Piccolino, 21 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BG www.piccolinorestaurants.co.uk
Before I visited Piccolino in Heddon Street, I mentioned to a few people that I was going there for dinner. They told me that the service was excellent but spoke little about the food. Curious about this strange recommendation, I checked out Piccolino’s website to find out more. From there, I gleamed that it’s a small chain of Italian restaurants with 22 venues across the country. And it promises to be a neighbourhood sort of venue, offering chic yet informal dining.
Indeed the Heddon Street branch, with its brassy lighting, red leather banquettes and wooden chairs, boasts rustic charm meet city slick. Being so close to Regent Street, it’s central location is easily accessible for shoppers and tourists alike and the size of the restaurant comfortably accommodates the traffic. Outside is a sheltered al fresco area sharing the buzzy atmosphere of neighbouring venues, while inside is an open plan space with views into the kitchen.
My friend (who provided the illustrations below) and I chose the comfort of the red banquettes from which to finally sample the food.
At the start of the evening service the restaurant is filled with families but as the night progresses, the clientèle gets younger with small groups of friends starting to drift in. Even later, it seems, those who’ve finished work and a few drinks in the nearby bars start to take their seats for a late supper. But no matter what time, there’s a steady stream of guests entering Piccolino maintaining a hubbub. Despite it being so busy, the staff were still able to take time to smile and joke with the customers – there’s even the occasional wink. Is that what keeps people coming in I wonder.
Some Italian restaurants seem only to serve pizza and pasta, but Piccolino is definitely not one of these. While the menu is extensive, though, the food was a bit hit and miss.
Grilled asparagus with a neatly trimmed poached egg made a healthier alternative starter to the calamari fritti, which was a little greasy. For the main, it’s A3 menu offered the staples of pizza, pasta, risotto and salads for a few pounds more than the starters. There were also fish and meats to choose from.
The Nodino di vitello (veal chop on the bone) offered a taste of Milan with a parmesan and rosemary breadcrumb crust – something I enjoyed very much on a previous trip to Milan. This version wasn’t bad at all. There were of course the usual cuts of steak on the menu too – ribeye, sirloin and fillet. The chips served were matchstick thin but not quite crispy enough to be fries. These were probably the most disappointing aspect of the meal and rather hard to forget.
On the plus side, there’s some 10 desserts on the menu as well as gelato and sorbets to choose from. The torte di limone delivers a sharp tang via its limoncello filling, which is then balanced out thanks to the candied lemons served on top. The panna cotta is richly flavoured with vanilla, rendering the slightly over poached rhubarb redundant.
To accompany the food, there’s a good selection of table wines from sauvignon blanc to cenin blanc and rioja to merlot. A small section of the drinks menu is dedicated to red, white and rosé wines by the glass, in a caraf or as a bottle. The rest of the drinks menu consists of wine, champagne and prosecco by the bottle only, some of which is also available by the glass.
By the end of the meal, we were a whole lot fuller but not quite fully satisfied. I guess there was a reason for that strange recommendation. And I guess if you were looking for the neighbourhood restaurant with great service, this would be it. But if you were looking for great gastronomy, then you’re probably unlikely to find it.