Pasta fresca in the heart of Belgravia: perfect ingredients for an Italianate soft-launch supper. Once Hix Belgravia, the Hari have launched a new Italian restaurant on the ground floor of their Chesham Street hotel. In keeping with their boutique service, Il Pampero is seductively elegant. Decor is by the renowned British designer Tara Bernerd and it all feels very contemporary Italian. Green-chequered table-cloths that are so reminiscent of a family-run trattoria have been updated with monochrome floor tiles, leather seating booths and an intimate atmosphere.
Against a backdrop of jazz and dimly lit pendant links, an aperitif at the central bar is a must if you have time. The drinks menu stays true to its Italian roots, with an all-Italian wine list and a modern cocktail list. While this all feels very classic, the barman reminded me of a modern day scientist, expertly crafting mixes, shaking them about and serving glasses up like a chemical experiment. His thick-rimmed glasses also lent him a laboratory look…
Onto the foods, I’d been looking forward to a bowl of pasta fresca all day. Especially as everything here is made from scratch: the pasta, the bread. Impressively, chef Claudio Covino was previously at Novikov and Locanda Locatelli.
Torn between the utterly indulgent sounding Gnocchi di zucca con taleggio e tartufo nero (pumpkin gnocchi with Taleggio cheese and black truffle) (£18.50) and the simple Tagliolini Cacio e Pepe (£12.50), I went for the latter. Not only did the waiters and waitresses recommend this, but it also brings back treasured memories of one of my favourite meals I’ve ever enjoyed on holiday. On my first evening in Rome, I’d been to Trastevere’s Roma Sparita and ordered the most traditional Roman dish of cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino romano sheep cheese and black pepper). Although I’m normally reluctant to choose a dish so plain and without any vegetables, the black pepper and quality cheese spoke for themselves. The fried parmesan basket it was served in was also the final flourish. I’ve been dreaming about this pasta long since – so much so, that on a return trip to Rome, I came back to the same spot and ordered exactly the same dish.
Il Pampero’s take on this classic didn’t quite live up to its Roman counterpart. Whilst the waitress brought over the parmesan and generously grated it into the fresh pasta, I wasn’t presented with the massive wheel of Pecorino cheese, which Il Pampero had publicised and promised so widely in their Press Releases. The absence of this table-side theatre left me somewhat disappointed.
Furthermore, the pasta didn’t arrive with any black pepper. Since pepe is half of the core ingredients of this simple dish, I was very surprised and had to resort to the tabletop black pepper grinders. After I’d done so, the dish didn’t disappoint: simple but beautiful, the sauce was rich and silky, and the pasta perfectly al dente. It reminded me of why I love simple Italian fare so much: a few quality ingredients, well prepared, go a long way. It’s a shame, though, that the pasta isn’t pre-adorned.
Our side of green veges were also ideal complements to the cheesy pasta: the spinach had been perfectly wilted in butter. The broccoli, though well cooked, could have done with more garlic.
Given the high bar set by the recently opened Italian restaurants (Luca, Padella, Polpolo and Palatino) new Italian restaurants in London must serve perfect (or al dente) food to stand a chance against the killer competition. All in all, I think Il Pampero continues to set the bar high. I certainly left with a smile. But their cacio e pepe could do with some perfecting.
Il Pampero, 20 Chesham Place, London