Always on the look-out for a soft launch/bargain supper, a friend had informed me about Veneta’s very generous 50% discount for an austere January. Opened last October, Veneta is the latest (brain)child of the Salt Yard Group and has set up shop in a hotly contested neighbourhood featuring the likes of Fumo, Kiln and Margot. Occupying a dramatic new Deco-ishly curving building in the recently revamped and very polished St James’s, Veneta brings the finest of Italy to Mayfair. As my friendly waiter informed me, in contrast to the rest of the Salt Yard Group restaurants – Salt Yard, Dehesa, Opera Tavern and Ember Yard – which are all Spanish themed, Veneta is – as its Venetian name reveals – Italian inspired. So no lightly fried courgette flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese and drizzled with honey here unfortunately.
Salt Yard group founders – Sanja Morris and Simon Mullins – have knowledge of eating out around Spain and Italy and so this venture is an opportunity to showcase the very best of Italy, specifically the ancient city of Venice. As well as serving pasta and risotto, the Venetian inspiration extends to the décor, such as the fishscale tiles, the marine blue colour scheme and bathroom lamps shaped as shells. Whilst influenced by Venice, its all tempered with an element of modern glamour. Indeed, there’s a mezzanine seating level overlooking the main restaurant and, in the summer months, tables are available on the outdoor terrace, perfect for an espresso and pastry break(fast).
Whilst Veneta is Italian-inspired, when I queried whether this place would echo Russel Norman’s empire, my waiter explained that, in contrast to Polpo’s more informal pizettas and “meatballs”, this venture was a little more upmarket. The contemporary glamour of Veneta is certainly felt in inside, where the banquette booths, intimate tables and luxurious bar seating oozes Mayfair sleek. The interior is also very spacious, with a 110-seat cover and enchanting individual candles all over. In contrast to buzzy Soho vibe of its sister restaurants, Veneta has a greater sense of formality and elegance, entirely in keeping with the likely clientele of the area – hedge funds, Chelsea couples… The front of house team are also very professional.
The menu is inspired by classic Venetian dishes, hence the prominence given to seafood. Whilst the classic raw bar offers a selection of seafood, I was spoilt for choice by the “Vegetable” Small Plates. Following the recommendations of our helpful waiter, my companion and I shared the Braised Jerusalem Artichokes with Cavolo Nero and Truffle (£7.75), the Spiced Romanesco with Raisin, Pine Nut and Riesling Vinegar (£7.50), the Bitter Leaf Salad with Almond Dressing (£4) and the very special special of the day, the Pumpkin Risotto.
The risotto was cooked to perfection, with its buttery quality melting in the bowl and in my mouth. It was ideal comfort food for a freezing January evening. The cauliflower was also rich and intense, particularly given the well-seasoned caramelised onions it was served with which made the whole dish rich and intense. Given the current cauliflower renaissance and cauliflower “steaks” beings roasted all over the shop, this is probably my favourite vegetable at the moment. The artichokes, meanwhile, were majestic and given a brilliance crunch with the topping of what looked like sweet-potato crisps.
My companion also ordered the Chicken braised in Almond Milk (£7.75), which was brilliantly matched with Medjool dates, saffron and nuts, which gave the dish depth of flavour. Fittingly, the spices of Veneta’s dishes skilfully blend the East and the West, in line with the rich culinary history of Venice as a trading post, silk and spice route stop-off, and melting pot of cultures.
With cicchetti priced between £3 and £5 and small plates ranging from £4 to £12, the bill is reasonable for the quality you’re getting, particularly if you manage to head there before the end of January. Our entire meal came to under £10 each!
The mix of small plates, wines and conviviality has proven to be a winning formula time and time again for the Salt Yard group. And site number five, which blends a similar concept with its own Italian flourishes, proved to be no different. For early risers, this Venetian haunt is even open for power breakfasts, likely a favourite for hedge funders and people watchers.
Veneta, 3 Norris Street, St. James’s Market, London, SWY 4RJ