“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change,” once noted Heraclitus. Well, if anyone wants an example of how a restaurant can successfully manage change, they should look to Sartoria. In 2015, the much-loved stalwart of Saville Row closed for refurbishment, adding a new bar, cicchetti counter, two private dining rooms and 250-bin wine cellar. Yet what consistently drew in both locals and tourists remains, and indeed has been amplified – chef Francesco Mazzei’s love of first-class ingredients and sensual Italian comfort food of the highest order.
This brings me nicely onto my second, recent visit to Sartoria. Handsomely situated at the heart of Saville Row, Sartoria is undoubtedly the district’s biggest asset. Indeed, even Londoners who balk at the very idea of wearing a tailored three-piece suit repeatedly take a stroll in Sartoria’s homeland, simply in the hope of securing a table without a prior reservation (it’s a spacious restaurant). Francesco Mazzei is your genial host, the former head chef at L’Anima which is still one of London’s best Italians. It’s just a shame you had to traipse over to the hard lines of the City to eat there.
Of course, Sartoria takes a very different tack to the scaled back clinical décor of L’Anima – this restaurant is the antithesis of an IKEA showroom. At Sartoria one feels pampered, as it’s supposed to be. The staff are both likeable and friendly – yet professional at all times – and the atmosphere irresistibly convivial. It’s a glorious smorgasbord of rich textures and fabrics, ‘no expense spared’ tableware, glassware and stupidly expensive carpets throughout. A place to settle in for the night.
But enough. The food. First up was simplicity itself – a selection of fresh bread and olive oil, that most guilty of indulgences. There can be few pleasures in life more satisfying; the high bitter note of the oil contrasting against the gloriously rich texture of focaccia. As we gorged ourselves, ‘last-supper’ preparations sprang to mind. From the list of antipasti, crab salad was paired nicely with a suitably piquant green apple and avocado dressing and a glass of Franciacorta, Italy’s top bubbly. Even better was my companion’s Vitello Tonnato (veal tuna), a proper no-nonsense interpretation of this classic Italian dish of cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavoured with tuna. Many get it utterly wrong, Mazzei unsurprisingly gets it spot on.
From the pasta dishes, I have to order the spaghetti carbonara, as ridiculously cliched as that sounds. And it’s true that I do a pretty respectable version at home, but when it’s this good, why bother? Porcini and scallop risotto proves that there is real inventiveness in Mazzei’s cooking, as well as wholesomeness. Most Italian chefs wouldn’t typically bring these two elements together in a risotto, but by Jove it works like a charm.
My favourite dish, however, was ‘simplicity’ itself. For my money, Mazzei cooks up the finest veal Milanese in London, a gigantic (and bloody moreish) piece of veal chop on the bone, deep fried and coated in breadcrumbs. The wild rocket and tomato salad accompaniment seemed almost prosaic in comparison. Good veal Milanese could silence even the most hardened of critics – meltingly soft slices of veal fillet lovingly coated in rich, buttery breadcrumbs. Michelin-starred levels of culinary technique? Absolutely not, but I’d take it over molecular dishes on the edge of a nervous breakdown any day of the week.
Desserts were sacrificed in favour of Vin Santo – another thing the Italians are underrated for. The rest is predictable: excellent wine pairings courtesy of the friendly sommelier, slick service and a buzzing atmosphere. But most of all there was the nagging feeling that Sartoria won’t, or rather shouldn’t, ever change its winning and consistent formula, despite the renewed interiors. That would be an unpardonable disaster, make no mistake.
20 Savile Row, Mayfair,
London W1S 3PR
020 7534 7000