db eats: The Oval at The Wellesley, London10th June, 2014 by Amy Hopkins
Decadent, elegant, grandiose and undeniably beautiful, The Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley has an abundance of not-so-subtle style and some downright fantastic Italian food, making a classy dining experience to truly savour. NB: bring fat wallets.
When you are invited to review a restaurant inside an establishment billed as “London’s first six star boutique hotel”, expectations are inevitably pretty high. A playground of opulence and sophistication, The Wellesley boasts a cigar terrace where some of the rarest and most expensive cigars on earth are available, an atmospheric jazz lounge, beautiful bar, and knock out Italian restaurant, The Oval.
As you surface from the dark and stifling Knightsbridge underground station and turn a corner, The Wellesley awaits you with a quiet majesty. However, step inside the building and the air will once again be knocked from your lungs. Art deco is the dominant design motif throughout the hotel – shining marble floors, glistening crystal chandeliers, vases packed with long pink lilies and gold-plated mirrors adorn the entrance. Indeed, Jay Gatsby’s own house could not be much grander.
Meanwhile, to your right is the hotel’s beautiful Crystal Bar, run to precision by the infectiously enthusiastic and affable head bartender Francesco Ghezzi. Here, sidle up to the black marble-topped bar, where two-metre length crystals seemingly drip onto the floor, and enjoy an expertly-made classic 1920s cocktail, ultra-rare Cognac, fine whisky or Champagne.
To kick off the night’s proceedings, and to get into the speakeasy mood, my guest and I opted for a couple of classic cocktails. My Not Only Old Fashioned, which uses either Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve Bourbon, was lent a modern touch with its use of lemon, cinnamon and soda – giving the traditional mix a lighter, more refreshing touch. Meanwhile, my guest’s elegant Martinez, a combination of Old Tom gin, dry vermouth, red vermouth and angostura bitters, was thought well balanced and easily drinkable. After finishing our drinks and gazing at the well-dressed guests sipping vintage spirits and puffing fat cigars, we were shown to the much-anticipated Oval Restaurant, where an experienced team pay homage to the finest traditions of Italian cuisine. Since my visit, Executive Chef Michele Del Monaco has launched a new menu continuing with the theme of beautiful, authentic Italian food.
The room itself – a perfect oval – is quite something to behold. Red roses romantically litter across perfect linen tablecloths while an abundance of mirrors and soft coffee leather seats really solidify the hotel’s flapper-era theme, as does the gorgeous, asymmetrical brown and grey marble floor. The restaurant was, however, rather empty, meaning the vibrant atmosphere the décor insinuates somewhat eluded us.
Browsing the menu, it’s difficult not to gasp at the cost of the dishes. A seafood pizza costs £40, while a Wagyu beef steak fillet will set you back a cool £80, before sides. Clearly, the sky-high standards evident across the entire hotel are evident in the prices at The Oval restaurant, and they are very nearly worth it.
To start, we were brought some heavenly, warm rosemary focaccia bread and a squid and beetroot cream pre-starter, which whetted our palates nicely with its soft, fresh and sharp mix of flavours. Up next, I chose to have the Burrata Ravioli, which, with its tangy, moreish sauce, soft pasta pouches and rich truffle sauce, turned out to be one of my favourite dishes of the night. My partner’s crab salad was extremely flavoursome; however the dish’s lip-smacking zest was thought to somewhat mask the delicate flavours of the fish.
On to the main event – a soft, juicy rectangle of turbot housed under a canopy of crispy, well-seasoned potates, in turn surrounded by delightful little potato croquets and anchovies – which was a joy. The crunch of the potatoes was immensely satisfying, while the tender flesh of the fish was simultaneously hearty and delicate. My plus one’s fillet of beef was deemed “one of the nicest” he’s had in London, with its delectable juices and perfect seasoning. However, its £40 price tag, along with £8 for creamy mash and a further £8 for buttery green beans, is certainly too high.
For desert (all £12.50), I was recommended the traditional Italian chocolate cake, which, although divinely rich and deliciously decadent, happily did not induce post-scoff nausea. Tiramisu was had by my other half, who relished its creamy sweetness and boozy kick.
The Oval restaurant certainly shines in providing hearty, yet stylish Italian food, focussing on quality ingredients, exquisitely prepared. This is a place that does simplicity well, and oh-so stylishly. However, the big draw back is the exorbitant price. It is the complete “dining experience” and attention to detail, you might say, that incurs such substantial cost, but the food, although delectable, doesn’t demonstrate enough of the “wow factor” to warrant it.
That said, The Oval offers a special dining experience and some fantastic cuisine. I would love to go back. Donations accepted.
The Oval Restaurant at The Wellesley, 11 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LY, Tel: +44 (0)20 7235 3535.