Soho’s Little Italy was the setting for a friend’s birthday meal last Friday night – and a fine setting it did make.
Little Italy is a rather plush bar & restaurant on Frith Street. It serves Italian food, as the name suggests, but it really is not little…well it’s little if comparing it to actual country of Italy, but for a restaurant I’d say it’s quite big.
In fact Little Italy is spread over three storeys – so definitely big, yet somehow it still manages to retain the sort of cosy atmosphere all the best Italian eateries seem to have.
My first impressions were good as a waiter led us through the darkened restaurant. We passed lower floors of romantic tables for two and headed up to the top floor which I quickly realised was the birthday room. A large bar glittered with silver mosaics beside a few other tables of people who all appeared to be having a birthday. Having a specific birthday room sounds like a hideous idea – all noisy and blah, but I’m surprised to say it worked well! The tables were set far apart and no other people’s conversations could be heard (the fact that enough people seem to choose this as their birthday venue to warrant a specific room can only be a good thing too) – all good so far.
We were seated and presented with a basket of fresh bread and breadsticks. The breadsticks were so good I had trouble not eating the whole lot. Delicious and fresh, sprinkled with sea salt, I loved them.
We then attempted to choose wine from the enormous book we were presented with under the guise of ‘wine list’. The thing was so vast you needed three people to hold it. It was also arranged by country, making it tricky to gage the cheapest wine without making it immediately obvious what you’re doing (worth remembering for dates and such). The cheapest wine was in fact the house wine which isn’t really cheap at all at £22.50 a bottle, but it’s perfectly good.
Then came the next obstacle, the giant menu. Why is everything in Little Italy massive, I wondered, as I took the vast menu in both hands. The heavy book the menu arrived in served as a forewarning of the prices of the foodstuffs its pages held – this place really is pricey, but offered a good variety of authentic Italian dishes.
I went for a chicken and pancetta salad, which I thought sounded a little like a Caesar salad (not very adventurous I know, but it is a favourite). Friends chose pasta dishes and the bresaola and we went for a side order of the deep-fried Zucchini to share.
The pasta dishes arrived and for upwards of £20 they weren’t really that special. The creamy tagliatelle was so rich my friend struggled to eat more than a few mouthfuls but the bresaola and other pastas went down well. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to take photographs – for this I can only apologise, but if you imagine a pasta dish at Prezzo which has been put it in a darkened room, that’s what it looked like.
My chicken salad was tasty but my god was it small. There were two lettuce leaves. I’m not exaggerating. It is at this point I wish I had taken pictures as proof! It came with a little jar of homemade dressing which went well with the moist chicken and crispy pancetta but it did little to distract from the confusion I faced as a result of the lack of lettuce….Perhaps they had run out that day.
So the food didn’t blow me away, but the drinks certainly did. A champagne and passion fruit cocktail was served with a shot of Champagne on the side and decorated beautifully (always important with cocktails). It tasted rich and fruity but not overly sweet – perfect. If I’d been able to sample more of these delights I certainly would’ve done, but at £15 you’ll really only order one (unless you’re filthy rich, in which case please buy some for your fellow diners, thanks).
As you peruse the desserts menu a magician does the rounds in the restaurant, performing card tricks that’ll blow your mind! No really, he is quite good. I’m not a big fan of magicians unless they’re sawing someone in half but this chap’s charisma held our attention for a good few minutes as we waited for coffees to arrive.
My friend was given a birthday chocolate mousse which looked fantastic and was a nice (free!) touch at the end of the meal. There’s the obligatory birthday sing-a-long too, which thankfully only the birthday room have to sit through… Also all cakes are presented at the same time so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and stare every 15 minutes as you do in some places (*cough* Frankie & Benny’s).
After dining the tables are cleared away to allow for dancing. That sounds cheesy as Stilton dripping in runny Camenbert but actually was surprisingly good!At around 11pm the music cranks up and the lights go down, tables vanish and you find yourself in a club.
It was a rather surreal experience as I descended the stairs at the end of the meal to exit the restaurant and had to fight through a bustling dance floor where the romantic tables had been a few hours before. Odd – but strangely brilliant.
The Verdict: Go for the atmosphere, the buzz and the drinks – don’t go for the food.
21 Frith Street,