They don’t make them like this anymore. Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion has been feeding Londoners since 1971 and is pretty much the last surviving example of a type of restaurant you used to find on every street corner in Soho: a family-run enterprise serving classic Italian food.
Which isn’t to say there’s anything immediately old-fashioned about the place. White-washed walls and dining chairs help the room feel cosy rather than claustrophobic, while sound absorbers on the ceiling mean the room feels buzzy rather than noisy. Instead of muzak, the only soundtrack this place has is the animated chat of contented customers.
Both the food and wine come with the Umbrian accent of the original owners, Vasco and Piero, while day-to-day front-of-house duties these days falls to Vasco’s son Paul, who ensures the smooth running of the place and is on hand to offer recommendations from the long menu. If you’re pressed for time, we’d recommend skipping primi and going straight to pasta, though this is a menu begging for the full four-course traditional Italian experience.
Start, perhaps, with punchy chicken liver crostini, with some marinated mushrooms to cut through the richness. A crisp cylinder of fried cabbage stuffed with meat and tomato is another good shout, while for vegetarians there is baked aubergine with a sweet-sharp red pepper sauce, or a cloud of broccoli and Parmesan soufflé with black truffle sauce.
Pasta is the undoubted highlight of a meal here – thick folds of handmade pappardelle wrapped around deeply flavoured chunks of venison ragu, or tortelloni parcels filled with wild mushrooms, spooned with a silky butter sauce.
That’s not say that main courses are slouches, though: our calf’s liver was best-in-class stuff, the meat cooked to well-time tenderness and topped with a soft, sweet tangle of onions, some sautéed cabbage on the side adding fresh-tasting crunch.
Puddings are straightforwardly classic. The childish hit of warm, syrupy banana with vanilla ice cream is enough to satisfy any sweet cravings; a salted caramel martini shaken up by one of the charming waiters offers an altogether more adult way to get your sugar kick.
Prices, while not unreasonable, aren’t exactly old-fashioned either (figure on around £20 for a main course) but where Vasco & Piero’s is still resolutely old-school is in its refusal to turn tables – just the excuse anyone needs to order a glass of something sweet from the wine list and a proper Italian coffee. Nice private room, too.