Bernardi’s. The finest tart in the area.
I’m happy that the sexing up of that sorry bit of the Edgware Road around Marble Arch is now making great strides. Traditionally sexing up and Edgware Road have only meant the one thing and the prostitute problem on the Hyde Park Estate makes it feel like Kings Cross at times, and not the new Kings Cross either, the scuzzy old one. Any improvement to the area is to be warmly welcomed.
Having done wonders with Marylebone proper, the savvy Portman Estate has been venturing further afield and a few years ago decided that Seymour Place would become the new Marylebone High St. The restaurants that have been attracted to this little street have, in the main, been fairly funky independent operators, mid-priced, casual and relaxed.
I wonder what the letting agents said to Bernardi’s to get them to set up shop here, as they don’t quite fit the local vibe. Brilliant for Belgravia and perfect for Pimlico, the fairly expensive menu and conventional feel doesn’t, to my mind, sit comfortably with the rest of the area. But then again, you do have the offices of British Land directly opposite and Tony Blair lives 3 minutes walk away, when he’s at home, so maybe they’re targeting the Tyburnia toffs. Tyburnia? Look it up.
The décor is fairly expensive-spartan, with its palette of earthy neutrals, pale marble and covetable modern minimalist lighting. It’s smart without being stuffy. We are led to a leather-clad booth for four, though you’d want to know someone fairly well before you sat next to them in one of these. Not recommended for punters with personal space issues.
There is a set menu but obviously we ignore it.
I mention to my guests the food review thing, because they have never been out with me before and may find it odd that I want to photograph their food.
“Are we going to be in it?” they say. “Only if you want”. I mention that I only use initials. That would be a waste here, as phonetically speaking, I am out with Steven Gerrard. I am told this as they debate how and indeed whether they should appear in the review. Steve and Gerard (for it is they) fear that they will be able to be identified by their names. I suspect that they are right. We are, today, entertaining bankers, who are indeed entertaining bankers.
They are quite happy to play along with the review requirements and do not bat an eyelid when I ask them to order different things. They offer their plates up for photographic purposes like seasoned pros.
I order some nibbles for the table and the N’duja and Taleggio arancini and veal and pork polpette go down a treat. A little plate of carta di musica, that paper-thin crispbread does not, in my book, pass muster as bread.
The large plateful of Parmesan gnocchi with venison ragu and looks so much more inviting than my salad that I consider telling Gerard that the rules of review are that we have to have share each other’s food. I have ordered a salad of Tropea onions, balsamic cipolline (tiny onions) spinach leaves and ricotta. Call me old-fashioned and given their star billing I am expecting there to be some Tropea onions in the salad. I can see the cipollines, like tiny olives, but not the Tropea onions. The waiter tells me I’m wrong.
I know what an onion looks like. But I admit that I could be wrong and I’m willing to learn how the onions are magically concealed in the dish. He goes off to talk to the chef and comes back a while later with a small dish of grilled what I assume are the Tropea onions and some more of the cipolline. Tropea onions are usually red though and these are not so I wonder whether they have run out. The rest of the salad is fine although I’d have preferred the ricotta to have been less watery.
A main of sea trout is a good-sized portion, fresh and well-cooked, sitting on top of cannellini beans, artichokes and bitter wilted greens. It’s a pleasant plateful, if a little uninspiring compared to some of the other more punchy dishes on the menu.
Again, I covet my neighbour’s plate. The slow-cooked lamb shoulder, pressed into a perfect round is drizzled with bagna cauda (normally served as a warm dip of garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter) and comes with with bang-on-trend salsify and baby sprouts. It looks superb. Interesting-sounding Crescenza potatoes turn out to be simply roast new potatoes with sea-salt. Polenta chips are very good. Crisp on the outside, creamy within. Tip: you don’t really need the sides.
I tell them all that they have to have dessert. The chocolate and hazelnut tart is a thing of loveliness, served at room temperature, with a scoop of soft, fluffy praline cream which works well. Unctuous and rich, it’s really good and I mean to eat only a few mouthfuls. I fail. Wobbly panacottas are eliciting mmmms and aaahs from the other side of the table.
I get slight sticker shock when at the bill for £275. Given that there was just the one bottle of wine (£46) and a few non-alcoholic drinks and no bread, £70 a head seems a little steep. I may look a little closer at the set menu next time, especially if a normal amount of alcohol is to be consumed.
Verdict: One of the better tart offerings in the vicinity, Bernardi’s looks the business and is a stylish, elegant space. It seems to me they save their fireworks for the meat dishes and play safe with the fish and I’d like to see a few more unusual dishes on the menu; the local clientèle will lap them up. Despite being a little out of its comfort zone, it is a welcome addition to the area for those north of Oxford Street who want to go semi-formal Italian without the heftier price tag at Locanda Locatelli, just up the road.
It’s ideal for a business lunch as you can hear yourself talk and the tables are spaced out. They also have a cicheti bar, so you could drop in for a drink and a snack after work, if you were so inclined. I suspect that the menu will evolve as they become more established; I note that the breakfast offering disappeared very quickly and my guess is that a wider set menu would attract more lunchtime diners in an area already well served by mid-priced restaurants.