruit, dry and full of lovely minerality; a vapolicella punchy, but very balanced. Both around £7-8. Don't know what the markups are, but the quality is superb for this price point compared to many other restaurants I've been to.
The restaurant is new, and I suspect that it's understated cooking will get even better.