The outside looks quaintly café like, like a street trattoria. Entering the restaurant reveals a very up-market and stylish Italian restaurant, not wide but going back some way with different size tables; a large round one at the back. With lots of staff on hand, but never imposing, it has the feel of a top movie set restaurant where the Mafia might hangout, but the reality is more likely to be locals, diners in the know, Italians food lovers, and rich footballers (there is a football outside the restaurant on the wall if that means anything)
Unhurried, we were brought the food and wine menus. It was nice to be able to settle in and sample the atmosphere without being hurried to make an order. A good impression was set right at the beginning. We also got a bowl of varied breads and toasts, along with dipping oil and balsamic vinegar. An easy nibble whilst we pondered the menu.
Having settled in, I looked at the wine menu first. It was extensive – and expensive, with bottles from £25 to £4500 (yes you read that right!) I almost took a couple of pictures of the menus just to prove this is no joke. The wines were well selected, but very quickly moved to the astronomic end of the price market. There are not many places that would hold Petrus 1999 or even Chateau Cheval Blanc 1998 in stock; Il Calcio do, and if you were going to drink that quality of wine, then this is the place that can match the food to it. I would certainly want to try some of them, but I think I will wait for a friend to get it for me. Or maybe I do need to dine out with some Mayfair footballers. We ordered the house red, a very pleasant Valpolicella, full of vibrant fruit and uplifting berries, at a very reasonable sub £30 price a bottle, or by the glass, especially for lunchtime.
If the wine list was expensive, the food menu was at the other end of the spectrum with all dishes very reasonably priced; more out of town pricing than heart of Mayfair. The range of food was impressive, with many dishes that I haven’t seen outside of Italy. With so much choice, selecting your food may take you some time; just when you think you have decided something else catches your eye.
For starters I order Carpaccio di Pesce Spada Affumicato, thin slices of swordfish with capers, lemon and dill. The swordfish was sliced evenly throughout and was full of the subtle flavour that this dish has (almost a cross between tuna and smoked salmon with a hint of salt for those that have never tried it). The capers were split nicley so that their taste was not focussed harshly but flowed with the swordfish. As an aside, you really do not want to squeeze the lemon on until you have tried the swordfish first; it has such a unique delicate flavour that too much lemon would hide it.
My date chose the Polenta con Funghi Porcini e Salsiccia, which means home made sausages polenta cornmeal, Porcini mushrooms. From the smile on her face I could tell she liked it instantly. The Sausage had a real Tuscan taste to it; this from someone who has just returned the day before from Tuscany and spent much time there this year.
The portion sizes were large for both and the presentation was top notch. Small touches, like the muslin cover on the lemon, show the level of effort, care and quality that the restaurant takes with every dish.
The waiting staff were more than happy to help you choose, and made recommendations with further details of why they recommended the dish and some of its background. The menu is in Italian, with English explanations under each item, so it is very easy to read; But with such a range you may just want to go with your waiters recommendation on your first visit.
For my main I chose the Medaglioni Calabrese al Forno, veal scallops on 24 month aged parma ham mozzarella and spinach. Whilst my picture of the plate may not be the best, the food itself was incredibly good. The veal was perfectly cooked and cut easily, but the aged parma ham flavour had infused in and the resulting taste just blew away any expectations you may have had. The Mozzarella on the tops had encased two balls of spinach; perfectly steamed, drained and still slightly crunchy with the full taste of spinach. There is an art to serving spinach like this and Il Calcio have it nailed perfectly.
My date chose the Tagliata Con Verdure in Padella, which is pan fried slices of beef tenderloin on a bed of grilled mushrooms, radichio, potatoes, tomato, red peppers, endive, broccoli, zucchini and I am sure some other nice bits that I forgot to mention. The vegetables were perfectly grilled, and then a nice beef and vegetables sauce added, that brought out the flavour of the beef and kept to vegetables crisp.
The background music was a bit cheesy, but in keeping with the atmosphere of the place and at the right background noise level. The staff singing quietly to themselves as the music rotated further enhanced the experience, though they were not good singers!
The dessert tray was offered, and it would have been rude to refuse, but as the portions were generous, my date decided she didn’t have room for a dessert, choosing a coffee instead. The tray shows an example of each dessert, and comes with heady aromas of coffee and fruit. I chose the Tiramisu Glass, a beautifully made ski mogul glass of rich cream, cocoa, coffee, cake and chocolate beans. Lovely and smooth, the cream lightened as you got to the bottom of the glass so that it didn’t feel heavy at the end, even though we were completely satisfied by then.
If you want the best Italian food in London then Il Calcio is the place to go. Superb food, great wine (if you want it!) and seamless service makes this restaurant a comfortable place to dine. And at around £35 for a meal with a glass of wine it definitely isn’t Mayfair prices.
Il Calcio Ristorante
33 North Audley Street
Tel. 0207 7629 7070