The hugely successful yet refreshingly humble British chef, Theo Randall, who earned River Café a Michelin star and who continues to create wonderful authentic Italian cuisine at the Intercontinental Hotel, has now opened Theo’s Simple Italian in the Hotel Indigo in Kensington to ensure that we all get a taste of the action.
As with all Hotel Indigo properties there’s a distinct boutique-y and intimate vibe as you walk into the Edwardian townhouse and the inviting restaurant makes you feel relaxed immediately. Off the central room you'll find the bar, a cosier and more private area and a self-professed ‘snug’ designed for private meetings and events where you can also get some work done on your laptop or simply relax and unwind with a glass of wine after a long day.
For those who fancy popping in for a quick take-away lunch or snack, the cold counter offers homemade cakes and pastries in the morning and charcuterie and cheeses in the afternoon and they’ve even joined forces with Clerkenwell-based company Workshop Coffee who park a van outside and serve artisan coffee to those who love the real stuff.
There truly is something for everyone here.
With Head Chef William Leoni at the helm and drawing on the ethos of his new cookbook My Simple Italian, Theo’s food is focused on seasonality, simplicity, basically the food we love to eat. There seems to be a movement at the moment of redefining Italian food and showcasing some of the cuisine’s more traditional dishes, and with this in mind there wasn’t a pizza in sight!
The menu is relatively short and this makes the process of ordering a pleasant one, made even more enjoyable by quaffing a glass of ice-cold Prosecco while we perused. Cicchetti, or small snacks, are the Venetian equivalent of Spanish tapas and we tried the veal, beef and pork meatballs with burrata (£3.50), which my partner claims were the best meatballs he’d ever eaten. I was simply astounded by their lightness, a characteristic we were informed is a result of using three meats, primarily veal.
The dollop of burrata just melting on top of the rich and spicy sauce was a mere teaser for the antipasti dish we chose, which was a perfect pouch of luxurious cream and mozzarella, a truly authentic burrata (£9) from Italy. They’re a naughty pleasure at the best of times, but this one was out of this world.
My only criticism would be that the fresh heirloom tomatoes that surrounded it, that I expected to instantaneously take me back to sitting on the balcony in Sorrento eating olive oil-drenched tomatoes with mozzarella and San Daniele ham, were unripe and lacked flavour.
The manager insisted that we we try the pasta, their speciality, so we thought it only polite to try two pasta dishes for our starters. That’s what the Italians do after all!
The pappardelle with an oxtail ragu (£11), which consisted of beautifully light ribbons of pasta and exceptionally tender oxtail, was immediately comforting and took me back to the oxtail soup I ate as a child.
The Tuscan gnudi (‘naked’ in Italian) (£6) gives you an insight into the simplicity of this dish, which featured a hearty portion of delicate ricotta dumplings dripping in noisette butter and topped with crisp sage and Parmesan. The gnudi were silky and moreish, and although they weren't as familiar as gnocchi, they were just as comforting.
And finally, because it stood out from the moment we opened the menu, the fish stew with red mullet, prawns and squid (£22) arrived. The bowl was piled high with fresh fish and seafood, and was swimming in the most wonderfully rich and heady bisque, all served with toasted bread to soak up the juices and not forgetting that all-important hidden gem of a crostini sodden with flavour underneath it all.
The Italian wine list is unpretentious and it is such a nice touch that the staff can so knowledgably help you make a decision, satisfying any whim and pairing it with your food selection so well. The Prosecco we started with, Torre Ca’Morlin, was a fresh well-rounded sparkling, which was kind on the palate and eased us in gently. We tried a beautiful Fiano-Greco, which had similar characteristics to a fruity Sauvignon Blanc and worked very well with the richness of the meatballs and rich cheese. The smooth and dark Refosco red wine was full-bodied enough to stand up to the heady fish stew and the dessert wine called Mirto surprised me with its complexity. All in all, a very intelligent wine list, or very intelligent pairing, likely both.
And just when we thought we could eat no more, a trio of desserts (£6.00) arrived. We started with the most divine lightly bruléed lemon tart, which transported me back to Sorrento, the land of enormous, plump and endlessly juicy lemons. Next was a white chocolate and orange tart, which was sweeter and light as a feather, with a perfectly crisp pastry that suddenly succumbs to its unctuous filling. Lastly, the Sambuca semi-freddo was refreshingly light and had a nice kick of espresso. As no Italian meal is complete without Limoncello, we had a cheeky tipple to finish off the meal.
It is quite clear that service is of the utmost importance adapting so effortlessly to the moods and wants of their guests. They genuinely want to please, and their tight team appear so happy and confident in what they’re offering here. The Manager is marvellous, a font of knowledge on all things Italian, and as it turns out, all things Theo (he’s worked with him for years) and his passion for this place is tangible. We could have talked to him all night, in fact we did.
Our experience overall
I keep referring to it as Theo’s Casual Italian because that’s how I think of it – a relaxed atmosphere, great hearty food, warm service. It seems the aim is for guests to relax and feel at home away from home, that there really is a personal touch to their stay, and this is precisely how we felt during our (all too short) stay.
Food and drink *****
Staff attentiveness/friendliness *****
Theo's Simple Italian
34-44 Barkston Gardens
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