Il Calcio – a Romanian Italian in London:
Walking in the door of Il Calcio, my first impression was of impeccable taste and style. The new restaurant, on North Audley Street somehow manages to be sumptuously elegant without overpowering. Very comfortable banquette seating upholstered in silvery grey velvet stripes, white linen tablecloths and roses on every table.
This Italian restaurant is the London flagship for an already well established business. Il Calcio has a group of restaurants in Romania and founder Valentin Salagean has plans for a second branch on the Old Brompton Road. Valentin learnt his skills as a restauranteur from the bottom up, originally in New York working as a waiter at Nello’s. He worked his way up through the kitchen, eventually becoming a restaurant manager, then returning to Romania to build Il Calcio there. And, in the house magazine he speaks of a dream to open a restaurant in London.
Here it is then, a Romanian Italian in London. No different to a Russian American in London (Goodman) or for that matter an English Italian in Russia (Jamie’s) but I was curious – what would the food be like?
As it happens the food was pretty good.
I started with Polenta con Funghi Porcini e Salsiccia, (polenta with porcini mushrooms and sausage). It’s a very traditional Italian dish and I have no doubt it is served in a variety of ways throughout Italy. Here, the portion size was large enough that I could have enjoyed the dish as a main course and it was rich with sausage. Very tasty and with that depth of flavour that I enjoyed in Tuscany.
My dining companion’s Swordfish (Carpaccio di Pesce Spada Affumicato) would have been a more logical choice for someone trying to watch their weight…but hindsight is a wonderful thing. The dish was still very generous though and the fish was delicately smoked and firm, just as it should be.
On to the main courses. I asked for Tagliata of Beef and was slightly surprised at being offered the dish ‘well done’ or ‘medium’. In fact, this dish is nothing like the Tagliata di Manzo which I am used to eating. Tagliata simply means sliced, and this dish was Tagliata Con Verdure in Padella, which post event, I found out means ‘slices of beef with vegetables cooked in a padella’ (a deep sided frying pan). So, it’s more like an Italian style stir-fry. With a combination of chicory, mushrooms, raddichio, red and green peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and courgettes, this was a dish I could almost pretend was healthy. And, very good with a well flavoured jus and nicely cooked vegetables that still had a ‘bite’!
I didn’t get to taste the Medaglioni Calabrese al Forno chosen by my dining companion – veal scallops on 24 month aged parma ham mozzarella and spinach. Which is generally a sign that the food is VERY good. It looked rich and well cooked and I was just a little jealous.
Desserts arrived, pretty as a picture, on a silver tray for us to chose. But, my main-sized polenta starter meant I really wasn’t going to manage anything. Across the table, chocolate tiramisu was a clear winner – I was treated to a teaspoonful!
And my expresso came with delightful petit fours, so I really couldn’t complain.
Il Calcio is an easy place to enjoy. It’s comfortable and warm but still very stylish. Service is impeccable and the food is very good. Pricing, at least for the food, is quite reasonable for that part of London and there’s a good set price lunch menu. Be warned, the wine list could get very expensive though if you moved away from the house wines.
If we could find anything to fault it might just have been the music, which reminded me a bit too much of my first ever waitressing job when I was seventeen. I worked in a restaurant called Sinatra’s. Right at the end of the pier in Hunstanton, it was a favourite with holiday makers who would pop in for lunch and then return in the evening for a more leisurely meal with entertainment. If there was no live music, well, there was the Frank Sinatra tape. It played all day and was no more than 90 minutes long.
And, at Il Calcio, the friendly staff were discretely singing along to the restaurant music much as we used to join in with the chorus of ‘I did it my way’ when I worked at Sinatras. Anywhere less polished, it might have been annoying. But here, well, it just made me smile.
33 North Audley Street,
London W1K 6ZQ