Babbo: 39 Albermarle Street, Mayfair

Stylish, with a stellar wine list, Babbo falls short of perfection

Babbo Restaurant in Mayfair

Babbo means daddy in Italian. Nestled deep in the heart of Mayfair, its website promises “tradition, family, perfection and warmth” and the restaurant was awarded the Zagat guide’s Best New Italian Restaurant for 2011.

Expectations run high. From the street it looks stylish and inviting, and its sheer glass frontage belies a more traditional interior where family photos adorn the walls - a modern take on the traditional family restaurant, it works.

When my friend and I arrive the atmosphere is relaxed. Lively African music fills the room, lending an informal touch. It’s as if the waiter had picked what he fancied listening to rather than obliging an offensively non-offensive playlist. 

After ten minutes or so we are served a complementary amuse bouche – cuttlefish ink spaghetti on creamed spinach. It’s a very nice touch. The service is attentive, the waiter eager to provide guidance with the menu. Unfortunately the attentiveness soon becomes overzealous and a little overbearing.

The mozzarella’s centre is the perfect fondant of sweet, fresh and exciting cream… a painful reminder of how poor 99 per cent of the shop-bought stuff is

We start with the slow-cooked octopus, tomato and bread crostini and a salad of mozzarella with tomatoes – the latter a special recommended by the waiter. The octopus is very good; firm yet tender with a satisfying bite. The tomato adornment a little unnecessary perhaps (a green vegetable may have worked better). My companion found the dish a little oily.

The mozzarella, however, is sublime: painful reminder of how poor 99 per cent of the shop bought stuff is.

Served whole, also decorated with tomatoes, its centre is the perfect fondant of sweet, fresh and exciting cream. Is neither complex nor sophisticated but holds transportive qualities; ones evocative of adolescent abandon, first kisses and bare legs scratched by the brambles at the bottom of the garden.

Next is the pasta course, a very adult homemade tagliolini with lobster and clams in tomato sauce. The flavours are agreeable and delicate, but a little too delicate as the clams get a lost in the sauce. Overall it is satisfactory and not too heavy – a vital factor considering the dishes to come.

The seabream alla mediterranea that follows is equally agreeable. The fragile white flesh falls off the bone enticingly; baked in a foil parcel it arrives moist and perfectly cooked. But as with the tagliolini, the flavours are a touch too subtle. I wonder if the chef is on a low-salt diet. 

We also try the veal rack and are disappointed; it is too well done for both our liking and a little too flabby, even for veal.

Babbo boasts an impressively extensive wine list – with eight Champagnes and five sparkling wines to choose from alone. There are 84 wines listed in total, as well as three ports, but only one beer: suggesting a confident commitment to viniculture.

Unsurprisingly, most of them are Italian with a few Burgundys thrown in for good measure – there is a distinct lack of new-world representation.

We drink the San Vincenzo IGT from the Veneto region in north-east Italy. Recommended by our waiter, it makes an excellent companion to the octopus, its fruity overtones contrasting well with the mollusc’s salty richness.

The wine list is vast yet lavish verging on arrogant – with only a handful available by the glass and eight at £30 or less (two of which are desert wines).

Also excellent was the Coffele Soave Classico Ca Visco we have with our pasta course. Slightly more complex and at £12 a glass, thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.

For dessert we try the homemade Valhona guanaja semifreddo (chocolate mousse) with fried gianduia chocolate balls. It is undoubtedly the star of the show tonight. The mousse is intensely bitter – (the fallout from the first kiss) – and the chocolate balls dangerously moorish.

We drank Morsi di Luce Zibibbo (Sicily), as recommended by our waiter. It was celestial, a fantastic supporting actor to the night’s hero.

Babbo is expensive – no two ways about it. Starters begin at around £10 with mains at £20-£50. The wine list is vast yet lavish verging on arrogant – with only a handful available by the glass and eight at £30 or less (two of which are desert wines). But then excellent restaurants often are expensive.

Sadly Babbo isn’t quite excellent – though it does try very hard. The highly attentive service implies that it’s listened to less-than-favourable reviews that have deemed it unfriendly in the past, but unfortunately it has over-corrected itself.

In time it may well become the “perfection” it strives to emulate and, in a couple of years’ time, its prices (if they stay the same) will feel more justifiable.

The food is good and the wines better than good. Babbo is worth trying, but it’s not yet the daddy.

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Would dinner at Babbo…

  • Inspire a productive business meeting? Yes. The food is good but not so good it would distract from business.
  • Impress the boss when everything else has failed? The wine list might.
  • Break the ice with those awkward clients? No, it’s too stuffy.
  • Sufficiently blow your bonus and make you feel like a king? No, it’s overpriced.
  • Provide the right setting for an all-important first date? Yes. Flattering lighting, good music and sexy wines.  

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