15 February 2016
Given that the French Guide Michelin has had the courage to award 54 new stars in its 2016 edition, it is encouraging that UK chefs are continuing to work towards ever higher standards knowing that it is unlikely that their efforts will affect the increasingly negative and increasingly unjustifiable ratio of stars between the UK and France, even though, whatever The Sunday Times may say, there are precious few chefs in this country who would actually refuse a star or two or three. So, should Francesco Mazzei bother? Sartoria is difficult to judge in some respects; it copes with a very sizeable number of covers, split between the cavernous main dining room, which almost has the look of canteen, and this certainly contributes to some lack of ambience, and three private dining rooms. However, the canny lay-out of the tables and the, in most cases, relaxed efficiency of the front of house staff, does make it feel like it should be a fine-dining restaurant. There is no permanent tasting menu, but we were lucky enough to be offered a special Valentine’s Day set menu. Another factor working in favour of fine-dining status is the excellent wine list, especially, as you would expect, the superb selection of Italian beauties, but also a decent choice of wines by the glass and half bottles. So does the food swing it? To go with our Prosecco some bread was served with some olive oil but without any descriptive detail, and no amuse-bouche was forthcoming, so, having persuaded our waiter to persuade the kitchen to change the menu main course from beef to the dish people, and food critics, are talking about, namely cod marinated in liquorice, and having chosen a suitable bottle for the three seafood-based courses, we plunged into the first course. We do sometimes wonder how many hand divers there are under the sea at any one time, but we happily paired the charcoal-topped hand-dived scallop with the fiery ‘nduja, the latter taken with the purple potato mash being a good match rather than a dominant feature, and as the palate became accustomed to the spice the lovely prawn, allowed to be perfectly natural, came into its own. The second course was a bit of a puzzle; the lobster in the ravioli would have been far more obvious if it had not been minced up and in the end it was rather neutral, and as the accompanying truffle was on the same sort of innocuous level on the flavour scale this was not a dish to write home about. It was a cautious thumbs up though for the almost too generous serving of cod cured in liquorice, the yummy richness of which was cunningly counterbalanced with a slightly vinegary beetroot coulis and complemented by a small portion of mash, some trendy singed lettuce and a potato crisp for texture. The dessert brought the meal to a close with a bit of theatre, the cupolone chocolate dome being coaxed into collapsing by the hot chocolate poured on it to reveal inside a light hazelnut cakey mousse and a dash of sweetish sauce with a suggestion of alcohol. Overall, then, we reckoned that one or two tweaks are still needed for Sartoria to start offering a proper challenge to the many other established toppers in Mayfair.