Scalini. Hello, 1979.
There are some places which are frankly, beyond fashion. Scalini sits firmly in that camp. I expect that the menu hasn’t changed much since the 1970s. It’s from the same stable as that other retro stalwart, Oslo Court. There are things on the menu here you might have reasonably have assumed, maybe even hoped, that you would never see again. I give you baked avocado and crab, coated with creamy cheese sauce, or vol-au-vents, with scampi prawns (sic) and lobster filling. Of which more later.
But there is a very wide selection of all our yesterdays –including, should you be feeling adventurous, warm smoked salmon served on a bed of spinach, or, if you’re not, wanting anything groundbreaking, plain old smoked salmon.
This is tucked away in a quiet little street not far from Harrods, and feels like it’s been here for ever. In restaurant terms it has been here since the Ice Age. The décor, however stopped somewhere around 1980. All apricots, creams, mirrors and bright lighting. And the menu is laminated. Probably because nothing about it ever changes, except the prices, of course and there’s nothing old-fashioned about them. They’re not shy about charging, here.
But a service charge of £2.50 does seem rather ambitious, even if it gets you some toasted bread, grissini sticks in a packet and some chopped tomato. I wonder if the chef has ever had the bread and the grissini sticks at Locanda Locatelli?
And my guests? They’re the ones I took to Mari Vanna a little while ago – they kindly reminded me that I had eaten part of the decorations. Well, the food was taking ages to arrive and I noticed what I thought were mini-Amaretti biscuits, conveniently placed in the dresser adjacent to our table. They were just really stale things-which-used-to-be-edible-a-long-time-ago. But no longer were. Oh well, I like to keep my clients entertained.
I thought I would take them somewhere near their office and somewhere that I knew that they were bound to like. Because this is the sort of place that property people do seem to like very much, teeming, as it is, with Knightsbridge agents, ladies who lunch, and permatans.
And I suspect that its regulars like it for the very things that I find disappointing i.e. because it never changes, the food is unchallenging and the portions are massive. Obviously I like the massive portions, but the other things? Not so much.
The waiters have that sort of over-the-top Italian bonhomie that they’ve worked on for years. An Alfred Hitchcock-lookalike maitre d’ glides around the room quietly, giving The Look to the waiters. Your classic 1980s school of Italians, huddled together like penguins. They’ve obviously been here forever.
And the food? Well, I could mock the vol-au-vents, which I ordered because I felt that I must, having laughed at them, but my mockery ceased when they arrived. They were really delicious in an artery-clogging, puff pastry and cream sort of way. Three decent sized vol-au-vents, filled to overflowing with a generous portion of shrimp and lobster and a competent cream sauce, this was a rich, tasty comfort dish and big enough to be a main course.
And then, grilled lobster. A reasonable size, for £38, and cheaper than the Dover sole £40 which didn’t seem to me to be such a bargain. Add to that the obligatory side vegetables (£3.50) which come in a crescent-shaped side dish (you know the type) and comprised green beans, broccoli and some sautéed potatoes and it’s not a bargain. Frankly, if you add up the side dishes, that alone would be £14 without service for a few limp vegetables.
The veal escalopes with artichoke looked better. I liked the 1970s garnish on them as well. Five thinly-sliced cucumbers, piped mayonnaise and a bit of parsley shoved on the top. Paprika sprinkled over. This is not complicated cooking.
And then dessert. You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you? There was a trolley. Yes, just like Oslo Court, but without the camp-as-tents accompaniment. And I bet that you can guess exactly what was on it as well.
Chocolate mousse. Tiramisu. Crème caramel. Oranges in brandy. Lemon Tart. Strawberries dipped in chocolate. Profiteroles. I told you so.
Because we were all pretending that we were not going to eat dessert, we got four, to put in the centre of the table. The profiteroles were good, but I was horrified to find an enormous strawberry masquerading in the centre. Strawberries and chocolate. An abomination.
And the lemon tart was actually delicious, being somewhere between a lemon tart and a lemon cake – possibly made with a little polenta, asssuming that they would be so bold. It was grainy yet fluffy and well-made.
The crème caramel was insipid – the caramel insufficiently dark, so the whole thing a little more like blancmange than anything else. Avoid.
We were there for hours. In fact, fairly late on, they brought out the mop and bucket and started mopping around us. It would have been nice if they’d asked. And then, because we obviously ignored that, they turned the lights off. Which was a little unsubtle.
So, reluctantly, my colleague went home, I went back to the office and my clients went to an ‘important meeting’, in a regular establishment, close by. They tell me that meeting lasted till 11pm. There must have been a lot to discuss.
In a world of Polpo, Bocca di Lupo and L’Anima, this looks like a dinosaur. There are no foams, unless you count the one on your cappuccino and certainly no foraging, unless it’s at the bottom of your very expensive handbag looking for your car keys. But if you want something simple and unchallenging, something untouched by any of the recent food trends, this is your place.